At Casa Ciuccio, you can order whole octopus tentacles of variously menacing sizes. The appendages come to your table all charred and covered in oil and thyme, with a neat cheek of lemon held in its coiled grasp – like the ‘pus was slain in the midst of making a G & T. Shame. It’s exactly the kind of dish you’d predict from the Bar Lourinha crew – and it’s just as rustic and awesome as you’d expect.
This is the new venture for Jo Gamvros, Simon Benjamin and chef Matt McConnell, and like Bar Lou, it’s a smooth ride from the second you walk through the door (or accidentally climb though the door-like open window next to it…). You’re bumping elbows with silver foxes and combat-booted snackers around a big, flower-and-fruit strewn communal dining table, and though there’s a menu, ordering is just a case of watching what your neighbours get and rating their reactions.
Take it as written that you'll be drinking wine (mostly Victorian, with a few French and Portuguese accents). There are but two beers and hard booze is all destined for pre-eat drinks. Eleven types of gin, Aperol, vermouths and Pimmsy things make fine concoctions, but how about kicking off with some chilled Amontillado? A superior sherry to that quaffed by your nan, if you pair it with a few fat olives and some spice-dusted nuts from the snack section, it’s one of the best possible ways to luge into dinner.
That’s what we love about eating at both Bar Lou and Ciuccio. Gamvros and co nail the European dining experience. Which, if done right, is a seamless progression of this-goes-with-that followed by this, so you sort of float through dinner without noticing anyone pulling the strings, ending up full, hazy and not quite sure what just happened.
And by that token, it’s inevitable that roasted haunches of pig, beef rib or suckling kid will end up amongst the debris of your salty jamón, butter-soft bonito (a bit like tuna) cured in lemon, and creamy mozzarella balls, skewered with basil. All beasts are roasted over a coal pit out back and sectioned into meaty, partially scorched chunks. Rich veins of sticky fat are turned translucent by hours of smoldering. The meats come with lemon, which you need, and utensils, which you don’t. Order a side of baby cos lettuce, cleaved into neat wedges with a zing of lime and little discs of crunchy radish. The green tomato salad is a tart mouthwash too, but we’re too proteined up to take on the accompanying slab of soft buffalo cheese.
You just can’t go wrong on Gertrude Street these days, with the Everleigh, Cutler, and now the Builders Arms (owned by Matt McConnell's bro, Andrew). And yet with its casual good-time vibes, bright, umbrella-strewn courtyard and razor sharp service, this little joint, even with a baleful ass for a mascot, still stands out.