Luna: My great grandmother would have been proud
In his famous "Food Rules", Michael Pollan states this: "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognise as food." I find this is a very sensible way of eating and an easy way to remember what you should put on your plate. My great grandmother was Sicilian and lived her whole life in Tunisia, which was then a French colony. Her family didn't have a lot of money, but at this time, pasta and vegetables made up the base of the diet and meat was certainly not served at every meal.
I was lucky enough to meet my great grandmother and to spend a lot of time with her. She died when I was a teenager. Her inimitable laugh and mischievous behaviour made her quite a character. She didn't know how to read or write, but she was sweet, generous, and a hell of a good cook. To this day, I can remember the taste of the ravioli di ricotta that she made from scratch and the ragu that she served with pasta. In a true Proustian moment, I felt a strong blast from the past eating in Luna, tasting a minestrone soup that brought me straight back to my great grand mother's table.
Owned by the same team as Super Miss Sue in the city centre, Luna describes itself as a modern take on the New York style Italian restaurant. Like we did for L'Ecrivain a couple of weeks ago, we purchased an offer on The Taste that seemed too good to miss: a 3-course dinner for two, including a bottle of wine. Contrary to L'Ecrivain, Luna has a special menu for parties using this voucher; the choice, albeit narrower, didn't disappoint.
After sitting down at a comfortable booth for two, we took some time to admire the setting, the image you'd have of an elegant Italian restaurant in New York in the fifties, retro yet not awkwardly staged like a movie set. On the side of the bar, some ham and garlic hanging from the ceiling and a whole parmesan cheese were there to remind you that the food is the true star of the show in these premises.
Hugh, the Head Chef, happens to be a friend of my boyfriend. Before landing in Luna, he worked in the likes of Momofuku Ko, Forest Avenue and The Ledbury. In his kitchen, he is surrounded by a young team, including the incredibly talented pastry chef Aoife Noonan, who was previously in Patrick Guibaud's. While it was a particularly busy Tuesday night, we got a chance to talk to him after the service and it was great to see how passionate he is about his work and more importantly how happy he is to share his skills with his customers.
After some bread served with truffled whipped butter (it's like they knew me), we started off with an appetiser that was made of peach, pancetta, mozzarella and parmesan, a tasty way to whet our appetites with some true Italian flavours.
For the entree, I got the Caprese salad, which was fresh and seasonal (though it didn't blow my mind as much as the one in Craft did). Damien enjoyed his poached egg, served with peas, girolle mushroom and parmesan so much he wished we had saved some of the bread to get all the sauce - with the truffled butter, not a chance that would have happened.
Before our mains, we were sent the minestrone and oxtail tortellini, courtesy of the chef. After one spoon of the broth, it hit me like a train: my great grandmother's sauce. That is what this broth tasted like. You can forget faces, voices can start to fade away in your memory, but I believe a familiar taste never goes away. I was mind blown.
My main - some macaroni in tomato sauce with n’duja meatballs, topped with a generous amount of mozzarella and parmesan - stayed on the same line: as traditional as it gets, in the very best sense of the word. Italian food is rich and generous, and this meal was no exception; I couldn't finish my pasta. The waiter kindly gave me a doggie bag - there was no way I would have left it on my plate otherwise. Damien got the pork neck, served with potatoes and peas, which he had no problem finishing.
For dessert, we both went for the lighter option: sweet strawberries, served with chiacchere (small Italian fritters) which gave a nice crunch, some sheep's milk mousse and a scoop of basil ice-cream, which we both absolutely loved. You have to admire the work of the pastry chef, who manages to remain in the "100% Made in Italy" theme while keeping the plate relevant and up-to-date. My great grandmother would have probably found it a bit funny and laughed at the idea of a basil ice-cream, but she would probably have licked her plate clean, like we did.