Luca serves chic Italian dining with a Caribbean view

Luca certainly stands out from the crowd.

The newly-opened restaurant, located within the luxurious Caribbean Club development, sports an impressive menu and a sleek up-scale interior to boot. But, the main draw has to be its breathtaking, uninterrupted, views of the development’s infinity pool stretching out to Seven Mile Beach and the sparkling Caribbean Sea. It’s unrivalled by any other eatery in Cayman.

Luca is the result of four years of hard toil, planning, and development by Paolo Polloni and Andreas Marcher, who have been firm friends since they first met in 1989.

The established restaurateurs own Ragazzis, one of the island’s most popular Italian restaurants, which has become a favourite with foodies; and a relaxed and informal place where family and friends meet.

Following the success of Ragazzis, which opened 1999, the enterprising duo has always been keen to open a further restaurant.

‘We really wanted to have a restaurant on the ocean. The Caribbean Club location was perfect,’ Paolo says.

Their vision was to create an up-scale dining restaurant to rival some of Cayman’s finest dining establishments.

‘We wanted to create something unique, completely different.

‘Style-wise and food quality we are aiming to be the same standard as Blue, but we are not competing with them. This is an entirely different dining experience.’

Attention to detail can be found in every element of Luca. Everything has been hand-picked by the restaurateurs, from the carefully selected wine cellar boasting over 3,000 bottles from across the globe (Ragazzi’s won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence four years running), to ingredients painstakingly sourced from Italy. Hand-blown glass, crafted in Venice, decorates the restaurant’s striking bar area, while the Villery & Boch cutlery, designed by award-winning chef Gualtiero Marcuaesi, begs to be picked up and used.

The décor is bang up to date, modern and slick. It’s reminiscent of a hip, elegant city restaurant, a million miles away from the ‘island-style’ décor favoured by many of Cayman’s fine dining establishment.

The result is a restaurant that is not just about good food. The swish interior, created and installed by a design team in Milan, simply beckons you in for a feast of the senses.

CHOCOLATE AND AUBERGINE

Ragazzi’s Head Chef, Federico Destro, has moved over to Luca, bringing over 15 years experience, eight years of which were spent at Ragazzis. He heads up a new team of nine chefs, from Europe and Asia.

With the same chef at the helm, it would be easy for the owners to just re-vamp the Ragazzi menu and charge a little more. Take a glance at Luca’s menu and its obvious that time and energy has gone into creating something entirely new.

The exquisite menu – described by the owners as ‘Italian-based, fused with international flavours’ – has been in development and fine-tuned over the past year. Ragazzi regulars with a keen eye may recognise a couple of the dishes as some have been given a trial run as daily specials.

‘We have tried each of the dishes so many times. We wanted to get them absolutely perfect,’ Paolo says.

‘We want people to come here and sample something entirely different.’

While I quizzed the restaurateurs on their plans for Luca, I tucked into a sampling of the restaurant’s offerings from the well-priced lunch menu.

A beautifully presented endive lettuce, cucumber, papaya, radish and raspberry vinaigrette salad, priced at $8, set the palate perfectly for a delicious lunch. It was followed by almond crusted local red snapper with lemon ginger beurre blanc, priced at $18, cooked to a melt in the mouth perfection.

Although filled to capacity, I was unable to resist the chef’s creative Belgian chocolate and aubergine mousse, priced at $8. An interesting mix, the dessert had to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Its Paolo’s favourite. He describes it as ‘unbelievable’. I’d have to agree. Others to note include the chocolate pappardelle (chocolate flavoured home made pasta) served with coriander sauce and pistachio ice cream and the limoncello and celery semifreddo.

‘Our chef is young and creative,’ Paolo explains. ‘The results are amazing and speak for themselves.’

The owners are determined diners have a true Italian experience, and wherever possible, ingredients are sourced in Italy, from olive oil, dressings and sauces.

Paolo points out that even the almonds on my snapper were shipped in from Italy.

Everything is freshly made daily in Luca’s kitchens, from the breads, pastas to the desserts.

‘It makes a difference,’ Paolo says. ‘Everything is the best quality. This is what Luca is about.’

The restaurant supports the Cayman Sea Sense Programme, which means only ocean-friendly, sustainable seafood choices are served up on the menu. It means diners can enjoy the seafood dishes, without the guilt of dwindling fish stocks.

‘Andreas is a keen fisherman and we both care about nature and are concerned about over fishing. Supporting Cayman Sea Sense means we can do our part to help the local environment.’

The dinner menu offers an extensive choice with tempting appetisers such as Spicy yellow fin tuna tartare, prosciutto di parma and fresh figs and seard Hudson valley foi gras with caramelised apples and spinach veloute. Prices range from $8.

No Italian restaurant would be complete without a pasta selection and there’s ample to choose from at Luca, including pumpkin ravioli, $16, and orange scented tagliatelle served with little neck clams, julienne vegetables and creamy seafood bisque, priced at $19. From the seafood options, Paolo tells me the branziono al sale – fresh whole Mediterranean striped bass baked in salt crust, semolina pancake and eggplant soufflé – has already proved a popular dish. For meat lovers, there’s a succulent 16oz black Angus t-bone steak, with homemade bourbon sauce and vegetable skewers, priced at $38.

QUIETLY CONFIDENT

It’s still very early days for Luca. The restaurant opened with great fanfare last week, with over 600 guests cramming into the venue.

With award-winning restaurants round almost every corner in Cayman, there’s plenty of stiff competition and Luca’s owners are going to have to ensure consistently top notch quality to maintain interest in Cayman’s ever fickle diners.

But Paolo and Andreas are quietly confident.

‘We have great food, fair prices and a fantastic ocean-front location.’

Luca, located on the West Bay Road, is open for lunch, 11.30am to 2.30pm, and dinner, 5.30pm 10.30pm seven days a week. The restaurant holds up to 150 guests with an additional 300 on the outdoor entertaining area. Call 623-4550 for reservations.

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