When 1884 Dock Street Kitchen first opened a few years back, I recall worrying that such a large restaurant wouldn’t be able to consistently draw enough custom to turn a profit. It took six years for this uncanny prediction to come true when DSK closed its doors this summer, but six years success makes me think that it wasn’t so much an uncanny prediction as a load of nonsense.
Looking back, it wasn’t the size that did for them, it was the dilution of the culinary market in Hull, caused by the false dawn of City of Culture status. A purge is inevitable and under way and the biggest restaurant in the city was always likely to suffer.
Fair play to the owners of the 1884 brand, then, for diversifying their offering rather than continuing with an excellent but ultimately moribund centrepiece. They opened 1884 Wine & Tapas about four years ago and they’ve recently opened two other new, smaller ventures, both of which look like very good bets indeed.
The first one I’ve visited is Cucina 1884, located in Hessle, the mysterious town on Hull’s western border. It’s mysterious because it’s a decent-sized town with some very wealthy residents but has struggled to sustain a good pub, let alone a high-end restaurant. I have little doubt that Cucina 1884 stands the very best of chances of bucking that trend, however.
Residents of the East Riding may remember the site as the former Luciano’s restaurant, which proved a popular destination on The Weir until it moved into Hull before closing a couple of years ago.
The Cucina crew have entirely rebuilt the interior so the emphasis is on the enticing and shiny open kitchen. It takes up around half the room and allows 16 be-stooled diners to watch their snap being prepped mere inches away by the team of intense, whip-crack quick chefs. There are tables available as well, but I’d definitely recommend booking a counter seat if you can so you get the full drama of the place.
Head chef Mark Langton has put together a canny menu of tweaked Italian classics, most of which can be ordered in either starter or main portion sizes. The idea is to eat tapas-style, with dishes arriving in whichever order they are ready and you then pick more if you’re still hungry. Sat at the counter with a pint of Menabrea and a superb plate of carta da musica, perusing the menu and transcribing it against the food being prepped in front of you makes choosing what to have incredibly difficult as it all looks equally fantastic as it hits the pass.
We ordered the panzanella as an opening salvo to see if it arrived strict Florentine or if they had their own variation. They did. Without cucumber or vinegar (the menu said balsamic but I think they forgot), it had olives instead. I shall let this transgression pass as it was still proper lovely.
The four perfectly chargrilled lamb cutlets in Cotelette Di Agnello were marvellously juicy and set off by the rosemary, garlic and anchovy sauce. The Braciole (beef stuffed with porcini, percorino, herbs and anchovies) was served in a rich tomato sauce and its basic look belied its complexity.
Equally simple-looking but with loads going on was the Cinchiale, a Tuscan-inspired pasta dish with wild boar, porcini, Chianti, crispy sage leaves and the gloriously-named Strozzapreti (or priest-strangler) pasta. It was as good as anything I’ve ever had in Italy.
Later, there was a seriously-boozy and delicious tiramisu and a plate full of cannoli – tiny, chocolate, nutty, creamy, cheesy and wickedly moreish. They could maybe have done with a little sharpness but this is a very minor quibble.
Also worthy of mention are the drink options. A solid wine selection is supported by traditional and newly-created cocktails. We dabbled in both and I would imagine further dabbling will be occurring in the very near future.
I can see Cucina 1884 becoming a regular haunt for me and a popular destination for discerning diners across the county. The prices (we spent just over £110 in an unhurried, indulgent couple of hours) are fair for the quality of the ingredients, and seasonal additions to the menu will keep things fresh and enticing.
Cucina 1884, 2 Ferriby Road, Hessle. HU13 0PG. Tel: 01482 627 242; open: Monday-Thursday, 10.30am-11pm; Friday, 10.30am-12pm; Saturday, 9am-12pm.