When Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei announced he was leaving restaurateur power duo – Chris Corbin and Jeremy King – as the chef at St Alban to open a smart new Italian restaurant in London’s City district, he was met with a collective eye roll from the area’s food clique.
“They said we were crazy for wanting to do another Italian restaurant in the City,” says the charismatic Italian chef, from the sofa in L’Anima’s lofty, chic bar. “But after a few months they were all talking about us and no one had a bad word to say. We didn’t get one bad review,” he smiles. And that’s because L’Anima, which translates as ‘soul’ in Italian, is rather different from the myriad plush high-end Italians London is used to. As Mazzei himself explains, “it’s mama’s cooking with chef’s hands.”
“After working in five star hotels and Michelin-starred places all my life I’m finally doing the kind of food I love. When I was working in Rome the food we were doing was over-fancy and over-complicated and I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore – I wanted to do my cooking, the food I know and love and that my family taught me – and that’s how L’Anima came about. It’s rustic and it’s real: our sophistication is finding the right ingredients – whether they come from the UK or from Italy doesn’t matter – we’ve just got to find the best of the best.”
Mazzei’s passion for the food of his home country, and preoccupation with simplicity and provenance is obvious from the minute you sit down for a meal at L’Anima and are greeted with a basket of fresh, fragrant bread and slick of green, grassy olive oil. Whether you’re tucking into the winter salad – with elegant slivers of romanesco, endive and baby carrot, as much a work of art as a plate of food – or a beautifully simple risotto of clams with freshly-grated bottarga – you’ll find an ongoing theme: exceptional ingredients melded through a prism of Mazzei’s refined rustic cooking style.