You might not expect to find a wine and tapas bar nestled within a department store inside a shopping centre, but then, four WWII evacuees didn’t expect to find Narnia inside a dusty old wardrobe.
If you make it to the final level of this Russian Doll you’ll find yourself at Fuego in Fenwick, inside Bentalls Centre, Kingston — and it’s better than the John Lewis cafe.
Fuego represents a kind of consumerism run amok way to dine: a place you come to after tuckering yourself out running up a staggering shopping bill on cardigans.
A place for expensive small plates and a few too many midday spritzers.
It’s an ostentatious refuge for monied pram pushers and disgruntled dads.
Nevertheless, this is where my partner and I found ourselves one fine Saturday lunchtime.
Wading through the Fenick’s coat section and a brief detour admiring women’s shoes, we arrived at the restaurant, empty-bellied.
Immediately we were greeted by a beaming maitre d’ whose overly accommodating nature woke me out of the foul mood set by that morning’s grey skies.
She sat us in full view of the shop floor – stunning.
Our cheerful Italian waiter (let’s call him Simon) added to this sort of Stepford Wives vibe that was starting to creep in.
Everyone there was so perfectly pleasant and effortlessly glamorous that I began to question if they weren’t all just AI programmed by the powers at be to lull me into a false sense of security.
Simon, nonetheless, was a delight to interact with and did not scoff at my wanting to sample their pizza as well as a full selection of Tapas and a cheese and charcuterie board.
I must say having dined at the John Lewis/Sainsbury’s cafe once or twice, I was sold on the beautiful decor and excellent table service.
It’s not exactly the setting you expect to find good food, and it’s kind of weird and disturbing when you discover it actually is.
We started with Simon’s specially chosen festive cocktails.
The Cherry gin royal for me, sapling in a pear tree for my partner – a sweet and boozy first innings.
As we waited for our food to arrive my partner admired the sleek open plan kitchen ahead of us, however, I could not take my eyes from the massive, randomly placed tree at the centre of the restaurant, which did slightly bewilder.
The food came thick and fast, Simon zooming to and from the kitchen like a tennis ball cannon, each time with a new small plate.
First came the marinated olives, crab croquettes and crispy sea bass.
The crab croquettes, while appearing delightful on the fragile crispy battered surface, was actually quite bland in reality.
The marinated olives, which I had been excited for for some reason, were deeply unpleasant in a flavour profile I can only describe as Umami on smack; the sea bass, however, was easy on the taste buds and made me completely forget the horrible olive encounter moments earlier.
Before we had even put down our forks, Simon was back with more — cheesy garlic bread, Rib-eye steak with salmoriglio, charred broccoli, tahini & dukkah and the main event the Marino pizza featuring: calamari, prawns, mussels, chilli, black olives & capers.
The next 10 minutes were an overstuffed blur of shovelling random combinations of food.
The steak was perfectly cooked and nicely marinated, the cheesy garlic bread was cheesy garlic bread and even the broccoli had me coming back for me.
But the true star of the show was that pizza.
It’s not the kind of place you expect to find great pizza, it’s definitely not the kind of place you expect to find good seafood pizza, but I do not hyperbolise when I say this delicious seafood pizza could take the Naples on in a fight and not spill a single drop of passata.
I could barely move after all that extravagance and had to unbuckle my belt to let the food settle.
I even had to ask poor Simon not to bring out the cheeseboard, despite my true desires.
This gave us ample time to finish off the Montes Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir and study the bill which came in at a very respectable £118.20 including wine and cocktails.
If you ever find yourself in Narnia by way of Coco Chanel, Fuego by Fenwick Kingston is not a bad place to stop and eat and stuff your face with one of the best seafood pizzas to cross your tapas encrusted lips — just try and avoid the olives.