My meal was planned in advance, but of course, when I get to the restaurant, the menu has changed, a victim of that time lag between what appears online and on the table. Except in this instance, it’s serendipity. My coveted dish, which was only available for two in the ether, is available for one in old-school black and white. Happy days.
If you’ve had porchetta in Italy, and tried to replicate it at home in a bog standard oven, you will understand why the alforno special, suckling pig shoulder (€30), has caught my eye. At Osteria Lucio it is cooked in an impressive wood-burning oven. This determines my approach to the evening, adding plates to share from the antipasti, pasta fresca, and pizza sections of the menu, conscious of the fact that an Italian would probably not be shoving a pizza in the middle of all that, but these are the dishes I want to try.
If you want to be more Italian about the whole thing, you could opt for the €55 per person sharing menu, which runs till 8.30pm and sounds like one of the better deals around town. On the evening we are in, it includes two starters, two pasta dishes, pollo alla Milanese, and dessert.
My perch is on a comfortable high stool opposite the open kitchen where the pizza and cocktail action is in full swing. There’s a larger table close to us where well-behaved tech bros entertain visiting luminaries; and beyond that, sequestered in the cavernous space beneath the bricked arches of Grand Canal Dock are tables of pre-theatre diners, clearly regulars on chatting terms with owner Ross Lewis. who pops out of the main kitchen for bouts of camaraderie.
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When Lewis first took over the lease of this premises in December 2014 (after it previously served as Frank’s, the Bridge Bar and Pizza E Porchetta), he spent a bit of time developing the menu with his good friend Luciano Tona, the former head honcho at esteemed Italian cookery school ALMA. Tona told me when I interviewed him at the time, that the central tenets of Italian cuisine are the quality of the produce and the methodology used. It’s a philosophy that Lewis has continued to use, and is clearly enjoying in his “semi-retirement” since he stepped back from Chapter One, which he co-owns with Mickael Viljanin.
The winter salad (€13), leaves of mache glistening with dressing, and mixed with roast aubergine, red peppers, celeriac, pickled onion and St. Tola goat’s cheese, is a fresh start to our meal. Two small plates are brought to the table so that we can share (the service here is notably good), and we order a bottle of Borgo Selene Nero d’Avola (€37), the entry-level red on a carefully selected list that has 16 wines by the glass and some interesting bottles for those who wish to splash out.
We have been pre-warned that our pasta dish, the nero di sepia (€25), is made with squid ink, (perhaps a plate of jet black sauce has perturbed some diners), and find that it is considerably lighter than you might expect. Squid ink can be quite intense in a dish, here it has been lifted with the inclusion of tomato which brings a fresh touch of acidity; and the ebony coated gnocchetti sardi are topped with a few rings of squid and cockles.
The pizza salsiccia (€21), is blistered and charred from the roaring heat of the oven, the sourdough base has just the right amount of salt, and the toppings of seriously good sausage and earthy sprouting broccoli make for a delicious pizza.
The suckling pork shoulder (€30), which I later discover is sourced from France as there’s nothing similar available here, is absolutely heavenly, with spectacular crackling and creamy, gently rendered fat. Warm, wood-roasted olives are on the plate; and crispy roast potatoes and a side salad are the prefect accompaniments.
For dessert, we share a deconstructed cannoli (€12), with puréed pumpkin and ricotta layered between the crisp squares of pastry in a puddle of Moscato sauce.
It is a meal that has been incredibly enjoyable. The pizzas are a shade more expensive than you’ll find elsewhere, but pizza is not what this restaurant is about. And clearly others agree. The tables vacated by theatregoers continue to fill, and all of this on a Wednesday night. This may be one of the busiest restaurants in town.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €137.
The verdict: I will be dreaming about the heavenly suckling pig shoulder for weeks.
Music: Carly Simon and similar tunes in the background.
Food provenance: Ring’s Farm free-range chicken, Salter’s free-range pork, Gilligan’s Farm beef, Sustainable Seafood, Artisan Food, Caterway.
Vegetarian options: Winter salad with St. Tola goat’s cheese, ricotta and spinach ravioli, and rigatoni alla Norma, which can be adapted for vegan diets.
Wheelchair access: Accessible with accessible toilet.