Featured Restaurant: Rucola

26th October 2018

Chalfont Station Rd • Little Chalfont • HP7 9PS • 01494 762498

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

It’s been a long week, but the moment I step foot in Rucola, I feel instantly at ease. I’m charmed by the friendliness of the waiter who greets us in Italian and by the inviting atmosphere: the cosy mood-lighting, the murmur of conversation and the tantalising smells coming from the kitchen…

The menu is full of timeless Italian classics; but the decor is less traditional-rustic and more fabulous-Hollywood. It’s a striking palette of black, red and white; the walls are filled with monochrome prints of old school film greats, like Audrey Hepburn and Al Pacino.

Nonetheless, as far as the food goes, it’s all about the traditional touches here. When I enquire about the ‘specials’, a huge wooden board is brought over to our table and sits on a chair like a third guest. And I definitely spy a dessert trolley doing the rounds.

The specials are incredibly enticing; the whole menu is, in fact. There aren’t any surprises here, or any pretence to de-construct or improve; the dishes are unapologetically, quintessentially Italian; or at least in the way that the English have come to love and expect…

…Like the garlic bread that’s brought to our table while we examine the menu. The ciabatta has been cut into very thin slithers – as if to lure carbophobes into a false sense of security – and is oozing with herby, melting butter. It all disappears far too quickly. Feeling a little guilty, I decide on a light starter and opt for Insalata di Avocado e Pancetta Croccante (avocado and bacon salad); while the husband (H) has no such delicate qualms and goes for Ravioli della Casa (house ravioli).

In an interesting and not necessarily unwelcome twist, it’s the pasta that’s marvellously light, and the salad much more robust than anticipated. The ravioli are stuffed with tomato and ricotta and taste creamy and moreish. They make a very pretty dish – skilfully presented as a crescent of pasta parcels, dotted with the green and red of handmade pesto and tomato sauce, and scattered with tiny purple-red flowers, which I learn are red amaranth. My salad is heaped high with strips of salty bacon atop half an avocado and mixed leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The bacon is perfectly crisp and the avocado perfectly ripe: nothing to fault here.

I adore fish and have been swayed by the waiter’s comments that the Turbot on the specials board is the ‘king of fish’; while H chooses Filetto di Manzo al Barolo e Senape (beef fillet with Barolo wine and mustard sauce) from the à la carte menu. My turbot is, indeed, splendidly regal: firm, sweet and enhanced by a delicate tomato jus of stock, crushed cherry tomatoes, garlic and a kick of chilli. H’s fillet of beef is also magnificent; really delicious: cooked medium rare, and served in a rich gravy. I recognise the wine and the mustard flavours, which work beautifully with the beef, but have to ask if the Chef will reveal his other secret ingredient – something that lends a depth and sweetness to the sauce. Surprisingly, it’s a touch of honey.

After an appropriate pause, the dessert trolley makes its way to our table. It’s one thing to say ‘no’ when pudding is a typewritten entry on a menu; it’s another thing entirely to gaze at a trolley laden with chocolatey, fruity treats and still forego. The apple pie calls to us most ardently, and our waiter takes a serving away to heat up; he returns it with an added scoop of vanilla ice cream; and we devour it without delay. The aromatic, autumnal hint of cinnamon is particularly good.

My final ‘arrivederci’ is heartfelt… We’ll definitely be back.

STARTERS: £6.90-£11.50 • MAINS: £9.00-£19.50
DESSERTS: £5.50-£7.50 • HOUSE WINE: £18.90

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