Smart Italian with a twist in central London
Regular readers of the LPB will know that we enjoy few things more than setting out to track down pokey, unpretentious and out-of-the-way pizzerias, as this is often where some of London’s best slices are to be found. So it was with a slight sense of entering unfamiliar territory that we stepped into the elegant, modern interior of Cucina Asellina to investigate what was billed as authentic Italian dishes “executed with New York flair”.
A quick glance at the menu reveals that Cucina Asellina is certainly doing its best to live up to its prime location within the luxury ME London hotel by trying to do something a little out of the ordinary with classic Italian fare.
We’d already heard good things about the giant stuffed olives and these are indeed not to be missed. Filled with roasted veal, mortadella and parmigiano, and encased in a semolina crust, this tasty dish is a great example of the imaginative way head chef Michele Pais combines familiar Italian ingredients.
Alongside these we ordered a selection of cheeses and meats which were excellent. A surprise favourite on the meat platter was the lardo which neither looks nor sounds particularly appetising (being made from pork back-fat) but was truly delicious. A small pot of truffle honey was a brilliant addition to the cheeses, offering an unusual sweet and nutty flavour that we could have enjoyed all night.
By this time we were already beginning to feel a little full, so when the pizzas arrived we were relieved to see that they weren’t too massive. While not meagre in any way, the oval pizzas are probably best suited to a meal made up of multiple courses or shared dishes, rather than being an entire meal on their own. However this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem as you’re really spoilt for choice – we could have happily tucked into any number of the plates at tables around us.
Our first pizza was fairly traditional with Italian sausage, smoked scamorza cheese and dried tomatoes, finished with basil pesto. It was tasty and rich, if a little drier than some might expect, but with an excellent thin crust that was crispy and nicely singed from the oven.
Our second was a little more unusual, bringing together prawns, wild blueberries and caramelised cipollini – a type of small, white onion. While we generally steer clear of seafood on pizzas we couldn’t resist this curious combination and were rewarded with a delicate, fruity flavour with the prawn and blueberry pairing surprisingly well and the onion providing a rich sweetness in the background.
We couldn’t tell you whether all this was typically ‘New York’ or not, but Cucina Asellina certainly delivers imaginative Italian food with flair. Some of its pizzas do boast slightly esoteric flavours but they are based around a good crust and quality ingredients so don’t be afraid to be bold.
336 – 337 Strand