Does Fulham really need another high-end Italian restaurant? Lucio's, a new venture from the former manager of San Lorenzo, is sandwiched between Carluccio's and Carpaccio's, so if you want to be served a cappuccino by a man called Carlo to go with your Cornetto, then this particular corner of London is the place for you.
Unfortunately, not being particularly passionate about Italian food, I'm not sure I can quite see the point of Lucio's. My wife certainly couldn't. Since parking is always such a nightmare in Fulham--you're lucky if you can find anywhere within half-a-mile of your destination--I offered to drop Caroline off at the restaurant first. However, after popping her head round the door for 30 seconds, she decided she'd prefer to brave the elements. "It's full of plastic fantastics," she said, letting out an involuntary shudder.
Fifteen minutes later, when we finally sat down at our table, I could see exactly what she meant. Was there a wind tunnel somewhere in the basement linking the restaurant to the Burns Unit at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital? What else could explain the extraordinary appearance of our fellow diners? The idea that they might have actually paid a surgeon to make them look like this beggared belief. There was one woman sitting directly opposite us who could have given the Bride of Wildenstein a run for her money. She looked like Billy the Fish.
Apparently, Mara Berni, the old mother hen of San Lorenzo, is furious with Lucio for flying the coop, and, judging from our fellow diners, she's right to be annoyed. They were precisely the sort of cosmetically-enhanced ladies-who-lunch who've made up the core customer base of San Lorenzo for 40 years. At first glance they looked about 18, but the default ring tones on their cellphones--which went off approximately every 30 seconds--gave them away. You have to be at least 50 years old not to be able to figure out how to change the factory settings on your mobile. De de der der, de de der der, de de der der derrrr. It was like being in a Dom Jolly sketch.
The food was considerably better than it is at San Lorenzo, but that's not saying much. I had tuna carpaccio followed by a turkey escallop with roast potatoes while my wife started with deep-fried courgette flowers and followed up with mixed vegetable soup. The corner of my turkey escallop had become all hard and translucent, like a piece of refrigerated ham that's been poking out of its packet for too long, and my wife's courgette flowers contained more oil than Lucio uses to grease up to a table full of plastic surgery monsters. I'd rate the cuisine slightly above Carluccio's and slightly below Carpaccio's.
One slightly irritating thing was that, while the set menu was very reasonably priced (£14 for two courses, £18 for three), virtually every dish involved a £3 or £4 supplement. What's the point of advertising the set lunch at one price if you're going to end up charging approximately 50% on top? Are the customers really so dim they can't see through such a transparent ruse? Actually, judging from the fact that they've spent tens of thousands of pounds to look like the cast of the Muppets, the answer may well be yes.
The saving grace of Lucio's is the décor--chosen by the owner's wife, apparently--which is straightforward and unpretentious. In the main dining room, about a dozen tables draped with white linen tablecloths sit on a dark, parquet floor. The chairs are upholstered in soft, ice cream colours, and the walls are decorated with black and white photographs. To my untrained eye, it struck just the right balance between elegant formality and relaxed simplicity. If only our fellow customers had employed the owner's wife to work on their faces, instead of some Porsche-driving sadist, they might not have looked quite so frightening.