A dear friend of mine who couldn’t make it along to my birthday do offered to treat me to a celebratory dinner instead.
While my usual thought process would be fixated on the food newbies to arrive in this ever-changing corner of town, there was a particular place that has kept my curious for some time now.
Despite a long term longing to get there, such a dinner date had never eventuated.
That venue is L’Anima, Francesco Mazzei’s southern Italian establishment in the city. L’Anima, meaning soul, had conjured images in my mind of a homely place serving authentically rustic, ‘soulful’ Italian fare.
What greeted us as we entered was a stunning, elegant venue that clearly proved the owners considered the interior as crucial an element as the food.
Sharp geometric blocks of chocolate-hued granite run from floor to high ceiling, where the eye is met with a rim of golden recessed lighting. Neat rows of thin pendant lights continue the geometric theme. In the bar area, a striking, violet, illuminated slab of marble dominates.
In the restaurant, crisp white fills the room, from the starched tablecloths to the limestone Travertine flooring.
The front of house receptionist greets us with a beaming smile, which, combined with my initial glimpse of the interior, makes me want to be part of this place immediately – to meet the staff, enjoy the food and take in the gorgeous surroundings.
Nestling into the sleek, designer leather dining chair, I crack a smile at just how inaccurate my pre-conceived visions of this place were.
Appropriately, a charming, suited man from the Med saunters by and points to a list on the table. ‘We’ve just received some lovely white truffle’ he declares, nonchalantly.
We glance at the menu to reveal a handful of exorbitantly priced starters that feature the luxurious ingredient. I flash my friend, self declared bill payer of the evening, an awkward smile.
Thankfully, there are (slightly) more modest prices on the a la Carte. It’s one of those menus that reveals very little about the execution of the dishes, focusing purely on key ingredients only.
My friend’s starter, simply listed as ‘scallops and air dried cod’, revealed itself to be a stunningly pretty and intricate dish of giant scallop, cod stuffed into mini roast pepper, several small dots of varying flavoured sauces, perfectly positioned herbs and coloured flower petals.
Mine of Seared Octopus with Fresh Cocco Beans and N’Duja arrived as giant hunks of fresh octopus draped over a spicy bean sauce with a pile of vivid, fresh green beans.
For mains, my friend opts for the seemingly classic dish of ‘Pastachina’, under which states ‘Francesco’s mother’s own recipe for southern Italian lasagne’.
Right when I think I’ve found the hint of rustic, Italian flair in the food here, out comes the most modern interpretation of lasagne I have ever seen.
A neat, golden slab surrounded by dabs of sauces representing the colours of Italy; I sense that while the flavours may have originated in Mamma’s Calabrian kitchen, the presentation has certainly evolved into the artistic work of art that appears before us.
My main of Wild Boar Maltagliati with Juniper and Pistachio is a comforting plateful of pasta paradise. Rich in flavour and unusual with the hint of juniper.
Though I adore the interior that is both under-stated and dramatic, I can’t help but feel the slightest hint of stuffiness here. Surprisingly, this comes not from the staff or the place itself, but from the sheer number of suits that surround us at the tables.
I am reminded that, this is a restaurant in the city, the hub of corporate London.
My mind wanders off to imagine the suddenly pleasing thought of long, boozy, client lunches in the company of Francesco’s accomplished team. Suddenly the feeling of stuffiness escapes me.
We opt for sharing the guilt with a shared dessert, a delectable dish of Caramelised Pineapple and Salted Caramel Ice Cream. So incredible it was with its tartness and caramel goodness, I fought with restraint to not lick the plate clean.
L’anima is certainly a top-class act that could almost be an advertisement for Italy and for all things gorgeous, stylish and of course delicious, it represents.
I will be back to face the repeated dilemmas from a menu with which I want it all, to sit among the sleek marble, the charming sun-kissed faces… and the suits.