MAXINE GORDON heads for a sunny al fresco lunch with friends at a York hot spot

WHEN your day off coincides with one of the sunniest days of the summer that has to be a good start.

So there was a definite spring in my step as I headed towards Lucia's in Swinegate Court, York, to meet up with some girlfriends for a bite to eat.

It was a Monday lunchtime and the popular York restaurant runs a first-come/first-served policy for tables.

Opening at noon, we were there shortly before and secured an outside spot which had the benefit of a side canopy to keep the heat of the midday sun at bay.

We'd all played tennis earlier and were parched and ravenous.

So drinks first: sparkling water (£3.10); Fentiman's Sparkling Elderflower (£3.95) and two fresh orange juices at £2.30 each (and an extra 65p for a dash of soda in one of them).

The menu was extensive with dishes for all budgets and appetites, from sharing platters, small plates, pastas, risottos, burgers, steaks and salads.

York Press:

Entrance to Lucia's from Grape Lane

We also noticed a special "Lunch For Two" menu running from Monday to Fridays offering two main courses and two drinks for £20 (£10pp) - perfect if you wanted a cheap lunch in a lovely city centre location with a friend. Choices included rump steak, pork gnocchi, sea bass with saffron risotto, beef burger, and spaghetti with meatballs.

If the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – offering £10 off meals Monday to Wednesday during August – hadn't been in operation during our visit we would have been tempted by the lunch menu and made a note to try it another time.

Check out the best places to eat outdoors in York here - as reviewed by The Press.

And so to our order.

From the Petit Lucia's section of the menu, friend one chose the grilled goat's cheese (£6.50). Served on a side plate, this would be ideal for anyone who doesn't like to be over-faced by portion size. My friend had decided she wanted to leave room for a decent dessert, so was satisfied with her choice.

York Press:

Goat's cheese small plate at Lucia's

The round of goat's cheese had been gently grilled so it had just started to change colour. A scattering of walnuts added some texture, and she enjoyed the cubes of beetroot on the side. If there was one complaint, it was that the fig compote was a bit too sweet for her liking and she would have preferred pieces of fresh fig.

Friend two chose the Caesar salad (£8) adding chargrilled pieces of chicken breast for an extra £2.50. This was the classic combo of Cos lettuce with shavings of Parmesan and croutons. She enjoyed it, but thought the chicken a tad over done, while the croutons could have been crunchier and the cheese mixed through the salad rather than being left in a pile at the bottom of everything.

Our third friend was happier with her choice - grilled halloumi with roasted veg, houmous, beetroot, orange, salad and flatbreads. It was a good sized portion and she devoured the lot.

York Press:

Halloumi salad at Lucia's York

The heat was definitely influencing our choices. I picked out a salad too - this time the tuna Nicoise (without eggs; I haven't eaten an egg since I was force fed them at nursery school). The waitress asked how I would like the tuna cooked and I said so it was still pink in the middle. When it arrived, it was still a pale fleshy colour in the middle rather than red pink, which made me suspect it had originally been frozen. It tasted OK - enhanced by a smear of salty tapenade on the top. A few warm new potatoes and a handful of sundried tomatoes made a guest appearance among the salad leaves. Some toasted flat breads on the side made it a substantial lunch.

We also ordered a portion of chips (£3.75) to share, which came in a small metal cup and amounted to a handful each.

Determined to have pudding, friend one took the lead on desserts.

Lucia's has an Italian cafe and patisserie next door on Grape Lane which friend one recommended wholeheartedly. If you felt like stretching your legs, you could try calling in there for afters.

We decided to stay put and placed our orders with the waitress: salted caramel cheesecake (£6.25) for friend one, and gelato for the rest of us. Flavours included stracciatella, vanilla, coffee, honeycomb and strawberry as well as lemon and fruits of the forest sorbets. Two scoops cost £3.95, or three for £5.75.

The gelato came in lovely ice-cold sundae glasses and was so smooth and soft that it was just starting to melt as we dug in. Silence descended as we scooped up every last drop. We can vouch for the stracciatella, vanilla, coffee, honeycomb - all were top rate.

York Press:

Salted caramel cheesecake at Lucia's

Dark and rich, the cheesecake was a winner too; its lovely, sweet caramel flavour softened slightly by a hint of saltiness. The menu promised it would come with raspberries - a favourite of friend one - but it actually arrived with strawberries and blueberries on the side, which were second best in her book.

We finished with a round of coffees. I had a decaf flat white and wouldn't order it again because it was hard to detect any coffee flavour in the milky brew.

Another friend was at a separate table. She and her partner had both had pasta and particularly recommended the tagliatelle with king prawns. One to note for next time, perhaps.

Our bill for four came to £82.60 but thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out discount of £10 per head was reduced to £42.60.

Lucia, 13 Swinegate, Court East, York YO1 8AJ


T: 01904 731599

Food: Mainly good 3.5/5

Service: Good 4/5

Ambience: Great 5/5

Value: Fair 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals are paid for by The Press