L'Anima - a gourmet Italian restaurant in the City of London, near Finnsbury Square and Liverpool Street.
Its passionate Chef Francesco is half-Calabrian and half Sicilian who keeps a tight grip on the proceedings of his kitchen ran by 40 staff - all Italians, except for a delightful German lady whose presence adds Anglo-Saxon elegance to an otherwise very Mediterranean environment: don't get me wrong L'Anima is no run-of-the-mill trattoria decorated with lamps made of Chianti bottles.
The interior decoration is restrained and minimalist that exudes refinement without ostentation.
Its kitchen, by far larger than the space of the bar and restaurant is a model of well-equipped modernity with no money spared for the best utensils: they bake their own bread on the premises.
And the food? What kind of food is it?
Francesco is uncompromising about his traditional family cuisine, taught by his 'mamma' and his nonna: he called it "traditional Italian family cuisine with a twist!" - that is HIS version of Southern Italy - Calabrese, Puglian, Sicilian with occasional concessions to Tuscany, Veneto or Roman...
The monthly Saturday cookery course is a mixture of demonstration, hands-on cooking, degustation, competition with the prize of a (black) truffle the size of a chicken egg and a three course meal for twenty with white wine from Aosta red wine from the the volcanic slopes of the Etna and a red desert wine.
Ah I forgot the "Italian breakfast" of coffee, bread, butter and four jams. Said an American lady registered for the course; "Francesco next time you do not give us this bullshit you give us instead coffee with a shot of grappa, like the Italian working classes have for breakfast".
Well, grappa is a great leveler, so we drank to that at the end of the lunch.
Francesco-s personality is larger than life: his staff are grateful and are kept on the straight and narrow; i asked him if he shouted in the kitchen he gave an unapologetic "yes". But do you swear? i asked looking at his staff whose faces were sheepish - a mixture of a smirk with an embarrasment - well this WAS my answer - I can't remember what he said...
Francesco's cuisine is prodigal: does he look forward to having a star in the Michelin? He denies it. He says that he is true to himself, regardless. He has somewhere posted a list of the 100 best restaurants in Britain: at the top of the list there is this rural eatery on the Thames Valley, somewhere, which was shut for several weeks by the food inspectors for having poisoned its hosts. L'Anima was amongst the top 20 on this list, more precisely at number 17. Maybe it should start poisoning its clients to gain the first place: "i do not make concession to my clients. Once one gets famous one could do what one likes.". Francesco is a likeable and diplomatic presence, but as most talented people go, he must be difficult to work for. But his staff is glad to work for l"Anima which they helped up the slippery ladder of the gourmet restaurants in London.
Thank you Francesco!
Thank you too to the friendly presence of Francesco's American financial backers and great gourmet connoisseurs who added colour, spontaneity and warmth to our course. (not forgetting the young and distinguished Oxonian-Finno_Brits who stimulated the conversation).