Il Cudega review: ‘Sophisticated, well-executed Lombardian daytime dining’

Il Cudega

Il Cudega - Credit: Archant

Sometimes it feels like the last thing Hackney needs is another restaurant. Hackney Council certainly seem to think so, having dragged their feet over granting new Italian eatery Il Cudega a change of use licence for several months.

The railway arch in which the Lombardian dining room has finally opened used to be a car mechanic, the type of business Hackney is having to give protected status to given the apparently bottomless appetites of the borough’s hungry residents.

Il Cudega offers something different from the avocado-on-toast-flat-white run of the mill though, a slice of high style urban Italy with chic Milanese furniture and a level of gloss, sophistication and well-executed food and wine that feels authentic and welcoming, without having to prove its credentials with ‘homespun’ rusticity.

Opened by two Milanese friends – Giovanni Brighi, who has lived in Hackney for two decades, is on front-of-house duties while his Milan-based business partner, food editor Luca Gaggioli, sources rare charcuterie, cheeses and wines from slow food producers in Lombardy.

As a dreamy charcuterie plate arrives, piled with transluscent slices of coppa, prosciutto crudo, truffled mortadella and thick chunks of cucito sausage and accompanied by a glass of full-bodied white wine from Lake Garda, which our waiter describes as a “fake red”, it certainly seems that Gaggioli knows his stuff. We tuck in with gusto, throwing WHO scaremongering to the winds.

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Next up we try renowned regional dish vitel tone, slices of slow roasted veal in a tuna sauce, a balancing act between succulent meat, salty sauce and crunchy bitter lettuce; carpaccio Celtico, juniper-smoked beef served with delicate shavings of Raspadura cheese (unaged Grana Padano); and small dishes of cow’s knee cartilage with pickled shallots and shaved carrot – this would have been more enjoyable had we not known what it was in advance.

A dish of pan-fried polenta with toppings of the day – trompette mushrooms with green dandelion leaves and spicy Gorgonzola – accompanied by glasses of red Valtellina Superiore (my new favourite wine) was sublimely autumnal, as was the next dish, a pumpkin barley risotto, sweet and creamy but light, thanks to the use of barley instead of rice. Italian sausages in a red wine reduction on a custardy white bean sauce, with chunky black beans perfected the trio of mains.

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The best moments of the meal came in subtle and unexpected places – we expounded on the mascarpone cream that accompanied the chunks of Panettone (from Pasticceria Martesana, “the best bakery in Milan”) for a good five minutes. To round things off the charming Brescian chef Paolo Elesbani brought out zabaione del ciclista – short espresso topped with a thick custard, so named because it makes you feel you could cycle all day. Drunk as a shot this was the perfect Italian combination of bitter and sweet.

Such classy food deserves an evening audience, particularly in an area where the business lunch crowd are still in the minority. They are running regular themed supper clubs until they find out if they can get an evening licence. I certainly hope they do; they deserve to succeed, and Hackney deserves quality restaurant dining like this that doesn’t break the bank.

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