21st October 2016
On a well-traversed Marylebone street lies Fucina, an ode to unreached potential and mediocrity.
Let's take a look inside. Diptique candles burn on oversized, mirrored votive holders on the walls. Chairs upholstered with canvas strips take us back to our deckchairs on the Italian Riviera. Orchard-green banquets and stained glass windows support an ingredient-led cooking philosophy. They showcase foliage rather than flowers. The individual bathrooms have that holy silence of privacy, encased in glorious, venous grey marble. Fucina is a very pleasant Italian restaurant.
We have to talk about the ceiling. At Fucina, there is the suggestion of the unborn in the undulating ceiling. Interesting to look at, yes, and if we were at the Saatchi Gallery we would probably pause to murmur something about the brick oven as a metaphor for gestation and Italy as a possible birthplace of the European food culture. It's a talking point for a hot second as you walk in.
I visited on a weekday for lunch with girls and a baby. We kicked off with a prosecco, and in retrospect, thank God for that because there was a cruel wait for the food to arrive. Without it, we would have picked on each other nonsensically like deranged hyenas. The vongole arrived before things got violent, before the crostini. This is the point at which Fucina capitulated and crumbled.
I adore vongole. Unmisstakably 'of the sea', they take well to a variety of sauces and preparations. Fucina served them with star anise, cumin, onion and sundried tomatoes, and a little bread for dunking. Full marks for originality, but it muted the vongole flavour completely. I'd challenge anyone who didn't call this a failure to a vigorous thumb war, immediately.
A slick curl of boar lardo arrived on a crostini. Droplets of honey helped to unpack the flavours. A delight. We loved it and wanted more. I'd kiss a few frogs to get a home supply of that Prince Charming of all lardos. We also had crostini with cetara anchovy, stracciatella, peppers and caper; basically they emptied out some nonna's refrigerated jars onto one piece of bread and added cheese. Really good cheese. It's home-style food - a crowd-pleaser.
Pizza was laid out on a wooden board, with fresh figs, boar sausage, broccoli, and that unifying ingredient, chilli. The ingredients were excellent, the dough competent and unexceptional. I opened Google Maps. Il Baretto is a four minute walk via Chiltern Street.
We were asked three times during the meal if we wanted more prosecco. One of my guests was most appreciative. "You never know when you might feel like having more prosecco" she demurred.
Paccheri is held in high regard in my household. Usually only found on the menu in restaurants that hand-make their own pasta, the generous girth of these tubes maximizes sauce uptake. There's no better pasta for attaining that ideal 50-50 sauce-to-carb ratio.
Fucina's comes with boar, and (not mentioned on the menu) boar bones. I gnawed away gamely. A moderately tasty ragu. I was disappointed again. What on earth happened, Kurt? Your other restaurants are sexy. The poke plating at Black Roe is instagram gold, and Chotto Matte has a decent number of punchy dishes. I wanted to love everything but fell well short of that.
Duck ravioli was stuffed with small, whole pieces of oversalted meat and hazelnut, which gave it a discomforting, ligament-esque crunch. I suffered through it. There was no taste of orange at all, instead sage oil, and an abundance of butter.
On to dolce. Our licorice tart was coated in gold shimmer and tasted almondy - the licorice flavour came from a deeply flavoured, almost medicinal biscuit. Moist, dense and interesting. We were excited by the prospect of bourbon ice cream, and whimpered a little when told it wasn't available - apparently the patisserie next door will be making it once it opens. It was during soft launch - this is forgiven.
We ordered a chocolate pralinat. We got a praline base, and an incredibly creamy, almost Swiss, chocolate tart with a rockscape of salted and caramelized chocolate slabs jutting out of it organically. Quite good also.
Service was most charming and genuine, and it's too bad it wasn't backed up by the food. Our bill for three came to £100 total, this with 50% off the food due to the soft launch promotion. Without the discount, it is totally overpriced for the result, especially at lunch.
It's a shame really. If they have the courage to totally rewrite their snooze-worthy menu or re-think the execution of the dishes, I suppose it could be saved. Else, I see a lot of 50% off and three-course-deal promotions ahead.
Paddington Street is not a great place to dump a large, fumbling expensive Italian. To your left, Opso. To your right, Il Baretto and Blandford Comptoir. Circling round, Fischers, Providores and Tapas, hell, even la Fromagerie and Daylesford. One of the supposed-best 50 restaurants in the world is opening an Italian (Luca) at the end of the month, and even Ben Tish of Salt Yard Group is getting in on the scene with Veneta, which just finished it's soft launch. Yes Fucina, the Spanish Armada is coming. Christ, I'm worried for you.