With a new chef and menu, Lucy Self thought it time she investigate the infamous city-based Italian, L’Anima
No doubt the news that Francesco Mazzei, was to hang up his chef whites after seven years at the stoves of L’Anima was met with fervent whispers. Many of them, I’d hazard a guess, wondering if his replacement Antonio Favuzzi could maintain Mazzei’s award-winning (though not star gaining) standards.
When I was invited along to try the new spring menu, I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t my concern. I was simply glad to be going to a restaurant I’d lusted after since it started appearing with regularity on Masterchef.
I still remember one thrilling episode when a contestant had to make Mazzei’s take on traditional lasagna. One artful close up, with its tiny quails eggs and bright bursts of green lined with patchwork precision, and my conceptions of what a simple pasta dish could be were blown to pieces.
So anyway, L’Anima. With its bling white interior, brigade of smoldering staff and bar bursting to the seams with sipping city suits, doesn’t take long to make an impression.
Whilst not subtle, I like it immediately for being ions away from what I once heard a well-known food writer describe as ‘scrapey-plate syndrome’ (that staid silence often found in high-end eateries, with everyone so fearful of making a faux pas, you can hear every swipe of their cutlery).
The number of staff makes one question how they could possibly make a profit. Being attended by at least five different faces over the course of our two-hour dinner would usually irritate me, but here it’s done with such charm, it adds to the experience. A highlight was GM Adriano Cacchione swiftly relieving us of any decision-making by insisting we leave it to the chef and sommelier, whilst simultaneously delivering frothy Bellinis, fat green olives, and a basket of still warm bread.
We started with a lucent lobster broth poured over stuffed ravioli and single langoustine in the deepest shade of coral. Followed by a heap of handpicked white crab on a paint smear of pea puree and dotted trails of sea urchin and sweet red onion. Both needed salt and, to be frank, a fresh direction (once you’ve seen one clear consommé tea pot…). The beef tartare, with blitzed Sardinian artichokes and Bottarga which is an Italian seasoning made from pressed and dried fish roe, took things up a notch.
Then came a dish of duck ragu. Up to this point I had been silently accepting that hit TV show-led expectations can sometimes let a lady down. Then ribbons of buttercup coloured pasta came topped something so unctuous I mentally licked the bowl long before I’d finished. Imagine all the truly noteworthy meat sauces you’ve sampled, and then add the divine glory of long-smelted duck and the bright crunch of pistachio. If I could get that delivered to my door on a hangover, I’d get drunk every night just to have an excuse to eat it.
Then another winning fish dish, expertly seared topped with a crimson crunch of paprika salt and violet-coloured mash of heritage potato. Followed by a pre dessert somewhere between a tiramisu and a trifle, then a couple of actual deserts (the best being a meringue and tropical sorbet).
It’s an overused argument but I’ll make it anyway, taking superlative ingredients and treating them simply is what makes Italian cuisine so celebrated. The most successful dishes from Lello Favuzzi’s new spring menu show his potential to turn that philosophy into truly outstanding food. At this point, some might start talking about him stepping out of his former bosses shadow but I don’t care about that. I just wanted L’Anima to live up to the stuff Masterchef memories made and, with its in-your-face glamour, smilingly slick staff and that ragu, it most certainly did.
L’Anima, 1 Snowden Street, London EC2A 2DQ