Roberto Costa: “Brexit and the pandemic changed everything for us”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Macellaio RC boss Roberto Costa on his new Canary Wharf restaurant Fish Game

Related tags Roberto Costa Fish Game Macellaio RC steakhouse Canary wharf

The maverick restaurateur behind Italian steak brand Macellaio RC has turned his attention to British fish and game with a new restaurant in Canary Wharf.

There are already a lot of steak restaurants in this part of London. Is that why you have come up with a new concept?​ 

When I first saw the Wood Wharf development I was thinking about Macellaio RC. But when I saw that Hawksmoor and M Restaurants were going to be here I had a rethink. Fish Game is loosely based on a concept I developed for my home city of Genoa which sadly closed as a result of the pandemic. It was called Mangiare Fuoco (which translates as 'eating fire'). It's also the name of the bad guy in Pinocchio. That concept was all about the charcoal grill and high-quality meat and fish. But despite it originating in Italy, it was inspired by British cuisine. 

How so?

When I first came to London a friend of mine took me to St John and I completely fell in love with it. It is still my favourite restaurant in London. Fergus Henderson is a genius. At the time I knew little about British cuisine. As an Italian, I thought it was all about pies, full English breakfasts and fish and chips. I didn't understand about the quality of the produce. Since then, I have travelled around the UK finding great producers. 

So is the food at Fish Game British or Italian? 

It combines influences from both countries. Our chef (Matt Colk) is English and we work together to create a hybrid cuisine that celebrates the biodiversity of the British Isles. The main ingredients are all from the UK, but the aromatics come from Italy and elsewhere in Southern Europe. We have Taggiasca olive oil from Liguria, lemons from Sicily and chillies from Sanremo (a city in Liguria).

We understand there is a chilli menu. What's the deal with that?

Yes. We have a catalogue of chillies that we show our guests. Our supplier specialises in wild chillies, we don’t use commercial cultivars. Chillies provide acidity and freshness, which is very important to me. The UK palate has changed a lot over the past 10 years because of all the new cuisines that have become available. The chillies and other aromatics do a good job of lightening up the game, which is perceived as being heavy by a lot of British people.

There’s not much game around at the moment…

Yes that’s right. We only have hare, rabbit and a little venison on the menu right now but in a few months we will obviously have a much wider selection. Key dishes on the menu include tigella (a bread from Emilia Romagna that is usually stuffed) with rabbit and its offals, parsley, garlic and lemon juice; game arancini with whisky ketchup; raw langoustines with rosemary, wilted samphire and pomegranate citronette; mussels, with venison ‘nduja and lemon zest; and monkfish with rosemary, lime and smoked salt.

Fish-Game

Tell us about the drinks programme at Fish Game

We have a big selection of agave-based spirits which we believe are a great fit for the style of food that we are serving. Our wine list is focused on three grapes: Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo. These grapes all work well with the taste of fire, charcoal and ash. Cabernet Franc is great with game, Gamay works with either fish or meat depending on what style the wine is and I have chosen Nebbiolo because I am Italian and I really like it. It's also a very adaptable wine. Young Nebbiolos can be light and work well with fish, whereas older ones work well with richer meat dishes . 

How are you finding getting British wine drinkers to drink red wine with fish?

If people want white wine that's fine. I'm relaxed about people's preferences in my restaurants. I would never eat a well-done steak, but if people want it that way, that's fine with me. It's up to you. Besides, we have 200 labels on the list so we have a lot of different white wines.

At Macellaio RC you source your wines directly from Italy. What has it been like to cast the net wider? 

It's been great to work with wholesalers and explore the whole wine world. While we do have a focus on those three grapes, the wine list is varied. We are working with six key suppliers. About 60% of the list is traditional and the remaining 40% is what you might call natural. We also have a lot of the very exclusive Italian wines that Macellaio offers, including Tignanello and Sassicaia, because they are a good fit for the area. People here have money. The average price of a one bedroom flat in this development is £1.2m and the average salary is £260,000. 

How are things going at Macellaio RC?

Overall I am happy. But Brexit and the pandemic have changed everything. It’s been an enormous challenge and we have had to rethink the way we do business. Our executive chef Lello Favuzzi is no longer with us and we now have a new way of working. Earlier this year, we opened a central production and storage unit in Fulham Broadway which has allowed us to be much more consistent. We get a delivery from Italy every week which is then processed and sent out to all the restaurants. All our six Macellaio RC sites (five under its core eponymous brand and a more casual spin-off called Osteria del Macellaio in Southwark) are doing well with the possible exception of our Fitzrovia restaurant, which we may well switch over to a new concept.

Do you want to open any more sites?

Yes definitely. We want to go outside of London. I want to be in Manchester soon, we are looking at sites there. And I want to do more Fish Game restaurants. It is a brand that could easily scale, especially as the price point is much lower than Macellaio. The majority of our dishes cost less than £10. I love my original UK brand. I have been doing it a long time (the first site opened in South Kensington in 2012) and we know our product very well. But it’s been wonderful to throw myself in to the development of a new concept. I feel reenergised.   

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