Florence isn’t the greatest city for Asian cuisine, but there are a few standout options – such as Momoyama, Kome and this one – the Fusion Bar & Restaurant in the Gallery Hotel Art. You’ll find it on Vicolo dell’Oro, just moments away from the River Arno and a short stroll from Via Tournabuoni.
The restaurant is divided into two modern spaces. One bar inside the hotel and the restaurant which is in a year-round covered outdoor space. Thankfully, and undoubtedly due to Google reviewers exclaiming that there is no pasta in this Nikkei restaurant, the restaurant isn’t teeming over with the usual mish-mash of tourists, students and disgruntled Italians. Instead, the clientele is slightly more laid back and a little more style-conscious. A mix of folk to be sure, Italians and tourists, but not the menu turistico types. The prices are a little higher than average but well worth it for the tastes and ambience alone. In fact, during our year in Florence, we ate here frequently and enjoyed the eclectic menu of cocktails even more frequently, especially during events such as Florence Cocktail Week and Fashion Night Out – where the bar’s mixologists shined with the kind of creativity that puts more popular Florence cocktail options such as Slowly, La Ménagère and Colle Bereto, to absolute shame.
The food here is eclectic and often quite daring for a restaurant in central Florence. The menu teems with a delicious mix of sushi and Japanese dishes that sparkle with a Nikkei flare. The flavours flirt between the refined umami of Japanese cuisine and the fiery vibrancy of Peruvian cuisine, while the use of some distinctly European and Mediterranean ingredients helps to enhance everything from simple anchovy sushi to tuna steaks, perfectly seared and served with bottarga roe.
If you’re new to Nikkei and, heaven forbid, sushi, then I suggest trying one of the restaurant’s tasting menu’s – either the Nikkei or the Sushi – which is served delightfully as a bento, with two Sake variations – as in the image above, and is always delicious and well conceived. Fish, as one might expect, is wonderful here. I’ve eaten tuna here on two occasions, the latter of which was served as a steak, lightly battered and paired simply with radish and a light soy reduction. The sushi menu on the other hand, is possibly the Fusion Bar’s least interesting menu. Some of the flavours are good, and in general the sushi is fresh and interesting, but it often feels a little tame when compared with the main courses and Nikkei tapas. Some will undoubtedly find the use of foie gras, quail eggs and exotic flavourings (the Indian spicy tekka for example) to be more than enough reason to try it, but I find the flavours to be too reliant on traditional method. Perhaps an over indulgence of unique flavourings (for this cuisine in this city at least) has softened their approach to the sushi?
Everything is presented beautifully, from the aforementioned sushi to starters served on mountains of ice and accompanying sauces served in test tubes, as in the image below.
The stars of the menu at The Fusion Bar & Restaurant are often the cocktails. My favourite of the ones that I’ve tried remains the Miami – a Stolichnaya Vodka cocktail shaken with St. Germain liqueur, lemon juice and a spicy finish of chilli pepper. The Mezcal Margherita and the Violetta Valery are good too and many of the cocktails pair well with the food, which is good as the wine list is generic. Drinks are often served with small bites, of which I recommend the Temaki sushi, which served as a kind of Japanese-inspired aperitivo, though light Thai-spice flavours crisps and wasabi nuts are served freely from the bar too.
2016 saw the first ever Florence Cocktail Week, and with it, bars such as this one and the excellent Il Locale, created a one-off cocktail (several in The Fusion Bar’s case) to compete. I’ve already written about that and a little more about the bar here.