Italian cuisine has forged its way into the British diet so successfully that pasta is one of the most frequently consumed foods in the country. Buy while pasta and pizza may have become staples in most kitchens, and you can find an Italian influenced restaurant in almost any town, when it comes to authentic dishes cooked traditionally and to the highest standard, you still have to search much further than your local pizzeria.
The San Carlo group of restaurants has established its venues as places that diners know they can be assured quality dishes in stylish environments, and the success of the Cicchetti sites in Piccadilly and Covent Garden and Signor Sassi in Knightsbridge is testament to that. So it was with baited breath, and a salivating tongue, that I stepped inside the group’s most recent addition – Fumo in St Martin’s Lane.
Located less than a minute from the National Portrait Gallery, the 130 cover restaurant is open seven days a week for all-day dining from brunch to post-theatre dinner. It has the same chic and sleek design as the other restaurants, with an impressive window display of fresh produce, as well as solid marble feature bar for enjoying aperitifs as you arrive.
The restaurant is bright and breezy and deceptively larger that you would expect from the outside. As we entered my companion and I were greeted with smiles from staff and a wave from Chef Consigliere Aldo Zilli who was running in for the lunchtime rush straight from his show on Soho Radio.
The culinary focus at Fumo is on small plates (or cicchetti ) – a tapas style way of dining where you order what you fancy to share, and it’s brought out when ready, not as structured courses. This allows you to try a larger variety of the dishes, and just keep adding for as long as you’re hungry!
We started off with a grilled aubergine crostini with mint chilli and mozzarella, and a crab and avocado carpaccio with sardinian bread, and some zucchini fritti on the side. Portions are a tapas size so it’s recommended to have around five or six for two people sharing. We decided to take our time ordering our next round so we could enjoy the crisp bottle of Prosecco we had ordered to accompany the food.
As soon as we started to eat we were both struck by the pure freshness of ingredients, so we weren’t surprised when our waiter confirmed that most are sourced direct from produce markets in Milan. The many dishes on offer represent local specialities from varying Italian regions and includes delights such as Tagliolini Lobster, Cod Vicentina (a Venetian style cod), homemade Gnocchi Truffle (crispy gnocchi with cheese fondue with truffle), Guazzetto di Cozze e Vongole (mussels and clams with tomato sauce, chilli and white wine) and Tuna Tartare. Having been tempted by all of the above, we plumped for the gnocchi and the tuna – which is made right in front of you at your table. Both proved winning choices and the basket of breads perched on the edge of our table was quickly emptied as the remaining parmesan sauce from the gnocchi was mopped up by hand!
Desserts at Fumo not surprisingly, comprise of a variety of Italian classics – a homemade tiramisu, a creamy panna cotta, juicy pear poached in red wine, and a sambuca flambeed
Each dish was delicately flavoured and well presented, and our server was on hand at all times to answer our (many!) questions. The atmosphere is light and friendly, no need to whisper for fear of disturbing other diners. At a time when London can seem overrun by average Italian eateries, Fumo is setting itself apart and above. The combination of classic ingredients, creative dishes and cutting edge style is a breath of fresh air, and a delight for the appetite and eyes.
- Fumo can be found at 37 St Martins Lane, WC2N 4ER. Closest stations Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Book a table at www.sancarlofumo.co.uk