L'Anima has been a favourite Italian restaurant of London food-lovers in the know since it opened its doors in June 2008. A translation of the Italian for 'the soul', it's clear that owner Francesco Mazzei has certainly poured his heart and anima into this modern, sunlit space in the City.
This Calabrian chef certainly has form, having previously cooked at St Alban, Franco's and a number of Alan Yau's restaurants amongst others. I never experienced his cooking at any of these places, but have been wanting to visit L'Anima for several months.
When a friend suggested a few of us visit for a decadent Friday lunch, having met Franco and some of his team at a recent event about Italian cured meats, I was keen to join her.
We squeezed in a date just before L'Anima closed for the month of August for an expansion that increases it's capacity by 40%.
A couple of us were late, so two of us had a drink in the bar beforehand. When our errant companions arrived, it wasn't long before we were lead from the bar area into the dining room and given complimentary glasses of Prosecco as a greeting from Franco.
The enormous green olives were extremely good – all the more surprising because I usually only like black ones. I understand they're imported from Puglia and must try and find a way to get my hands on some…
A bowl of breads, including cute little slices of pizza bread, was served and didn't last long.
I didn't write down the description of our amuse bouche but it included seafood in a light, flavoursome broth with herbs, vegetables and a crunchy toast.
I'm so glad we agreed to share starters – choosing three between the four of us. We had the burrata d’andria with red onion jam & extra virgin olive oil (£9.50), baccalá stuffed courgette flower & romano pepper sauce (£13.50) and fritto misto (£14.75).
Although I'd heard of it, I'd never had burrata before and was captivated by it . It's a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream – the outside is solid mozzarella with an interior of mozzarella and cream. The name translates as 'buttered' and it's a wonderfully delicate and rich treat.
I'd never have chosen the courgette flowers myself – I'm not a huge fan of baccalá (salted cod). But I'm so glad someone picked it; it was light, crunchy, soft and full of savoury flavour. To my surprise, I'd have this again.
On to the generous plate of fritto misto; a gargantuan pile of lightly battered and fried fish and seafood delights. Now, I enjoyed the fritto misto at Polpo, Soho, which was light and tasty and took me straight back to Venice. But I can see why people have been telling me to try L'Anima's version – it really is magnificent. And great value for such a large portion.
My main of slow roasted black pig belly with n’cantarata sauce (£19.75) was decent but didn't blow me away half as much as all three of the starters. The sauce, made with honey, paprika & spices, was a little harsh for me – a very strong flavour against the gentle sweetness of the meat.
But I did love our shared side dish of deep fried zucchini (£5.50) – a bowl of matchsticked courgettes fried in a crisp batter. Addictive!
To drink I had a non-alcoholic cocktail, the Eden (£5.50) – a blend of fresh kiwi, fresh apple & pineapple juice with elderflower syrup. Just to my taste.
Other mains seemed to go down well – particularly the fish stew with sardinian fregola (£24.50). I was tempted by this but am not a huge fan of fregola (hard durum wheat cous cous). Additionally, the flavour wasn't disimilar to the amuse bouche we'd been served earlier.
Native lobster pappardelle & herbs (£23.50) was a dish of few ingredients prepared simply and well.
Only the lamb shank, from the specials of the day, disappointed – neither as tender nor as flavoursome as hoped.
By this time, we were absolutely stuffed, so no space for desserts. But it just gives me an excuse to visit again soon (and admire the new, larger space).
Prices reflect the quality of ingredients and skilled cooking, as well as the City of London location and make it too expensive for it to be a regular haunt for me, though I can see why some choose to visit again and again.