La Cucina Centro
Henry Street
Phone: 061 517400

Irish Daily Mail
17 December 2016

If there’s anything more boring, more guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over, than other people’s holiday snaps or children’s school achievements, it’s other people’s diets, by which I mean regimes for losing weight. And so I hesitate to mention that I have been trying to shed a few excess pounds by adopting what the afficionados call the LCHF approach.

While the acronym represents low carbohydrate, high fat, this is not an entirely accuare indication of what is involved. For the past couple of months I’ve eschewed, for the most part, sugar, flour, potatoes, pasta and rice. I’ve been eating lots of vegetables, salad, meat and seafood and, believe it or not, I’ve lost half a stone.

I don’t check the scales very often and the first I knew of this was when I managed to button an old shirt at the neck without a struggle. It’s no hardship, to be honest, and I get to eat very well and have a few glasses of wine, even a very occasional dry martini.

So, a trip to La Cucina Centro in Limerick, only six weeks in operation, was obviously going to involve a departure from the regime. What they do – and do very well – is pasta and pizza (although there are other possibilities, of course). Well, I was going to treat myself.

And that’s the thing about the LCHF approach to eating. It’s a long haul regime; you can break out every now and then, although I have to admit that I’m reluctant to take the sugar route. Sweetness is a luxury and I’m saving it for Christmas, when, heaven knows, I may well fall right off the wagon. Possibly undoing all the good I’ve managed to achieve.

Well, I could not have chosen a better spot for sinning. Johann and I first encountered Lorraine and Bruno, the “Italian Foodies” at their first restaurant, the inncocent looking little place they have in Castletroy. A fun family lunch there, a few years back, showed us that this couple believe in proper cooking, no short cuts, truly Italian (as is Bruno’s heritage).

Taking their promise of real food to the centre of the city they now have a very cool premises on Henry Street, all fashionable grey and lovely lighting, with a menu that ticks all the boxes while remaining authentic.

It’s true that pizza and pasta are not often produced in the same restaurant in Italy (although it’s far from unknown) but at La Cucina they simply aim to do both very well indeed, and they succeed.

We shared a pizza to start, a splendid combination of Italian sausage, mushroom and peas, a Norcina, and it was ace. A crisp base but still just sufficiently floppy, the edges crusty, the toppings melting into a highly successful melange, the peas adding an unexpected texture and greeness. In fact, the popping of the peas in the mouth was a pizza experience that I’ve never had before.

Intensely savoury, creamy with the kind of melted mozzarella that produces seemingly never-ending strands, this was a pizza to conjure with.

However, in the interests of science, we ventured further. For me, spaghetti carbonara. For Johann, a tagliata of beef with salad. Believe me, most people will not need this amount of food.

The reason I ordered the carbonara is because the ingredients listed didn’t include cream, as is only right and proper. A lot of Irish people get confused between carbonara and alfreddo. Carbonara is, quite simply, egg, cheese and pancetta (or, more authentically guanciale which is cured pork cheek, but only purists insist on this).

Well, it was perfect. My dear old friend, Paolo Tullio, a mild mannered man could become quite irate at the abominations that masquerade as carbonara. He would have purred at this one: a rich sauce, an amalgam of egg, Parmesan and just-cooked pancetta bathed the al dente fresh (and quite thick) spaghetti. It was a rich, decadent, beguilingly delicious yet simple dish.

They tell me that they do add cream for those customers who demand it, but that the chef grits his teeth and curses in the process.

Johann’s tagliata was good but not brilliant. The beef might have been better a little rarer and the dressing, balsamic based, would have been more effective with less sweetness. The citrus element in the salad, however, was good.

At this stage, pudding was out of the question. With a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a macchiato, this carb-laden feast came to €70.