La Cucina + Bar, Port Douglas

Essence of Italy

When you’re a teenager, you generally have no idea where life’s adventures will take you. For Port Douglas’ LaCucina + Bar owner Vincenzo di Cugno, 15 is the age where all he wanted was a mobile phone. Little could he have imagined where that desire would take him.

“I started working in the hospitality industry in Italy in 2000 when I was 15 because I wanted a mobile phone,” he says. “I asked my mum if she could buy me a Nokia because it had the game Snake on it.

“She said, ‘if you want a phone, find a job and go and earn it’. So, the next day I found a job working in a bar. My first month I made 600,000 lira (approximately $500 Australian dollars today) and I gave it to my mum and asked her to bank it for me.

‘She said, ‘oh, don’t you want a phone?’, and I said no. I didn’t want to spend the money because I’d have some money in the bank!”

Even though Vincenzo was studying biology at the time, his enthusiasm for the hospitality industry was stronger. After three years of study, he left uni and took up a full-time position at an American cocktail bar in Italy, which he loved.

He came to Australia for a road trip with friends and settled in Port Douglas where he secured a job at the ever-popular Sassi La Cucina in 2013. He worked there for eight years, including being restaurant manager, before he took over ownership in 2021.

While the sophisticated restaurant’s name has changed, very little has changed - except for some new and exciting menu choices. Its authentic Italian food and the restaurant’s warm and friendly ambience is enhanced by the charismatic, professional staff, the majority of whom are Italian. And they all bring a little quintessential piece of Italy with them. 

“We have created an environment that is fun and characteristically Italian,” Vincenzo says. “We laugh a lot, make a lot of jokes and interact with our customers. They love it, and we love it.”

Aside from the relaxed and warm hospitality, it’s the food that makes La Cucina + Bar a standout and is the reason why so many customers are regulars, undoubtedly returning to sample everything on its extensive food and bar menu.

Among the delicious and in-demand entrees are the cobia crudo served with parsley oil, citrus soy, chives, finger lines pearl, Japanese mayo and wild scampi caviar, and the tartare di tonno: raw sashimi-grade tuna with sesame seeds, soy, lime, avocado and celery served on a bed of lemon cured cucumber.

Included in its pasta dishes is the divine pappardelle al ragu di cervo funghi porcini, which is hand-made egg pappardelle, slow-cooked Queensland venison and Italian porcini mushroom ragu. Its al dente spaghetti tossed with clams and white wine, herbs and toasted breadcrumbs is another well-loved dish.

Main courses also offer a tantalising array of options. It’s hard to go past the filetto di manzo: 200 gram Rangers Valley mb3 chargrilled eye fillet alongside mash potato, green peppercorn and cognac sauce. Or there’s the coscia d’anatra: twice-cooked duck leg with orange glaze, pink peppercorn, carrot puree, grilled asparagus and red cabbage.

Its sensational pizzas are available seven days a week at the bar area, where cocktails also feature prominently, thanks to Vincenzo’s influence.

“We make so many cocktails,” he says. “At the moment we are making amaretto sour and whiskey sour cocktails made with a chickpea sauce, which vegans love.”

Vincenzo, who was offered a visa sponsorship by Sassi La Cucina to stay on, also happily sponsors others.

“Sponsorship is very good because there is a long-term commitment from them,” he says. “Even if they are not the best, they still learn how to be the best. And they love that.”

Like any passionate restaurateur, Vincenzo believes in loving what you do.

“If you have to work eight, nine or 10 hours a day, you should enjoy it,” he says. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

LaCucinia + Bar

4 Macrossan St

Port Douglas

4099 6744

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