L’Anima translates from the Italian as ‘soul’. Certainly, nourishment for the soul as well as the body is offered in abundance by this accomplished Italian fine dining establishment. Since opening in June 2008, Chef and owner Francesco Mazzei has rightly been lauded by both diners and critics alike.
The restaurant, which is located conveniently close to Liverpool Street station, borders trendy Shoreditch and is in the heart of London’s financial centre; the gleaming towers of RBS are just around the corner. L’Anima occupies the lower level of what seems like a nondescript modern building. However the restaurant transforms the ground floor into a light and airy Mediterranean oasis. One feels like Mr Benn entering into his famous shop, then being transported to some exotic corner of the globe.
The dining room itself is mostly furnished in white with large floor to ceiling windows around a 270 degree circumference. One side has views of the kitchen, providing a glimpse of the masters at work. The bar area, by contrast, is set to a darker tone and offers an alternative intimate dining space.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a Monday evening in March. Marco and the team offered a warm and hospitable welcome and were on hand to offer expert guidance on the menu. The cooking is inspired by the Mezzogiorno, with fresh and vibrant flavours. Simple, boldly flavoured and clean tasting dishes nevertheless involve a careful balance of tastes and textures, accurate timing and beautiful presentation. Sourcing is important, with the best of British and Italian ingredients treated sensitively and with imagination. A glossary of terms at the bottom of the menu helps to demystify some of the less familiar offerings.
In true Italian style we began with an Aperitivi. The Milano Torino is a classic combination of Campari with Red Vermouth, served on the rocks. The seasonal bellini on this occasion combined green apple with prosecco, for clean, crisp flavours.
Faced with an embarrassment of choice and acute fear of missing out on signature dishes, we were delighted to be offered the guidance of Sous Chef Antonio Favuzzi.
We had the pleasure of sampling three of the dishes from the starter menu, which ranges in price from £12 to £18. The first dish was Frito Misto, an amazing construction of soft shell crab, prawns, calamari, gurnard and a baby grey mullet arranged on the plate with architectural finesse. Accompanying the sea food where strips of fried courgette and meltingly crisp sage leaves. The fish was coated in a soft batter, which was cut through with lemon juice and accompanying chilli. The freshness and simplicity of the dish made this a real pleasure and evoked memories of the seaside – one could almost hear the lapping waves!
The other dishes from the starter menu were equally triumphant. The Octopus a la plancha was served with pearl barley, ’Duja (a type of spicy sausage), ricotta mustia, broccoli and paprika oil. The octopus itself was beautifully soft and meaty and the gentle saltiness of the ricotta was balanced perfectly by the heat of the paprika oil.
The Battuta Di Manzo, our other starter, initially seemed a mellower affair. The raw beef was of excellent pedigree, but really came to life when tasted with the accompanying Bottarga (fish roe) and anchovy sauce. These added an intensity of flavour, perfectly complementing the beef. A sprinkling of large arugula leaves provided the final peppery seasoning.
Throughout the meal the attentive Fabrizio was on hand to offer advice on suitable wines to accompany our food. We started with Riflesso Rosi 2012. 50% cabernet and 50% merlot, this was a light red wine with fresh and fruity flavours, making it an excellent match for both the fish and the meat dishes.
Of course no Italian meal would be complete without pasta, and L’Anima prides itself on the expert delivery of this staple. The Pasta and Risotto menu provides an exciting range of options for a main or intermediary course, and other than Gnocchi with Lobster, are all priced around £16.
We sampled a Tortelli with Stracciatella, Ricotta, Brown Butter and Hazelnuts. Tortellini is a type of small round stuffed pasta, normally associated with northern Italy. These larger Tortelli were generously filled and when cut, the two cheeses of the filling gently oozed out onto the plate. This was creamy with a slight acidity, perfectly offsetting the beurre noisette and the sweetness of the accompanying ‘Famiglia Gottardi’ aged balsamic. This was a dish for all the senses, with a wonderful perfume of white truffle filling the air.
Seriously impressed, we moved on to sample two of the main courses. We sadly lacked the capacity to try the Rabbit Siciliana, which was so highly praised by Jay Rayner of the Observer. Instead we opted for the Fish Stew and Black Scotch Beef Tagliata. Main courses range in price from £15 to £32.50.
The Fish Stew was a wonderful collection of Fruitti di Mare, including lobster, sea bass, prawns and mussels. These were set on a rich bed of tomato and Fregola, a small couscous like pasta. The fish and shellfish were accurately timed, maximising their delicate flavour which was complimented, rather than being overpowered by the fresh, punchy sauce.
The final savoury course was Black Scotch Beef Tagliata, served with bone marrow, Blue Di Capra and a Magliocco sauce. The ‘tagliata’ element of the dish refers to the way the beef had been sliced. This sat atop a tower set of bone and mashed potato, making for yet another playful presentation. The beef was meltingly tender and full of flavour. The bone marrow and blue cheese both offered a complimentary richness, making every mouthful truly joyful. The Magliocco sauce, a reduction from the Calabrian wine, was not predominant yet brought the other elements together in a rounded way.
We finished with a Bergamot Soufflé, served with a berry compote and chocolate sorbet. The soufflé was light and airy, with subtle citrus flavours, providing the perfect canvass for the dark chocolate sorbet and tart compote. The sorbet, gently slipped into the soufflé by the server, created a wonderful melange with the aroma of chocolate orange, a truly harmonious combination.
Coffee and petit fours completed an outstanding meal.
It is clear that Francesco Mazzei has taken his extensive experience in Italy and England – the latter including The Dorchester, Hakkasan, Franco’s (in Jermyn Street) and St Alban – to reach a height of accomplishment with his own offering. That the great and the good at Michelin have so far failed to recognise this seems an injustice that surely must be corrected. Fine Dining Guide will watch the progress of L’Anima with interest.