We live in delicious times! Pop ups and supper clubs have been keeping the foodie scene in Cambridgeshire fresh and La Cucina Italiana is a relatively recent contributor. Sally Bycroft, a hugely talented cook inspired by the flavours of Italy, launched La Cucina Italiana last year to cater private dinners and events. Sally has taken her culinary journey a step further by hosting A Big Friendly Do, an Italian style lunch where her guests gather around a table on a Sunday afternoon and sample the recipes she has collected on her travels. This immensely popular pop up (it sells out fast!) takes place every month or so at the Elk café in Burwell, the perfect cosy spot for a group of 20 to relax and enjoy an afternoon of wonderful food. I almost expected to look out the window and see the Tuscan slopes!
We were impressed by the whole experience. I attended with Paulo and our friends Peter and Jenni, who travel to Italy very often to visit family and explore the country. I’m from Italian parents so I knew the 4-course menu was a reflection of what Italian cuisine should be – simple, honest food expertly prepared with quality ingredients. Sally is not a formally trained chef but started helping out her mum with frequent dinner parties at an early age. Although Sally’s background is in PR and marketing, her travels ignited her love of cooking. Italy is Sally’s spiritual home and she lived in Tuscany for a while, giving her the opportunity to hone her Italian culinary skills. It’s clear she understands the flavours and traditions, not to mention the organisation and timing required to host such an event. There was also a great team in place and the venue was just lovely –we’ll definitely be going back to Elk café.
The price of the ticket (paid in advance) included all the food but drinks could be purchased on the day. The wine list (red, white and Prosecco from small artisan producers) was selected by Bat and Bottle, specialist importers of Italian wine. I opted for white – Vicentini Agostino Soave Terre Lunghe made from Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes. Jenni had the red – Sampietrana Masseria del Gelso Squinzano Riserva 2013 (Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera varieties) and the boys went for the sparkling – Col Sandago Prosecco Superiore ‘Vigna del Cuc’ 2017. All paired well with our meal.
A cin cin and a clink of our wine glasses set the scene for the Italian delights to come, starting with gorgeous antipasti platters laden with olives, melon (cantaloupe, honeydew), rocket, prosciutto and salami (the cured meats were replaced with figs for the vegetarians).
For the primo piatto, the first proper course in a traditional Italian meal, a small portion of pasta or risotto is served. Sally made an asparagus, mint and lemon risotto that tasted fresh and light. It takes skill and perfect timing to get risotto right, as it needs to be made on the spot and can’t be prepared ahead of time. Sally made this seem effortless.
The secondo piatto (main course) featured pheasant, which isn’t native to Italy but wild game is a big part of Tuscan cuisine. We were served Casseruola di fagiano, sumptuous slow-cooked pheasant with green beans, potato rosti and creamed cabbage & leek. A few orange slices added a touch of freshness and vibrancy. The whole dish was enhanced by a flavoursome jus. For the vegetarians, the pheasant was replaced with mushrooms for a Casseruola di funghi.
La dolce vita wouldn’t be as sweet without some dolci – desserts! The choices of tiramisù or panettone pudding satisfied everyone’s sweet tooth, further complemented by heavenly homemade florentines to go with coffee or tea.
The food was beautifully cooked but Sally was a great host too, warmly welcoming everyone and stopping by the tables to check if guests were content. The Big Friendly Do was a lot of fun and brought a taste of Italy to this little corner of Cambridgeshire. It’s no surprise that the next dates (February and March) are already sold out but Sally will be announcing more dates on La Cucina Italiana’s Facebook page, so stay tuned!
La Cucina Italiana were unaware that my experience would be the basis of a written review. It is based on my experience at my own cost and I did not receive compensation for my review.
Unless otherwise noted, I am the legal copyright holder of the content and images on this blog. Please contact me for permission if you wish to use, reprint or publish any material.