A cellar seems an odd venue for a vegetarian restaurant. I was expecting bi-fold doors, garlands of greenery, a blurring of the divide between inside and outside and earnest fact sheets detailing how what used to be their carbon footprint is now just the merest brush of their carbon fingertips. Instead, I found myself sitting in a brick-ceilinged vault with almost no natural light and a central heating system still being pressed into service in the middle of May. I mean, what market are we chasing here, guys? Vegan vampires?
For these reasons, I can’t say that my first impressions of Fusca Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant were all that positive. True, there is a small patio for al fresco eating. Maybe I should have sat there – the weather was just about warm enough after all. But to fully connect with the zeitgeist of a restaurant, you need to hear its beating heart. So down I plunged, amid th’encircling gloom, to the main dining area.
Fusca was formerly located at Ryton Organic Gardens near Coventry, remembered here in a few uncaptioned photos on the walls. (I happened to know what I was looking at; non-locals might not.) Specials are also displayed, but that’s as in pictures of local-lads-made-good popular beat combo, rather than gastronomic highlights of the day. It all seemed a bit random.
What wasn’t clear either was how much of Ryton Gardens’ organic philosophy has survived the move to Warwick: there simply wasn’t any information – or at least, none that was readily available. Neither did the menu have a shorthand for clarifying which dishes were vegetarian, which fully vegan, which gluten-free etc, etc, etc. Even high street chains do better than that.
Where Fusca scores though, and big time, over most of them, is in its ‘contemporary fusion’ food. I ordered ‘Vietnamese style raw vegetable parcels with green and basil salad and plum and lemon sauce’. My first thought, when it arrived, was that it looked like the view from the police helicopter when a posse of squad cars surrounds an armed robber hiding out in…a big pile of salad. I hope I’m better than that though. Cheap laughs are an unjust response to the skill and care that had clearly gone into preparing this beautiful dish.
In fact, considering that what was on my plate was almost one hundred per cent raw vegetables, it was nothing short of a revelation. Each of the tidy little parcels was only about as big as my thumb. Cut open, I found within them tiny worlds of julienned vegetables, all of them somehow managing to retain their distinctive personalities. At one point I got hits of coriander; at another, of something that tasted like pickled cucumber.
Likewise the salad was a dew-drenched kitchen gardenful of sparkly flavours. I was going to comment that at the height of the English asparagus season, it was a pity not to see the food of the gods on the menu – but here it was, delicate shavings of it, along with shredded beans, peppers, carrots, parsnips and baby leaves. The ginger dressing was cleverly warming, but stayed just the right side of overpowering. The only thing I couldn’t really taste was basil.
Downsides? The ‘plum and lemon sauce’ was on the sweet side and the slightly chilly lunchtime ambience (the only other person to come in while I was there was a bloke with a dog, who wanted to talk to the waitress about paint drying, it sounded like) was intensified by the fact that the whole thing had borderline not been long enough out of the fridge. Plus – if you’re ravenous – it might be worth remembering that the watchword here is elegance, not belly-busting.
Overall, I found the whole place a bit underpowered. I visited during National Vegetarian Week, but you’d never have known. I’d like to see Fusca giving us a bit more personality, telling us its story, its aims, where it sources its ingredients and which other local businesses it supports. Because it’s newly-opened and has been concentrating (I believe) on getting its alcohol licence and devising an evening menu, this time I’m going to let it go. But I will be back…
Fusca Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant, 5-6 The Knibbs, Smith Street, Warwick, CV34 4UW (Website under construction). Vietnamese style raw vegetable parcels with green and basil salad and plum and lemon sauce, £8.95