The country’s smallest town, in the northernmost corner of Essex, isn’t perhaps where you would think to head for an authentic Neapolitan pizza, but it should be. Among all the striking Georgian and Victorian buildings lining Manningtree High Street, Lucca occupies a beamed wool merchant’s house dating back to 1670. Formerly the Stour Bay Cafe ran by Lucca owners Californian-born Sherri Singleton and her British husband David McKay, which received rave reviews for their Californian-inspired cuisine.
Named after Sherri and David’s favourite Tuscan holiday spot, Lucca was also intended as the name of their first-born child, should they have had a boy. When a girl was born they made Lucca the name of their third venue; a quality wood-fired pizza restaurant. They also own the highly regarded Mistley Thorn and the Mistley Kitchen Cookery Workshops (hats off to them for finding the time to make a baby given their prolific food-related output).
Authenticity is key here. Sherri learned techniques from a summer spent at the side of Enzo Coccia, owner of La Notizia, a Neopolitan pizzeria rated in the Michelin Guide (the only one that I know of) and generally regarded as a temple to pizza. The Caputo flour is imported from a specialist mill in Naples that is perfect for making pizza dough and the wine list is all-Italian. Meat and fish are local and much of it organic, with everything made in house aside from the ice cream and sorbet, which come across the border from a creamery in Suffolk.
It’s a well-thought out place. Even on a Sunday afternoon it was buzzing yet the service was spot on, attentive and smiley. The beams and open brickwork add to the warm almost cosy feel. And the food? By 3pm our family was getting hungry. We started well with shared starters of garlic prawns and calamari rings on a bed of warm Tuscan beans, £7.90, and zucchini (courgette) fries with a light batter tossed in fine shavings of pecorino and lemon oil, £5.90, which were pleasingly juicy inside and crunchy outside. My daughter and I both ordered pizzas. What else would you want when you can smell them cooking in the wood-fired oven visible just over the counter?
I chose a Napoletana, £9.50, which was smothered in juicy tomato sauce with rich, salty anchovies and melting mozzarella di buffalo, topped with briny capers and beady black olives. Maya chose a Capra, £9.90, (minus the pancetta it comes with) scattered with fior di latte mozzarella, melting goats' cheese, colourful red roasted peppers and black olives. Ali, my partner chose to buck the pizza trend choosing linguine Fruitt di Mare, £10.50, a generous, attractive bowl of seafood including prawns, calamari, clams and mussels in a rich tomato sauce
So far, so good. I bowed out of dessert, genuinely full. Ali ordered the lemon tart, £5.90. It looked perfect on arrival and turned out to be just that. Crumbly pastry filled with mouthwatering lemon curd topped with creamy vanilla ice cream. Maya had one forkful and ordered her own. Not one for gushing, Ali admitted it was one of the best desserts ever.
The menu is huge and on Sundays you can order a free-range roast chicken and Suffolk rump of beef, but I could happily work my way through the pizza menu with such enticements as La Bomba, which is full of fiery things I like such as spicy roasted pepper and tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, salami picante, chillies and chilli oil. A slice of Naples in a corner of Essex? An unlikely recipe for success.