La Cucina has been a familiar sight on St Clements for years, and despite the fact that I could eat pasta and pizza all day every day, for some reason I’ve never thought about visiting. When a friend and I arranged to meet up, as she is gluten-free and has a few different food allergies, I ended up looking at the menu and realised it would actually be the ideal spot for the both of us.
I was surprised by the fact that they had a separate vegan menu, with so many options on it! Particularly considering I haven’t really heard the restaurant being spoken about much in the vegan community. Looking down the menu and struggling which option to choose, I noticed how naturally vegan-friendly Italian cuisine could be, and was pleased that this independent restaurant had taken the initiative to highlight the many items on their menu that could be served without cow’s cheese or cream and be just as delicious. It actually wasn’t just pizza or pasta either, and it was just so nice to experience a proper Italian restaurant rather than the chain restaurants I’ve generally visited previously.
There were a number of tasty sounding starters to choose from, but I was feeling something lighter so I opted for the grilled marinated Mediterranean vegetables with salsa verde. Our food arrived promptly, a pile of veggies with plenty of fresh rocket on top. The courgette, aubergine, green and red peppers were all cooked perfectly, with a nice charred flavour, and all retained their texture. The salsa they were tossed in had a mild flavour and it all went together beautifully with the peppery rocket. It was a light but tasty start to the meal, just what I wanted on a warm summery evening.
For my main, I chose polenta with roasted mushrooms and peppers. I expect I could probably make something similar at home for pennies but I’ve actually never cooked polenta before! I was intrigued to try it. The block of polenta was fairly plain, with a few Italian herbs running through it. It just worked so well with the veggies on top, allowing their flavours to really stand out. As with the starter, the mushrooms and peppers were cooked so nicely, so they still retained a bite, and they were coated in a rich, well seasoned tomato sauce. All in all it was a bowl of delicious comfort food and I devoured every bite. I felt comfortably full at the end of my meal and it left me feeling I’d be keen to come back and try more of what they had to offer.
The meal was really nicely paced, and we enjoyed great service the whole way through. Our jug of tap water was kept filled up without us having to ask, and they let us sit and chat for a while at the end of our meal, leaving us feeling completely unhurried and relaxed. At the same time, they were clearly keeping an eye on us in case we needed anything, and seemed to know when we were ready to get the bill. We were there for two hours but it didn’t feel like it at all – the sign of an ideal evening catching up where the restaurant really makes the experience that much better.
We dined on a Wednesday at the tail end of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ offer, so our meal was excellent value. For a plate of veggies and grains, the prices are a little on the higher side, but I think this reflects the service and atmosphere of the restaurant. It felt like the ideal date night spot and I’m sure I’ll return again at some point to try out more of what they have to offer. Have you been to La Cucina? I’d love to know what you thought of your food if you have! Let me know here in the comments, or over on Instagram @VeganEatsOxford.