Chef Antonio Favuzzi melds the honest ingredients of his homeland with big-city refinement, says Hannah Thompson
Pan-fried brill with homemade spicy sausage and artichokes
Let's be honest: L'Anima made a name for itself when former head chef Francesco Mazzei was at the helm, and now that he's gone to D&D London's Sartoria, amid much fanfare, you could be forgiven for thinking he's left a large hole in his Liverpool Street base.
The 120-cover L'Anima, with its white tablecloths, glass, marble and granite, is a favourite with the suits and office workers who demand somewhere with impeccable cooking and a direct line to the chef. As such, it's little wonder that new head chef, Antonio Favuzzi (affectionately known as Lello), carries two phones (all his regulars have his number) and that he gladly prepares specialist dishes for favourite customers. When we visit, he's bought a Dover sole especially for a booking and he estimates that regulars make up half his clientele.
Favuzzi was part of the original team at L'Anima in 2008, and he is a true continuation of the success Mazzei built. He's just as fiery, Italian and warm as his old boss, yet everything is under control. And it's this considered approach that as much a reflection of his respect for Mazzei as a tribute to his own background.
"I am Sardo [Sardinian], yes, but I am from everywhere," he says. "I don't forget my roots; my mother is from Sicily and my father is from Puglia, and I worked with Francesco [Mazzei] for a long time, so I have influences from Calabria. I've also been in England for 13 years."
When Mazzei left in March 2015, Favuzzi spoke frankly with the restaurant's Italian-American owner, Peter Marano, on how to forge a new direction for the menu. Favuzzi said he would make changes, but promised not to tweak everything at once.
Some classic dishes, such as the tuna carpaccio, are unchanged. Lean tuna is coated in olive oil and served with lime, mango relish and an avocado, lemon and chive cream that is so sumptuous as to be bordering on indecency.
"Women come here and order it in double portions as a main," he says. "It's about texture, different consistencies, influences such as Mexico… a bit of spice. There's no way I'm changing it. People would kill me."
Pork cheeks with celeriac mash and mirto
Sometimes, though, guests will ask him to cook personally for them, and to serve whatever he likes. For Favuzzi, this usually means an ability to meld the ‘cucina povera' of his home country with the surroundings of financial London. And what leaves the pass is as rustic as it is refined. The bestselling lobster broth with tortellini is one example. It is an adaptation of a traditional tortellini broth, which is then clarified and boiled with Pernod before being infused with chilli and paprika and poured theatrically over a prawn raviolo, served in a clear teacup, at the table.
Another is the malloreddus or gnocchi Sardi, made out of black pasta. It is created with 20% ‘burnt' flour, a reference to a time when Italy's wheat fields would be burnt after the white wheat had been harvested for the rich. Favuzzi's pasta is chewy and unctuous, cooked with saffron and Mazara prawns, transforming it from a symbol of poverty into a potent blend of Italian history and modern London.
Favuzzi is confident in his approach; the exquisite flavour of fennel pollen, for example, is added very lightly to the aforementioned lobster broth, and shows how for him, spice is more subtle than the full-on punch Mazzei's Calabrian n'duja and chilli used to offer.
"In Sardinia, there isn't a lot of hot spice," he explains. "But things do need a bit of a kick. I use a lot of fennel, paprika and saffron."
And yet, there are echoes of Mazzei: his famous chocolate dome, for example, is still on the menu. Made with a sphere of tempered chocolate with hazelnut mousse, hazelnut cookies, ice-cream and a caramel sauce that is poured over the dome to melt it in front of the diner, the classic dish offers welcome theatre in a restaurant where the chef is never stuck behind the pass for too long.
With his well-heeled customers on speed-dial and creator of his regulars' favourites, Favuzzi has truly emerged from Mazzei's shadow. And yet, like many chefs, his driving force is to be humble: "The best advice I was ever given was that chefs are not stars," he says. "Many chefs think they are football players and will be able to dictate things. But I don't care if I learn something from my 20-year-old commis. It's about passion. If you don't have that, don't be a chef, because you won't survive long."
And with that, despite the granite and the marble and the suits, L'Anima lives up to its name. Its heart may once have been with Mazzei, but with Favuzzi we can see its soul.
L'Anima, 1 Snowden Street, London EC2A 2DQwww.lanima.co.uk
From the menu
Handpicked crab with sea urchin and sweet red onions £16
Pappardelle with wild boar ragÁ¹ £17.50
Scotch beef tagliata with marrow bones, buffalo blue cheese and salsa verde £34.50
Raspberry and almond tart with liquorice crumble £10
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In