Happy go Luca: An inside look at the popular new Oughtibridge restaurant
We take a Luca what’s going on in Oughtibridge, as the owners of popular local café Joni’s open a new ‘little bro’ restaurant just a few doors down.
Photography: Ben Hargreaves
Deep in the depths of lockdown (part 2, the inevitably worse sequel), one bright spark in the north of the city was the emergence of a new café serving up exquisite coffees, brunch and lunches for takeaway. Its arrival in Oughtibridge proved incredibly popular with locals and walkers alike, and the queues down the street paid testament to how the cafe was helping to spread a bit of cheer during a difficult time.
The venue’s popularity only increased once it was allowed to open fully, and a year later they have now taken the step to open Luca, a second complementary venue just down the road in the former home of Julio’s Italian restaurant.
“Joni’s is so well known around here. We helped keep people afloat in lockdown and we were so busy every day,” says Luca’s general manager Jon Herdman, a familiar face if you’ve frequented many of the city’s favourite night spots. “People altered their long-standing walking routes to come through Oughtibridge so they could come to Joni’s, which was great.”
“When we opened Joni’s, Julio’s was still here, and we sort of jokingly said wouldn’t it be good if we took on Julio’s and did our version of it. Then a year and one day after that we opened to the public!”
“We didn’t really choose Oughtibridge. It was just a nice little spot on the corner. Then as we started working here over the year, we made so many friends and really integrated ourselves. It just seemed like an obvious idea that we’d want to do something more, which then became Luca.”
The menu is a mix of Mediterranean dishes, including pizza, pasta and classic meat and fish dishes, all delivered with a distinctive Luca twist. They are also very proud of their beer and wine selection: the downstairs waiting area doubles as a bottle shop and huge fridges showcase a rotating cast of around 110 beers and 40 wines. The restaurant’s dining area can be found upstairs for the full-sit down experience, but all the menu is available for takeout if you fancy the Luca experience at home.
Whatever your preference, the idea is that Luca takes over where Joni’s leaves off. Jon explains: “Joni’s is daytime. This is night-time. We sort of call it Joni’s little brother, because we want to do a similar offering but with a different vibe, one that’s maybe a bit more fun. You can swear in here, but you can’t swear over there. It’s a place where you can come and have a drink. We do expert quality coffees over at Joni’s and we do expert quality beer and wine over here. So, it’s still a similar lineage.”
“In terms of food, it’s Mediterranean cuisine, through a sort of Sheffield lens. We don’t really hang on one cuisine; we can sort of flip and change it. We just do things that we think will work, so it could be a French ingredient, in an Italian sauce on a Spanish base, and if it’s good we’ll put it on the menu.”
“Our drinks offering is everything I like! I prefer organic wines and beers, so pretty much all our wines and beers are organic. I like to think of the drinks menu as auteured.”
“I’ve worked in the booze industry now for 10 years, so I’ve been trusted to sort out the drinks offer, and because I’ve been over at Joni’s for a year and people have seen me put that bar together, they kind of trust me, so it’s whatever I want to bring in.”
“We offer beer from mainly England, France and Belgium and it’s been really well received, because there’s nowhere quite like this to drink in Oughtibridge.”
“We’re really keen to demystify specialty products. So, we’re not saying this uses malolactic fermentation and that’s why it’s 45 quid! We’ve found speciality wines that are great, and we’re undercharging on them. Similarly, with the coffee we’ve not got some ridiculous blend from some hillside somewhere.”
“Normally a bottle of wine might be £100, but we found a £35 version of it, and it will have got the similar grape varieties and similar sort of terroir, or a similar region that you want and like, but through our knowledge we found a better value version. It took months to do that, and it’s something I’m really proud of. The wine list here is mega.”
The food menu is pretty exciting, too, and it constantly changes to keep things fresh and interesting. A lot of care and attention has been taken to make sure the menu is inclusive with vegan and gluten-free options, as well as substantial kid’s menus.
What is clear from our conversation with Jon is that a lot of passion, thought and expertise goes into everything at Luca. They want to be a great restaurant, offering a great experience, not just the best restaurant in the area. Ten weeks in, they’ve already made a great impression.
Jon said: “It’s what I want to do, and I’ve put a lot into it. There’s lot of me in these four walls, and if you come in, you’re going to meet me, which has been great. Whilst we were at Joni’s we got to meet people and get an idea of what they want. It was nice to be able to give them back the restaurant that they’d want to come to.”
“It’s definitely relaxed. We don’t do sirs and madams. If I’m taking your order, I’ll come and sit at your table. We always try and make a connection with people that come and dine with us.”
Having sampled some of the dishes, we can vouch for the quality of the food and highly recommend taking the short trip out to the North-West of the city for an evening with Jon and the gang.
Bookings available at lucarestaurants.co.uk