Located in central London, award-winning Italian restaurant L’Anima serves contemporary southern Italian cuisine in a stylish yet relaxed setting. Head Chef, Francesco Mazzei, tells EatSleepDrink about his passion for sourcing top quality Italian ingredients as well as his optimism for the next 12 months.
Literally meaning ‘the soul’ in Italian, L’Anima has become synonymous with dishes that transport diners to the vibrancy of Calabria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. Indeed, as the brainchild of Mr. Mazzei, L’Anima was founded with a simple aim – to create exceptionally tasty but simple food that would bring the authentic taste of Italy to the heart of London.
A taste of home
As Francesco begins by telling us, many of the ingredients germane to the dishes at L’Anima were, until recently, largely unknown in the UK – a fact that didn’t stop the restaurant’s success. “We have been extremely fortunate that our style of cuisine and a lot of the ingredients we use, such as N’Duja and Bottarga, were fairly unknown but at the same time proved very popular with our customers. As a consequence, when we change the menu seasonally, many of our regulars will come in and ask for their favourite dishes regardless of the season”.
As well as his genuine passion for southern Italian cuisine, Francesco is also keen to share his love of cooking with members of the public – something that is emphasised by the cooking classes he offers at L’Anima. “It was important for us that the kitchen and chefs were visible from the main dining room through glass sections in the stone and bronze wall. From the beginning, we decided to run the cooking classes with a different theme every month. These have proved very popular as we keep the numbers low and ensure that the participants do not only come to learn some of our dishes but also get a feel for what L’Anima is all about.
“The cooking classes start with a typical Italian breakfast at our bar, followed by cooking and a wine tasting with our sommelier. All of this is then punctuated by a five course sit down lunch, enjoying the dishes that they just learned to cook,” he affirms. “Some guests enjoy the day so much that they also end up staying for dinner!”
As such a strong advocate of using the best-possible Italian ingredients, it should come as no surprise to learn that Francesco has perfected his own inimitable kind of signature dishes. “I developed my ‘Rabbit Siciliana’ during a trip to Sicily with my wife and parents-in-law,” he explains. “We visited by wife’s aunt who lives in Catania near Mount Etna and she made the most tender rabbit I have ever eaten and served it with sweet and sour sardines. I enjoyed the dish so much that I had the inspiration of making the rabbit sweet and sour and it took me some time to get the balance just right. Indeed, it was the first dish that went on the menu at L’Anima and the feedback has been excellent ever since,” Francesco confirms.
As well as signature dishes like Rabbit Siciliana, L’Anima has recently introduced a tasting menu that offers diners a journey through southern Italian gastronomy, as Francesco continues by telling us. “We haven’t had a tasting menu before but many regulars preferred me to just create their menu from scratch rather than ordering from the a la carte. Based on this, I thought it would be a good idea to finally have one and it is proving to be very popular with our customers”.
Much like the award-winning food served at L’Anima, the restaurant also benefits from an excellent location in Snowden Street, central London – something that Francesco considers one of his restaurant’s major strengths. “As well as the food and location, I would say that our third selling point is the good service provided by our attentive team of waiters and sommeliers.
“At the moment, I am very excited about introducing ‘Burrata tortelli with hazelnuts, brown butter and black truffle’. This is a dish exploding with an emulsion of delicate flavours and has the balance of being both mild and rich,” Francesco affirms. “Another recently introduced dish, the ‘Raw tuna and sustainable Mottra Sterlet caviar’ starter, has become a huge success, while the ‘Sardinian Fregola’ – which is a rustic, flavoursome fish stew – is another of my signature dishes and is now becoming more and more prevalent in many London restaurants”.
Much like the main restaurant’s exceptional gastronomy, guests can also expect fine food and drink in L’Anima’s lounge area, as Francesco is eager to describe. “In our lounge area, customers can choose from our a la carte menu, while in the evening we mainly serve a selection of canapés and starters, such as ‘Hand-carved Norcia ham with homemade pickles’, ‘Deep fried calamari’ and my brother’s ‘Wood fired oven pizzas’. On the other hand, diners wishing to just grab a quick bite can also enjoy a steak or some pasta.
“With regards to our wine, the sommeliers and I are continuously striving for indigenous grape varieties from the lesser known regions of Italy, since they are not only good value for money but also offer fantastic quality,” he notes. “Our diverse wine list has proven very popular with our customers and we were very happy to win the ‘Italian Wine Restaurant of the Year’ at the Drinking Out Excellence Awards 2011”.
A sustainable future
As well his impressive gastronomic credentials, Francesco is also proud to promote the sustainable use of top quality produce at L’Anima. “I grew up making everything from scratch, whether it was olive oil, tomato sauce, salami or bread,” he explains. “The key to delivering great Italian food is to be conscious of the seasons and using the best ingredients around you. A simple dish like tomato bruschetta can taste so much better if you use beautiful sun-ripened tomatoes, wild oregano, excellent extra virgin olive oil and – not to forget- the homemade bread!
“With regards to the future, I have always maintained that the key to success is ensuring you keep standards up and creating new and exciting dishes for our customers, so they keep coming back,” Francesco concludes. “We have recently started to offer our two- and three-course set lunch menus as all-day menus, which can be enjoyed by customers from 11:45am until 19:30, Monday to Friday. The two course menu is great value at £24.50 per person, while the three course menu is even better value at £28.50 per person. Ultimately, I’m confident that we will improve every year and remain consistent in both the delivery of food and service, so that L’Anima remains as busy and successful as it is now”.
Visit: www.lanima.co.uk or call 020 7422 7000 for reservations.