THERE are some days you will always remember. Days where someone up there has decided it will be different. Days where you get up in the morning and once back in bed, you fall asleep with a big smile on your face.
The day you kiss a boy for the first time, the day you come back home from school with an ‘A’, the day you sign your first work contract, the day you organise your first party at home, your wedding day…
Some people claim they don’t like surprises but every day is a surprise. Who is able to say what is exactly going to happen at every minute, every hour? No one, not every single detail can be predicted and that is a surprise in itself.
When I woke up one Friday morning after a tiring week, I was dreaming about my way back home the previous evening, looking forward to a nice and relaxing weekend.
But before my day approached that point, there was something booked on the agenda that I had been looking forward to for awhile. There was a lunch. There was L’Anima.
When I met with Francesco Mazzei, the talented Italian chef that everybody was talking about, for the first time at Taste of Christmas, it was the realization of a secret dream. I didn’t know much about him except that he was making delicious Vongole and knew quite a few things about Italian cuisine…to say the least!
My first contact with his cuisine was a risotto followed by a rich pannatone with a mascarpone and a hot chocolate sauce twist. Food eaten from a paper plate with a plastic fork never tasted so good.
I left that first experience overpowered and convinced and I promised to be back..
And I came back. I pushed the door open at l’Anima on a Friday for a catch-up lunch with the lovely and dynamic @kristainlondon.
The place was bright, bathing in the light of the early afternoon sunshine.
There were tablecloths on the table and proper plates had replaced the paper plates, the silver forks were shining. Only our master’s haircut and laugh hadn’t changed. It was good to be there.
Would you like to see the menu or do you give me ‘carte blanche?!
Every day is a surprise. However how hard you try, there are things you can’t predict. And this was one of the most beautiful surprises I had ever experienced.
Scallops & ‘Stoccafisso’ With Peppers & Anchovies served with Vermentino di Galluro ‘Arakena’ 2008
I’m usually not a big fan of anchovies but their combination with the scallops worked very well, given to this delicate and meaty seafood a salty and powerful kick. The sweetness of the red pepper balanced the different flavours to create a delicious starter.
The dish is based on a Venetian recipe which I used during my work experience with the Santini family in Milan, Edinburgh & London and then perfected using scallops, peppers and anchovies.
Tortelli With ‘Fa Miglia Gottar Di’ Balsamic Vinegar & Toasted Hazelnut served with Bourgogne blanc, Jean Marc Boillot 2008
Cooked all dente, the Tortellini was rich. The parmesan cream was rich and smooth and added a perfect sharpness to the dish.
The Stracciatella cheese used in the tortellini comes from Puglia and the Balsamico is from my friend whose family owns a Balsamico factory in Modena. They produce everything by hand and only for the family so I am honoured that he actually delivers his special balsamico to me and lets me use it in the restaurant.
Wild Sea Bass With Smoked Aubergine and Jar Tomatoes served with Pinot Grigio Ramato, Grio 2007
The seabass was my favourite dish. The fish was meaty and juicy, the smoked aubergines smooth and mellow with no bitterness usually associated with that vegetable. The tomato and basil sauce added a light sweetness to the dish. The three ingredients were a match made in heaven, the other added its own touch to balance the dish perfectly.
With such a fantastic combination between the fish and the vegetables, it is one of the best dishes on the menu
Veal Fillet, Sweet Bread & Kidney With ‘Caponatina’ served with Pinot Nero, Franz Haas 2007
The sun was shining that day and this dish was the exact definition of the atmosphere of the day. A light summery dish yet tasty and flavoury with an interesting texture and crunchiness enhanced by the caponatina.
I like the interesting mix of this dish. The three different sweetbread cuts and the sweet & sour of the aubergine cooked with mince & vinegar kills the strong kidney taste and enhances the taste of the veal.
I have a true love for rabbit. Yet it is an underrated meat that has so much to offer in terms of flavours and texture. It took Francesco six years to develop the recipe and to get the perfect balance between sweet & sour ‘agro dolce’ using nuts, sultanas, Calabrian Tropea onions, olives and fennel to enrich the dish. And yes, the sweet/savoury taste was beautifully balanced, powered by the black olives and the fennel.
Having a favourite signature dish as rabbit is very unusual in this country but it is slowly becoming more and more popular. The inspiration behind this dish came both from my mother’s family recipes and several trips between Ischia Island and Sicily
Ice cream and Sorbet Selection
The four sorbets were extremely refreshing, with a true fruity taste, the perfect way to finish a meal.
My uncle owns an ice cream shop and I started working there and making ice cream at a very young age.
Time was passing too fast and it was time to leave. But you know how Italians are.
You can’t leave now. I have a soufflé waiting for you. Only ten minutes, I promise, ten minutes.
How can you say no? Well, it was worth waiting 10 minutes for a dessert. The Amareto Souffle with its Own Sauce was the best expression of Italian cuisine: perfection of simplicity. The lightness and mousiness of the soufflé gave it an almost crunchy like texture once in the mouth. The sauce was smooth and rich yet the strength of the amareto was light and didn’t overpower the dish.
The only French dish on the menu but also a heritage of my many years of working with some of the greatest chefs around the world where I learned how to make a great soufflé
Thank you. Francesco, you’re a genius!
1 Snowden Street
London, EC2A 2DQ