It’s with more curiosity than conviction that we book dinner at Fusion Bar & Restaurant, the Japanese-Peruvian hybrid in one of Florence’s slickest hotels. It feels fairly perverse to be in the heart of Tuscany and signing ourselves up for ceviche and margaritas, rather than pizza and negroni.
But we’ve heard high praise of this place, and as the restaurant at Gallery Hotel Art it has the added advantage of being the closest possible food source in Florence to our bedroom. We don’t banish our qualms about Florentine fusion completely, but they get overwritten by hunger, that curiosity, and the fact that, basically, it is very beautiful. The restaurant’s terrace is a glass box with sliding sides, all slid open onto the summer night. People drift between their tables and the quiet side street of Vicolo dell’Oro, taking their martinis with them. However suspicious you might be about the menu, this is a ridiculously lovely spot that Fusion have staked out for their own.
And clearly the glitterati of Florence don’t share our qualms. When we make it downstairs the terrace is heaving with stylishness, in the Italian mould – men with perfect hair dressed improbably formally for the summer heat, women with perfect make-up wearing improbably high stilettos for the cobbled streets. Taking a lead from their groups we kick off with the cocktail list. And in short order we have an at-best-intriguing Black Mojito – blackness courtesy of liquorice – and a straightforwardly brilliant Chilla Manhattan, with chili-infused whiskey, bourbon and Cocchi vermouth, and are focused on the food.
Depending on how strongly you feel about the Nikkei tradition – the lovechild of Asian and Latin American cultures and flavours – you might find the food menu not quite fused enough for your liking. Split into Maki, Tapas and Nikkei sections, the weighting’s in favour of the single-nation dishes, rather than those like the Indian-spiced tuna maki or the Aji amarillo carpaccio that pay deference to several countries on one plate.
Those sole-source dishes, though, are impressive. If the fusion’s hard to spot at times, not so the artistry. The Causa octopus salad from the tapas menu is a miniature installation in its own right, featuring two different colours of potatoes – lurid purple, dusty pink – whittled into small cylinders of different heights. Shavings of shellfish, tiny curls of octopus and a bit of greenery are perched on top of the potato as though on tiny pedestals. During a dinner which takes in a scallop ceviche, some tuna and mango maki, and a banana and dulche de leche dessert, nothing falls below that level of complexity. Apart, maybe, from a rich and fantastically uncomplicated glass of Brunello di Montalcino, from the relatively local Castiglion del Bosco estate. Everything’s served on glassy black lacquer, smooth wooden boards or, often, a plinth of some kind. Plinths feature quite often.
Maybe it’s a knowing visual gag on the part of Fusion, in deference to all the other things on plinths we come across in Florence. That the city is crammed with world-famous art is a known thing; that so much of the art Florence is crammed with is there to be stumbled across in public spaces – just standing around, being enormous and spectacular – that’s something that can still stop you in your tracks. Weaving back from Brewdog Firenze late that night, we’re brought up short by Ammannati’s Neptune towering above us in the Piazza della Signoria and the series of vast sculptures lining the Loggia dei Lanzi portico ahead. Even knowing to expect this, it feels more likely the Punk Spritz is to blame (one third Aperol to two thirds Brewdog’s Punk IPA, and as beautifully disconcerting as it sounds) than it does that Florence’s public areas are carpeted with this much grandeur.
The evidence speaks for itself, though. Art everywhere. Even at our hotel, display’s the watchword. Part of the Lungarno Collection of hotels, founded by Salvatore Ferragamo, the designer aesthetic at Gallery Hotel Art is hard to miss. The walls of the foyer and our Suite Gallery bedroom are lined with photo portraits of craggy-faced Italian directors, world-famous film stars and world-infamous rock stars; the lifts are flanked by statuary. In fact, if there’s a real fusion happening here at Gallery Hotel Art, it’s between gallery and hotel. One of the outside walls of the hotel is crawling with 63 dramatically-uplit plastic spoons, each a metre and a half long. This is ‘I Eat Earth’, their latest in a series of installations from Simone D’Auria, an Italian interdisciplinary designer and the Lungarno Collection’s artist in residence.
Being confronted with so much ancient splendour every time you turn a corner – and absorbing so much art by osmosis in our hotel suite – the urge to hit any of the museums has waned slightly. I’m still keen. I’m just expecting being inside the Uffizi to feel a lot like being in the Piazza della Signoria, or the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella or anywhere, more or less, in Florence. Which is, I realise four minutes deep into the Uffizi’s palatial corridors, the thing I have been wrongest about in quite a while, or at least since that time earlier this morning when I asked for ‘two scoops only, thanks’ at Perche No!gelateria, with more discretion than valour.
If the thought of that uncharted icecream is going to haunt me, you have to be more philosophical about the Uffizi and the Accademia, and accept that you aren’t going to see everything in one visit, not unless you contrive to be locked in there for a week. Instead we steep ourselves in temporal majesty, classical grandeur and religious ecstasy during the heat of noon. Then we leave into a marginally cooler Florence, to steep ourselves in beauty of another flavour at Konnubio wine bar, where some rich Montalcino reds and an aperitivi board keep us out of trouble during a sudden, powerful thunderstorm.
Steering back towards the banks of the Arno, we loiter outside Gallery Hotel Art taking photos of the D’Auria exhibition by daylight. It includes a horizontal spoon-bench, a few metres long, fixed to the pavement opposite the hotel. My Best Guy and I attempt a picture perched on the edge, only to be harangued by some passing elderly Italian ladies, ‘But get into the spoon! But don’t you want a proper picture? Lie down in the spoon!’
You can’t argue with that. We’re ordered into position, as they roar with laughter between themselves and brandish my iPhone with an air of menace. It’s frightening. But they’re right: the resulting picture does have all the hallmarks of great art. And it proves a valuable point besides.
Because if being immortalised spooning-within-a-spoon has taught me anything, it’s that Florence isn’t just for admiring ancient art; with a bit of flexibility, some very vigorous encouragement and a reckless disregard for your standing in the community, you can make masterpieces of your own.
Watch your back, Michaelangelo’s David.
Gallery Hotel Art is part of the Lungarno Collection of luxury hotels, and is at Vicolo dell’Oro, 5, 50123, Florence. A 2 night weekend stay for two in the Suite Gallery in July starts at €2160, excluding VAT and city tax. For booking and further information please call +39 055 2726 4000.
The Fusion Bar & Restaurant is open every day until 11pm for dinner, and midnight for cocktails. For bookings email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +39 055 2726 6987.
Entrance to the Galleria degli Uffizi and La Galleria dell’Accademia, two of the State Museums of Florence, was arranged with the assistance of Opera Laboratori Fiorentini and the Tourism Department of the City of Florence.