Pierre Caruana, head-chef at Lena Restaurant in Shoreditch, says that he wants to be famous. And judging by his exceptional appetisers and his melt-in-the-mouth tagliatelle, I think he might just get his dream. Jamie Oliver, stand aside, please.
Caruana, recently promoted from sous-chef, only nine months into a brand new life in London, is Maltese, and loves to blend Sardinian ideas with Malta cooking, while throwing in the odd French twist when he feels like it. His buffalo mozzarella appetiser is light and delicious and the summer truffle tagliatelle is simplicity itself. The chef specialises in seafood, so I wouldn’t miss the octopus terrine or the lobster tagliatelle, if you’re seaward inclined. Or if you like rabbit, it is cooked the Sardinian way, in garlic, thyme and oil. The tiramisu scomposto comes in a martini glass, which I’m planning to dive into the next time I go there.
Our lovely server, Ania Zawadzka, says she likes the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant and the family feel of the staff. The owner, Alex Foley, wants his restaurant to recreate the simple, homey goodness of his Sicilian mother’s cooking and Lena gives you exactly what Foley promises. Good old Italian cooking, the way your mum made it (if she were Italian, that is…). Eat your meal accompanied by the restaurant’s favourite cocktail – an Aperol spritzer, made with Prosecco and orange bitters.
The restaurant stands in the heart of Shoreditch. The simple but tasteful interiors – exposed-brick, lots of natural light, pictures on the walls – are maybe slightly out of place amidst the glorious street art and general all-round-hipness that is now Shoreditch. (Does anyone else feel that they should be wearing stripy-clown tights and a corset, and have red pig-tails just to walk through Brick Lane?) But don’t be fooled. The food is fresh, seasonal, and all the bread, pasta and ice-cream are done from scratch on-site. Everything you order is made à la minute, and not dumped straight from the freezer into the microwave.
The restaurant is picking up its feet again after a period of various setbacks. So, if you’ve tried Lena in the last couple of years and thought it wasn’t really your glass of Prosecco, then I’d recommend giving it another go. Get their special working lunch on a weekday, or enjoy a cocktail and a sumptuous three-course meal after a long day in the City.
66 Great Eastern Street
Tel: 020 7739 5714