Futurists often get things wrong. Remember the chap who earlier this year claimed Judgement Day would start at 6 o’clock on 21 May? Or the Flight of the Conchords, source of the title of this post, predicting our robotic futures?
The Italian Futurists were no different. For a start, they were arguably proto-Fascisti, which is not a political ideology the DLR can really get behind (even if they did anticipate Christopher Bailey for Burberry Prosum A/W 2011 — itself a futurist moment, really, having come out in February 2011 but being the clothes for now. Fashion! So forward).
But, putting their extreme nationalism and Mussolini sponsorship aside, they did get some things right, particularly a great cookbook. Yes, that’s right, a cookbook. Typical Italians, they may elevate desire into a political ideology (see: Berlusconi) but they keep their focus on the food all the time.
The Futurists, looking towards the future, took this one step further. They deplored pasta, seeing it as a vestige of the past, an addiction to nostalgia and tradition. Their cookbook, written by Futurista straordinario Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, emphasised the tactile and the aesthetic, revelling in colour, shape and feeling — bringing Berlusconi-style sensuality to the very act of eating.
It was this combination that La Cucina Futurista (also the name of Marinetti’s cookbook), a pop-up restaurant on Kingsland Road/Stoke Newington High Street (apparently, we don’t know the difference), replicated when it opened on Thursday night while the DLR stuck its grubby nose against the first floor windowpanes to watch. (The DLR is very tall.)
The first thing to note was the decor, which married Futurism, retro-Futurism and, in an inspired (or Kingsland Road-convenient) twist, African fabrics. Right angles and colour galore! The entrance is bedecked with life-size posters of nude men (whom the DLR did not find attractive; the DLR’s companions, some of them regulars at the infamous London Gay Bingo, demurred) and the living room, in which the restaurant is based, is filled with fuschia-edged tables and a balloon ceiling sculpture by artists Hsiao-Chi Tsai and Kimiya Yoshikawa that gave it an air of a high-design children’s party. (Pinwheels also come as standard as table decoration.) There is no choice on where to sit; you’re allocated a table and companions.
This being the first night, the timings were a little off (as in, we ate at 23:00), but we can’t begrudge La Cucina this fact given that (a) they’re preparing a seven-course meal for 30-odd people and (b) it was the first night, but it did mean we were very rapidly smashed on the bottles of wine that come with the price.
Whether this helped or hindered the concatenation of senses we do not know; we tasted, stroked, smelled with the best of them so perhaps not. The riot of flavours and sensory influences were reflected in the titles of the dishes, which made them sound like a rural Chinese menu: Burning Moon Soothed in Happy Snow (pickled pumpkins with mozzarella; really very good); Excited Pig in Sunshine and Shade (pork shoulder, puy lentil and kale; really very good); and Simultaneous Marinetti Confetti, including Diabolical Roses (a pop-up invention based on Futurista recipes, involving deep-fried sage leaves (fantastic), anchovy fillets (pleasing) and rose petals (actually quite disappointing. Presumably this is the reason the Scots haven’t got round to deep-frying flowers yet).
Without doubt the most memorable course was the Aerofood, a Marinetti special, which involved eating pieces of olive, fennel and salami with the right hand, while stroking (with eyes closed) a swatch of various materials (satin, sandpaper and one other we’ve forgotten) with the left. Meanwhile, Wagner plays in the background and the pop-uppers spray lavender water in your face (we think it was meant to be gently wafted around the diner, but everyone was a touch exuberant by that point). With all senses engaged at once, the DLR was afraid its head might explode; sadly for the purposes of this story, it did not. Instead we found ourselves stroking sandpaper while eating olives while someone sprayed lavender in our faces. So we missed the Futurist’s utopian sensory convergence, but on the bright side did manage to accomplish our weekly exfoliation and hydration routine in public. The same, of course, might be said for the actual Futurist movement: despite the activities alleged by its manifesto, it has latterly come to light that they did not actually caress the breasts of any snorting machines, nor lie like corpses along their biers, nor hunt like young lions with black fur dappled with pale crosses. Rather, they had a quiet lie down, went out for a pizza, and waited for World War I to begin.
However, the pop-up, which runs for the next three weekends, is more successful, in that they set out to lay on a mean feast and jolly well did. We leave you with this quote from Marinetti, all too apposite, it must be said, for Kingsland Road lately:
They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage, will hurl themselves forward to kill us, with all the more hatred as their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.
Well done, Britons, for replicating Futurism without that nasty fascist taste in the mouth.