De Luca is an independent Italian restaurant located in the heart of Cambridge. It prides itself on serving traditional Italian food using fresh ingredients from local suppliers. It has been around for decades and is well known for its modern atmospheric interior and piano bar upstairs. Despite feeling up market, you’d be surprised to know that they also offer great value too, which is why many people (including my own family) have been coming back for years.
I popped in by myself the other day to take advantage of their Thursday evening £10 pizza deals and I was thoroughly impressed. I must admit, for £10, I was not expecting much but I found the pizza to be one of the best I have had in the city.
I went for the Puttanesca pizza, which comes with cheese, anchovies, caper, chilli, mozzarella, and a tomato base. The green olives were big and meaty and it was so refreshing to have anchovies, as I haven’t had them in years!
The pizza dough is fermented for 72 hours for added depth and flavour, with the portion sizes also being very generous, especially when it came to the topping. Being a 6’4 and a chap who eats rather big portions, I was skeptical that a pizza on its own would be enough to satisfy me but I felt truly indulged by the end.
I reported back to fellow Cambridge Foodie Sean, who insisted we return so he could judge for himself. We generally struggle to get excited about Italian cuisine these days, mainly due to the numerous generic chain restaurants soiling its good name and drowning out quality independent Italian establishments. So when he heard that not only was there a place which does iconic Italian cuisine really well but for less, we were both keen to go back.
I also noticed they do a pasta dish on Wednesdays for the same £10 deal. This makes it a great place to grab a quality mid-week bargain dinner which would be ideal for students or people looking to save a few pounds during this nasty cost of living crisis.
We ordered some olives while we decided what we wanted to eat. I was pretty sure that I was going to try the pasta promotion to really test what £10 could get us here. Sean had already set his sights on having one of the pizzas I had been raving about.
Like with my previous pizzas above, the olives were big, succulent, and full of flavour. Portions were about average size.
What I like about De Luca is not just the balance of modern, yet still rather traditional, interior decorating (which is a hard balance to pull off) but also its open plan kitchen. This adds the reassuring excitement of a bustling restaurant but also proves an acceptable level of cleanliness. We have all had that one experience in a restaurant which looks perfect from the outside but once you peek behind the scenes, the kitchen looks like a war crime. De Luca has no such qualms, as it proudly shows you how it operates with confident transparency.
I decided to go for the Rigatoni Arrabbiata pasta dish which is served with a spicy chilli and garlic Napoli sauce. Parmesan cheese was also offered on top. I ordered a rocket salad to go alongside to make my meal more balanced and for a complementary peppery flavour.
The pasta was bold and certainly a step up from the generic chain restaurants you get around Cambridge. At first glance the portion looked a decent size but miraculously felt bigger the more I ate. By the end, I was struggling to finish the dish. Speaking with the restaurant owner Paul who always manages to come over and speak to me personally during each visit, he says that they pride themselves on their portions. Point throughly proved, Paul!
De Luca reminds me of one of those old school Italian restaurants in the movies, where customer service is paramount. They do things by the book, by using fresh and local ingredients, offering great value, and timeless Italian dishes which will never go out of fashion. This coupled with the personal touch offered from the restaurant owner Paul, quickly turns you from a passer by into a regular visitor.
De Luca has always had a great wine menu and though we did not sample any last night, I have had their wine numerous times in the past. I recommend going for their house red which offers a rather smooth experience, yet is still robust enough to go with any dish on the menu, even fish!
We decided to start with their house red, which comes in an unlabelled bottle. These came at a fairly priced £20 and went down a treat. I’m no wine connoisseur but it was an incredibly smooth wine which was light enough to complement our food incredibly well – no matter what we planned to order. In fact, it might have been a little too smooth as we ended up having two bottles!Quote from my previous review last year.
As a frequent scotch and bourbon drinker, I would also like to take this opportunity to compliment De Lucas selection of spirits behind the bar. Woodford Reserve being one of the best quality bourbons for its price range (in my opinion) and is something I have regularly stocked at home. Also, Lagavulin is also a personal favourite which my wife and I drink together frequently.
When Sy told me about De Luca I thought I’d have a little look at the menu and was immediately drawn to the Nduja Pizza. Nduja is a fairly recent discovery for me, first giving the spicy and flavourful sausage a try at a food van parked outside my local. So I of course suggested we go back and give their Pizza Thursday a go so I could have it again.
Walking in you’re immediately drawn to the vibrant lighting. Which on top of the décor, chatter, and music leads to the sense of an exciting night ahead.
As Sy was doing the driving I was forced to take on the 2 for £10 cocktails myself, heroically sinking back two very delicious cocktails before the mains arrived. They were well executed and beautifully presented, with edible flowers (I learnt that just because something is edible, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s delicious) and fruit to garnish.
One of the great things about De Luca is the open kitchen besides the bar. The sounds and smells of Italian cooking, really ramped up my appetite ahead of the pizza arriving.
The pizza was nothing short of incredible. You can taste the love and effort that’s gone into the dough, but even the marinara stood out as fresh and vibrant in the face of the spicy and oily Nduja. And if I wasn’t being slapped around the chops hard enough already, the balsamic onions really helped to bring focus to the quality of all the ingredients.
For me De Luca seems like a great place to start a night on the town, getting some all important carbs tucked away in the most delicious way possible. For others it could offer an intimate or romantic dining experience. Ultimately, it’s all about the quality of the experience and De Luca’s really does have something for everyone. I will certainly be back!