February 10 2012
I don’t think people often pick restaurants based solely on their interiors, without so much as a cursory glance at the menu. It is precisely on this basis, however, that I insisted on dining at Il Buco during a trip to New York with my boyfriend over the New Year. I’d heard about its impossibly romantic and rustic allure; he, a lover of great food, took one look at the menu and we made a reservation faster than you can say mezzaluna.
When we finally arrived for supper the night before New Year’s Eve, after days of turkey and grey British skies, I was ready for something special. And Il Buco delivered. Immediately on entering, the busy streets of Manhattan were replaced by a rustic den (buco is literally a cave) of soft romantic lighting, salvaged cookware and sturdy rough-hewn farmhouse wood.
The walls and ceilings grab your attention immediately, brimming with interesting artefacts and creations. Cleverly placed copper jugs shimmer overhead, while pans populate the walls in artfully chaotic arrangements. On another wall, Provençal plates add pockets of colour, while a hotchpotch of books and bottles gives the room a lived-in feel. Up above, ceiling lights have been created from random salvaged objects – copper jugs, cauldron-like vessels, wrought metal bits and bobs: all intriguing, and all casting the perfect, dim, warm light.
On the large tables, huge farmhouse jugs filled with delicate flowers provide clever partitions, so the Wagamama-style potential awkwardness of communal eating is eliminated. Old rickety-looking shelves stacked with colourful vegetables and scattered pots create larger partitions, so that in this relatively small and unshaped space one has the sense of a dozen charming little corners and alcoves.
In fact, the family next to us, who had been eating for some time, were so at home that we looked on in silent amusement as, before they took their leave, they produced two sleeping kids from under the table. The pair had been quietly curled up on cushions for at least 40 minutes.
I should probably mention that the food, under head chef Joel Hough, was exquisite. I opted for spicy lamb sausage and a polenta so soft and creamy I fear nothing will ever compare. And if you are interested in going behind the scenes, photographer Todd Selby has documented prep and service under the former chef here, and Il Buco’s expert pastry-making here. It’s well worth a look.
To me, the best interiors are those that transport you to another world, another time, a land of fantasy where new ideas spring to life. And Il Buco – a restaurant of all things – does just that.