20 August 2014

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Interview with Francesco Mazzei


Francesco Mazzei - Francesco_Mazzei_2010_-__MG_1199.jpgSquare Meal talks to the L’Anima chef about his forthcoming project L’Anima Café, riding out the economic storm in the City, and what he thinks about the competition.

L’Anima Café has been on the cards for some time now – what’s the latest on the project?

L’Anima Café is one of those babies that takes its time learning how to walk. Of course, being Italian, we are laid back about it. Everyone keeps asking me when it will open, and I always reply, “when we’re ready”. At the moment, it’s a very busy time for us with L’Anima and I don’t want to get distracted. L’Anima Café will be completely different to L’Anima, so I want to take my time with it to make sure it’s right. I’m already developing dishes for the Café menu – we want to make it one of the top trattorias in London. It’s looking like it will open in 2014.

What kind of food will you serve at L’Anima Café?

L’Anima Café is going to be a lot of fun. Very few places do proper spaghetti carbonara any more, or arrabbiata – it’s food that I want to eat when I go out for a casual meal, and it’s food that my kids can enjoy. The way we eat in southern Italy is to share everything – a big bowl of pasta, a fish cooked in rock salt, roasted meat... so, at L’Anima Café on Sundays, we’re going to do a fantastic lunch in the style of a real Italian mamma. We’ll have a communal table where you can share the food, and we’ll use very good ingredients, with as much as possible sourced from the UK, cooked in a very simple way – all at reasonable prices. We’ve also got a fantastic wood-fired oven. I’m very excited. And we’re going to have a small shop selling wine, olive oil, pasta, which will be open seven days a week.

What type of customers will you aim to attract?

I think all of our L’Anima customers will really want to go to the Café – for big meetings they will probably stick with L’Anima, but for everyday lunches they will try the Café. Our takeaway menu should also be popular, and we’re going to have a tavola calda (snack bar) so that people can eat and run.

L'Anima_Bar_Restaurant_2013_3.jpgHow has the City changed since you launched L’Anima (pictured, left)?

We were one of the pioneers of the City dining scene and we’ve been on the map for six years now. Since then, a dozen or so big-name restaurants have opened – Galvin La Chapelle, of course, and newcomers such as HKK, which is getting very busy, and Sushisamba, which is doing huge numbers. It’s good for our business to have more restaurants in the area, as it means more people coming to the City. Whereas we used to work hardest during weekday lunchtimes and relax after that, now it’s busy all day, every day. Friday and Saturday nights used to be dead, but now Friday night in particular is massive – it’s really snowballed.

Was it scary setting up in the City when you did?

I don’t normally have sleepless nights, but during the first week that L’Anima launched, we only had 10 people in the restaurant on Monday night, and we were closed on Saturday. Luckily, our first review was great, the second was fantastic, the third was phenomenal – and after three months we were packed every single day.

How has the economic downturn affected you?

We had a strange year last year, but now things are picking up again incredibly well and we’re back to trading as we were in 2010-11. It’s easier to get bums on seats in the West End as there are so many people walking past, whereas in the City you have to drag them in, and after 9.30pm there’s not a soul around. But I think we did things right from the start, which helped us push through.

Where do you like to dine out in London?

I like Hakkasan – the chef is a good friend of mine, and I spent one year of my career in Asia so I know that style of cooking very well. The place I’m most enjoying at the moment is Naamyaa Café. My wife and I love it – it does really good Thai food, and it’s very original. I think [Naamyaa Café’s owner] Alan Yau is a genius. I’m really excited about his new place Duck & Rice [at The Endurance pub in Soho]. His idea of a Chinese gastropub is an excellent one.

This interview was conducted on 5 November 2013.

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