Fucina Marylebone visits Amalfi.
If you want to get an insight into the authenticity of a restaurant but don’t have an intimate knowledge of the cuisine, then taking a friend who just happens to come from the country isn’t a bad idea. Unless they happen to come from Italy, where regionality is so embedded in the food that you’ll find arguments from village to village about how to make the best ragu.
Taking an Italian to a modern Italian restaurant in London founded by an Australian restaurateur, best known for opening Nobu across Europe and setting up Chotto Matte in Soho is clearly a high-risk strategy. But there again, anything owned by Kurt Zdesar should be up to the challenge.
Fucina is set in a classy location in the heart of Marylebone Village. Design-wise, it’s an interesting fusion of the modern Asian styling of Nobu and Hakkasan and the Italian glitz of Princi. You walk in, thinking you’ve found somewhere intimate, but the back of the restaurant has a large dining area. Staff are friendly and helpful and the atmosphere, even on a Monday evening, is buzzing. Executive chef Pasquale Amico has a stellar background too, having worked with Giorgio Locatelli in 3 different venues – Cecconi Restaurant, Locanda Locatelli, Refettorio Restaurant before starting his own Italian organic vegetarian restaurant, Amico Bio which might just have been a little ahead of its time. Here you’ll see much of his passion for organic and responsibly sourced foods expressed on the menu.
This summer, Fucina has introduced three Amalfi inspired dishes to their menu and we’ve gone along to try them out. First though, a glass of Pinot Grigio La Tunella, some Nocellara olives and a basket of bread.
Carabinero prawns are a particular type of deep red prawns found in the Mediterranean. Served here as a fresh prawn tartare with chilli, dandelion pesto and basil, the dish was light and refreshing, the chilli so subtle I might not have known it had been used and topped with friseé. I liked it a lot though my instinct that it wasn’t an authentic Amalfi dish at all was confirmed by my Italian companion. No matter, it was fresh and delicious.
Our alternative starter was a goat’s cheese Piemontese salad with mixed leaves, mint and orange dressing and with a generous handful of crushed pistachio. Very delicious though my Italian companion who comes from Turin again was not convinced by the authenticity. Does it matter? Probably not, though it perhaps does raise a question over why dishes are given a regional name when they don’t have any regional heritage. This is modern Italian cuisine so, by and large tradition could be seen as irrelevant.
It’s fair to say that most cuisines have lost much of their regional heritage – perhaps authenticity now is no more than the use of key local ingredients in dishes which are contemporary in style?
The first of our main courses was seafood scialatelle. We learnt that Fucina makes its pasta in-house and this particular type of pasta is one I’d never come across before. It turns out that it is an invention which dates back to the 1970s when Chef Enrico Cosentino from La Caravella in Amalfi, invented scialatelle, a hybrid fettuccine cut in a way that makes it ‘ruffle’ as the name (which originates from the Neopolitan word sciglià). In a sense, the use of one of the few ‘new’ pastas fits perfectly with the rest of the dishes we’ve been trying. It’s delicious, with perfectly al-dente pasta and a lovely seafood dish rich with fresh tomato and mussels.
Our second dish was the weakest. Amalfi lemon risotto really didn’t work for either of us. We asked what rice had been used (nano) and ended up concluding that perhaps a large pot was made early in the evening and kept warm to be served as diners ordered. However it had been prepared, the dish was rather glutinous and the topping of sea bass, thyme and olive oil did nothing to improve things.
Figs for dessert seemed entirely appropriate. I think my sweet tooth got the better of me and I ate most of this dish, which we meant to share.
Port poached figs came with a light orangy custard and some slivers of candied peel, a portion of ice-cream and some rather unnecessary pop-corn. I’d probably have voted to lose the ice-cream too, though I managed to eat most of it!
For the most part, the wine list is rather pricy. The best offer is M de Minuty Côtes de Provence Rosé which can be ordered for £25 every day between 6 pm and 7.30 pm or all day on ‘Wine Wednesdays’. Alternatively, at the weekend between 12 pm and 4 pm, there are ‘bottomless drinks’ at £20 per person, with an offer of a selection of wines, Aperol spritz, gin and tonic, bellini or Birra Moretti.
I’d come back, though not for the risotto. The set lunchtime menu is good value at £22 for two courses and the Sunday roast offer of grass-fed rib of beef seared on the wood-fired ‘Fucina’ and finished in the oven sounds excellent value at £26.
26 Paddington Street,
tel 0207 058 4444
Looking for something different? we loved the food at Twist Kitchen in Marylebone