Restaurateur Kurt Zdesar – the founder of London dim sum chain Ping Pong and a former director of operations at Nobu – opened his latest venture in the capital, Italian restaurant Fucina, in October. Also in the diverse Zdesar stable are Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Chotto Matte in Soho and, launched in March this year, Pacific Rim venue Black Roe in Mayfair.
WHERE IS IT?
On Paddington Street, just off trendy Chiltern Street in Marylebone, a few minutes’ walk from Baker Street station.
Behind the forbidding-looking heavy wooden door, which is guarded by a doorman, is a stylish and social 110-seat restaurant – stepping into the warmth from the wintery evening outside, I had my coat taken by welcoming reception staff and was shown to my table.
It’s an attractive, relaxed space – immediately ahead as you enter, you can sit up to the grey marble bar for coffee and cocktails; then as the bar curves around, you see staff slicing cured meats and prepping small plates. To the right as you enter, beyond a seven-metre-high wine wall, steps lead down to a private dining space with an open kitchen and chef’s table.
Back on ground, the seating leads around in an L-shape and is a mixture of convivial long and round pale-wood tables for groups, and smaller ones for couples. The lighting is glowing and sexy, stained-glass windows help to create a cosseted feel, and dance beats play in the background behind the hubbub of conversation. Look up and you’ll see one of the more unusual design elements – an undulating brick ceiling designed to resemble the interior of a pizza oven.
A panetteria is due to open next door at the beginning of next year. The restaurant’s house-made breads, pastries, pasta and charcuterie will be available to buy, together with salads and sandwiches made with meats cooked in Fucina’s wood-fired pit, plus coffee and cold-pressed juices.
Chef Stefano Stecca has created a seasonal small-plate menu inspired by the dishes he ate as a child in Italy, with a modern twist. Everything served in the restaurant is organic.
The dinner menu is wide and divided into taglieri (cured meat and cheese boards), crostini, starter plates, pasta (all handmade on-site), pizza (wholemeal and stone-baked in a wood-fired oven), and fucina (meaning “forge” – meats such as pheasant, pork and wagyu ribeye cooked in the fire pit, plus octopus and sea bass).
It’s the kind of menu that is quite hard to select from as it all sounds pretty tasty. Still, being small plates, you can try a number of things from the various sections without feeling like too much of a glutton.
We started with the mixed crostini board (£19), which included two each of the following varieties: forest-picked mushroom with garlic and rosemary; Cetara anchovies with stracciatella, peppers and capers; and Fassona veal tartare with salsa tonnata. They were all good, particularly the anchovy ones, their saltiness nicely balanced by the sweet peppers, and the bread had a good crunch.
From the starter plate section, the beetroot salad with caprino, walnuts and yogurt dressing (£8) was a lovely combination of sweet, creamy and earthy flavours, generous in size. The burrata with vegetable caponata (£13) was also well flavoured and textured, if perhaps not quite as decadently creamy as the cheese can be.
The spaghetti al granchio with Devonshire crab, chilli and garlic (£14.50) was nicely al dente, the pasta wispy-thin, the crabmeat complemented by a pinch of parsley. It could, I thought, have done with a bit more of a kick, as could the spatchcock diavola (£16) from the meat section, which was very good – moist, smoky and caramelised from the wood-fired pit, although warming rather than devilish in its chilli hit. The portion wasn’t huge for the price.
We chose two desserts to share, although the one I tried first – a prettily presented chocolat pralinat (£7.50) – was so good I monopolised it. Surprisingly light, with a lovely mix of textures and served with refreshing milk ice cream, it was a delicious way to end the meal. The smoothly whipped cheesecake (£7.50) also disappeared quickly on the other side of the table.
Plenty of staff were on hand and our main waiter was helpful and attentive. Note that dishes can come fairly quickly after the previous ones so if you prefer a bit more of a breather between courses, you may wish to order as you go.
A glamorous new addition to Marylebone’s thriving dining scene. Flavoursome, well-conceived all-organic Italian cooking served up in an enjoyably buzzy and social atmosphere.
Lunch Mon-Fri 12pm-3.30pm; weekend brunch/lunch 9am-3.30pm; dinner daily Mon-Sun 6pm-12pm.
Small plates £7.50-£18; pasta £10.75-£17.50; pizza £12.50-£17.50; meat/seafood dishes £14.50-£80; sides £5.95-£7.50.
Fucina, 26 Paddington Street; tel +44 (0) 20 7058 4444; fucina.co.uk