A review of Kingly Street’s Fornata
I first met Romain Pottier when he worked as the manager of The Collection in Brompton Cross last September. An experienced and able restaurateur, Pottier worked previously with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and at Asia de Cuba and the Empire Hotel in New York and when he told me of his new position launching the Sushi Samba concept in the UK, I suggested we meet to celebrate.
Having read of a new take on the sharing concept that Russell Norman, famed for his Polpo and Polpetto restaurants, is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of, we opted to try the recently opened Fornata in Soho’s Carnaby Street.
A sister restaurant of Babbo, an Italian restaurant in Mayfair, Fornata’s focus is on “small dishes to share” and has a menu developed by its executive chef Douglas Santi. Of his style, Santi, who terms himself a “spontaneous cook,” comments:
“My own cooking, my own food celebrates the freshest, highest quality ingredients. I work hard to personally source and find the best suppliers in the world to ensure this. More than that my food celebrates the wide array of cuisines and influences in which I’ve worked. I draw on the best traditions of each but I give them my own unique stamp.”
Douglas Santi: executive chef of Fornata and Babbo
Santi’s pedigree is impressive. Having first worked for Laurent Saudeau, the right hand man of the prominent nouvelle cuisine chef Paul Bocuse, at the age of 13, he progressed to the role of sous chef at Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco before opening his own restaurant in Sao Paulo in 2005. After a period as executive chef at Terme de Saturnia in Tuscany, Italy, Santi opened Babbo in Albermarle Street, W1 in 2009 to great acclaim before embarking on the Fornata project in 2011.
Launched last October on the site of a Japanese restaurant named Donzoko, Fornata is decorated with a mix of rustic simplicity and bright colours. Bright and airy, the setting is informal and equally suited to a quick lunch or for the enjoyment of the Italian style aperitivo with family and friends.
Fornata’s wood-fired oven
Fornata takes it name from the word “forno,” meaning “oven,” and the centrepiece on the ground floor of this restaurant, which spans over two floors, is indeed a wood-fired oven. Many of the dishes are hand baked and the menu recommends ordering 3 – 4 dishes per person.
Dishes came to the table as they were ready and in no particular order. We first tried some superb risotto balls with cheese (£3.95). A baked aubergine melanzana with melted cheese (£4.75) was equally enjoyable but the dishes that truly impressed were a seafood risotto (£9.75) that was full of flavour and the unique Fornata burger (£9.80). Baked within pizza dough and served with pickles, tomato and cheese, this was unlike anything I’d seen before and a true highlight.
A dish of spicy tomato chicken (£6.50) and a vegetarian lasagna (£7.50) were perfectly adequate but perhaps in need of a little more oomph. Like many restaurants, Fornata has veered on the side of caution here and rather like with my friend Loyd Grossman’s sauces, we both agreed these needed extra kicks of both spice and flavour.
Though Mr Pottier declared himself full, I greedily opted for a tiramisu cheesecake (£4) to conclude the meal. Here again Santi has chosen to take an unusual interpretation to a classic dish and though a little on the substantial side, the taste was spectacular.
The restaurant’s wine list is simple and short with prices ranging from £16.75 to £29 a bottle for both whites and reds. A £6 a glass Sansilverstro Gavi was perfectly quaffable and I also enjoyed a well executed Negroni (£5.50) as well.
On the drinks side, my only suggestion would be that Fornata improve their spirits offering. Their list currently only includes mainstream brands such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and Absolut. To reflect the individuality of the menu, the inclusion of more unusual spirits such as perhaps Martin Miller’s Gin and Roberto Cavalli Vodka would be more appropriate.
As Leonardo da Vinci once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Santi and his team have achieved just such at Fornata.
Fornata, 15 Kingly Street, Soho, London, W1B 5PS. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8181 8887. Website: http://www.fornata.com. Follow Fornata on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/fornata