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Fast mover

While working in the kitchens of two-star restaurant the Laurent, Paris, chef Giorgio Locatelli travelled to work on an electric skateboard. Now he’s looking to buy one to whizz to work early at his new restaurant, Zafferano, in London’s Street, London.

Locatelli needs to be at the stove at the crack of dawn. After opening on 30 January, it took just three days for the 55-cover restaurant to become fully booked.

“It’s my dream come true,” says Locatelli, who spent last year as consultant chef for the launch of the Red Pepper restaurant in Maida Vale, London.

After years of working on a set salary – as do most chefs – he has negotiated a performance-related share in the business with Zafferano’s backers. “This shows the changing status of the kitchen. As a chef I am now an integral part of the business. The 1990s are about kitchen-orientated, food-driven restaurants.”

Zafferano’s set-price menus offer a choice of five starters, five pasta dishes, five fish/meat options and three puddings at lunch. For supper, the number of dishes per course widens to five/eight/eight/five respectively. Locatelli plans to change the menus every month or so “in an ideal world”. At the moment, though, he will run the opening menu until his brigade “has settled down, and I’ve got all the staff I need”.

Prices are extremely reasonable compared with other Knightsbridge restaurants. At lunch, two courses cost £12.50, three £15.50. At dinner, prices rise to £14.50 and £17.50 respectively.

So how did he come to choose the name of the restaurant? “Zafferano (saffron) is a spice spanning several different cuisines. To me it represents a melting pot of all the different races of the world. It is a spice which is used in Spanish, North American and Far Eastern cooking.

“We Italians like certain sounds. Zafferano is a very sonic word – and yellow/orange is my favourite colour.”

To tie in with the name of the restaurant, paper on the bill cover has been custom-made using saffron in the fibres. Unfortunately, the process was too costly to use on the menu covers too.

Locatelli’s current favourite dish – an extremely bright yellow saffron risotto with bone marrow – features only on the dinner menu. “We’re not serving any of the longer cooking dishes at lunch. Customers want to eat between 12.30pm and 2pm prompt. All dishes are cooked à la minute.”

Octopus salad with new potatoes is already a popular starter. Locatelli uses fresh baby octopus which is cooked for exactly 20 minutes to avoid becoming rubbery.

It is allowed to cool in the water in which it is boiled, before it is skinned. When cool, it is left in olive oil. A light dressing is made with Aceto vinegar (£7 per 500ml bottle) which has a distinctive flavour gained from having been filtered through wood chips.

“Italian cooking is about good vinegar and good oil – not butter and cream,” Locatelli explains.

Pappardelle ai fegatini di pollo – flat egg pasta with chicken livers and sage – is the only dish on the menu which is cooked with butter.

Zafferano serves Illy coffee. Whereas most coffee costs £2-£6 per kg, the 100% arabica bean pedigree Illy costs twice this. Espresso is charged at £1.50 per cup and cappuccino £2.20 per cup.

The 60-strong wine list offers a thoroughbred Italian selection. Only the two Champagnes are French. “We thought customers wouldn’t be ready for an all Italian Spumanti Champagne list,” says front of house manager Roger Penza. House wines – all £8.50 a bottle, £2 a glass – include Pinot Grigio La Delfina and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

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