Italian job: ‘Delica’ pumpkin and barley risotto with crispy salsiccia at Il Cudega

When in Milan, do as the Milanese do.

Well, that’s not exactly how the maxim goes – and this foodie has never been to Milan. But if you visit Il Cudega, a new Lombardy restaurant on Westgate Street, order whatever the staff recommend. You won’t be disappointed.

The Lombardy region in northern Italy takes in the southern Alps, the lakes and has Milan as its capital. To start with we were recommended a complex white wine to accompany a salad with warm goat’s cheese, which was hard, and with an intensely mature flavour.

The wine was a winner with the carpaccio too, which was served generously, with a mustard and lemon dressing and raspadura, a kind of Lombardy Parmesan.

The menu is limited but ample, and changes according to the produce available.

If you can stomach the ethical dubiousness of veal, try the restaurant’s signature dish, Vitel Toné – veal tuna. It is roasted veal served in cold strips, with an anchovy, lemon and caper sauce.

In the 18th century Italians in landlocked Milan could not source tuna from Sicily, the chef tells us. Instead, they pretended to eat the delicacy by cooking thin strips of red veal in a mildly anchovy sauce.

And thank goodness they did, because this is divine. The pairing of a strong fish with a stark meat is unusual – but it works. The veal is so tender it almost dissolves and is served cold – which gives space for the anchovy flavour to come through.

For the more ethically-conscious the vegetarian food is as robust and flavoursome as it comes. I plumped for a main course of dark and meaty wild mushrooms, with a sweet pumpkin puree that cuts through the warm, oozing Gorgonzola served on top of crispy polenta.

For dessert, the Gorgonzola sorbet sounds terrible but is quite the opposite. The cheese flavour is subtle, and it comes served with a scoop of mascarpone gelato, a pear compote and walnuts. The flavours sit somewhere between a cheeseboard served with fruit and a cheesecake. It came with a flavoursome sweet, red dessert wine.

The quality of the produce, the hospitality and the extensive knowledge of the staff are as impressive as each other. The chef and waiter visit each table to explain the provenance of ingredients and why they’ve matched them with others.

Whether it’s the name of the beef farmer on Lake Como, the time at which they harvest the pumpkins, or the type of wine to have – they know their stuff and it enhances the experience.

There’s little to fault about this eatery. It’s pricey, though so are many places in Hackney these days, and the portions are modest. But you get so much bang for your buck.

Il Cudega
358 Westgate St, E8 3RL
ilcudega.com

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