“ Cuisine: Italian / Address: 1 Snowden Street / Broadgate West / London / EC2A 2DQ / United Kingdom / Tel: 0207 422 7000 „
ITALIAN SOUL FOOD
Ever since returning to work in the City of London last year, I have embarked on the slow process of getting used to London prices. My previous job was based in Berkshire, in the far less genteel surroundings of Slough town centre, where you could still get a slap up English breakfast and a mug of tea for the cost of a Panini in one of the City's countless coffee houses. However, nine months on, the initial sticker shock has worn off, at least when someone else is paying.
That's a state of affairs that I hope will long continue, especially when it comes to L'Anima, an award-winning contemporary Italian restaurant, tucked away in a side street behind Liverpool Street Station. I have now had the pleasure of lunching and dining there four times, none of which involved the arduous task of signing for the bill. That said, for the quality of food and service received on each occasion, though painful, the process of paying would be worth every penny.
L'Anima is Italian for "soul", which the proprietors hope to infuse into everything from the food and wine to décor and atmosphere. The inventive menu takes the best of Italian cooking and gives it a contemporary and creative twist, which makes the food both instantly recognisable, yet refreshingly different. The restaurant, which opened in June 2008 by head chef Francesco Mazzei, has won a number of awards, all of which are proudly displayed near the reception desk. It is located on Snowden Street, a paved street that runs between Appold Street and Clifton Street, just north of the Broadgate complex, and has a long glass frontage, giving passers-by a full view of the dining room.
ATMOSPHERE & DÉCOR
L'Anima aims for elegance and sophistication and succeeds at embodying both. A small reception area sits immediately inside the front door, in a glass corridor that separates the restaurant from the bar. White leather chairs accompany crisp white tablecloths and impeccable table settings in the dining room, and the travertine limestone floor adds an earthy touch. The dark stone walls - differently textured in the main dining room and bar - provide a nice (and much needed) contrast. You can see the frenzied activity in the kitchens through the glass windows on the back wall.
The bar is well stocked and staffed, with cocktails impeccably mixed and presented. They make a cracking Bajito (£9), a variation on the classic Cuban cocktail which adds basil to the mint. Its main purpose is to keep diners entertained while waiting for their tables, but there were plenty of business people from neighbouring offices who had stopped in for a pricey drink. You can also see the wine "cellar" at the end of the glass corridor, next to a private dining room that accommodates fourteen for special occasions. Apparently the private room features a special menu, which is also available to diners on a small, raised, and glass balconied "mezzanine" at the far left of the main room.
I can say, without hesitation, that almost every meal I have had at L'Anima has been close to flawless. However, my last visit was perhaps the least satisfying of the lot - for a couple of reasons. The occasion was a small team dinner before Christmas, but the dining room was packed with a party of forty or so corporate types on a decidedly up-market holiday do, making it was much louder than usual. Although busy, the restaurant rarely seems crowded, but on this occasion, given the number of diners, the noise and bustle was unavoidable. Secondly, it was the first time I had eaten at L'Anima with a review in mind, so I approached everything with a slightly more considered and critical mind.
FORGET THE BUDGET
First things first. If you are on a budget - and I don't mean a limited budget - but any kind of budget at all, the numbers in the right hand column of the L'Anima menu are probably going to make your wallet weep. For most ordinary people (i.e. those not expensed or on City bonuses) this is a place best enjoyed on someone else's dime, or as a one-off experience in which, for one night, and one night only, you have a blast and ignore the cost. If you want a taste of the cooking and atmosphere for a more reasonable cost (still expensive, but not eye-wateringly so) it is well worth going for a leisurely lunch.
To give some context, starters average around £15, mains are between £25 and £30, puddings and cheeses will set you back £10 to £15, and the wine list ranges from around £20 to £2000. Side dishes (such as sautéed potatoes or spinach, roast vegetables, fried zucchini and green beans) are an additional £5 each. For these princely sums, you get fantastic food, faultless, attentive friendly (but unobtrusive) service, highly knowledgeable staff and a dedicated sommelier who will ask you for a budget and match wine to your meal without making you feel like an idiot. A three course meal for a couple with wine, water, coffee and cocktails at the bar will easily cost around £75 per head.
THE ESSENCE OF L'ANIMA
As with any restaurant, but especially given its premium pricing, L'Anima has to get the food right. In my mind at least, the cost creates an expectation of first class quality, and therefore a wholly justified right of judgment and criticism if anything is not nigh-on perfect. That's the context in which I enjoyed the last occasion at L'Anima. We started with the complimentary breads - slices of fresh baked focaccia, ciabatta and breadsticks, served with a flavourful, fruity and peppery olive oil with excellent depth and a thoroughly more-ish quality. While a colleague handled the tricky task of perusing the extensive wine list, I settled down to inspect the simple menu. Although the dishes use Italian terminology, a glossary is helpfully provided to explain some of the more esoteric terms used (such as bocconotto, stracci and cavatelli) and staff are only too happy to explain how the dish is put together and where and how it is sourced.
Having decided on the delectable sounding charcoal scallops with n'duja (a spicy, spreadable Calabrian salami apparently) and salsa verde to start (£12.75), and a main of wild cod with smoked aubergine and jar tomatoes to follow (£27.50), I turned my attention to my colleague, who desperately wanted me to validate his wine choices, not because he had any lack of confidence in what he was ordering, but more because he wanted to make sure the cost was still within the realms of corporate propriety (when in doubt, spread the accountability about). With a bit of jovial prompting from the sommelier, we settled on a three bottles (for the six of us I hasten to add) of the Ronco delle Betulle Cabernet Franc 2006 from the Friuli region of Northern Italy, which set our expense account back £40 a pop. It turned out to be a good choice - a bold and fruity red that kept something back so it didn't dominate the food.
Starters arrived promptly. My five grilled scallops were served on a half shell, discretely and ingenuously held in place on the plate by a small dollop of mashed potato. The perfectly cooked shellfish was served in its own jus with the salami spread crusted on top, and three perfectly cut chive fronds and a toasted slice of ciabatta as garnish. Unfortunately, the chilli in the salsa verde was a little overdone, so the delicate flavours of the otherwise delicious scallops were somewhat overpowered. I ended up spreading it on the foccacia instead, and it worked much better. It was a well-sized dish - perfect for a taster before the main course, and only slightly spoiled by the overzealous use of chilli.
After a short break, our mains arrived. The cod was simply, but stunningly presented, on a bed of smoked aubergine and tomatoes. The skin had been left on and beautifully crisped. The flavours combined very well, with the tomato contributing a nice, fruity tang and the subtly smoked aubergine adding an earthy, rustic feel to the whole ensemble. As with the starter, it was a well portioned and very satisfying eat. On previous visits, I have had the aged black Scotch rib eye grill (£35), and the fresh crab fidelini - essentially a very thin spaghetti (£18). Our mains were accompanied by a selection of side dishes which we shared out amongst us, with the excellent wood roasted vegetables being a notable highlight.
I just about managed to find room for desert and coffee, but instead of indulging my sweet tooth, I opted for a wine and cheese combination - a mild goats cheese from the Piedmont called "Robiola Brunet" which was accompanied with toasted ciabatta and chilli jam (£9), and a 50cl glass of Aleatico di Puglia A Mano sweet white dessert wine (£8). The two worked very well together, and provided a very nice end point to the meal. My only criticism was that the chilli jam must have been prepared by the same overzealous sous chef who handled the starter - it was powerful, eye-watering stuff.
SOUL ISSUE (or TWO)
L'Anima consistently produces very high quality food and impeccable service. A few minor quibbles aside on my last visit, I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the means to afford a top class gastronomic and dining experience. That's the rub, and the nub, of it. If you are looking for an extra special place to celebrate an important anniversary or event, you will get quite a lot of bang for your buck at L'Anima. There is little point in going if the bill is going to give you indigestion, but in its context - and given its City competitors - it offers pretty good value. Apart from that, the only matter in the negative column worth mentioning is the lack of a view out of its long glass frontage. That said, you'll be so busy enjoying the excellent food that you probably won't notice.
THE SMALL DETAILS
1 Snowden Street
London EC2A 2DQ
Phone: 0207 422 7000
Monday to Friday - Lunch (11:45am to 3pm) - Dinner (5:30pm to 11pm)
Closed for Lunch on Saturday, but open for Dinner (5:30 to 11:30pm)
Closed on Sunday
© Hishyeness 2011
My boyfriend took me here for my birthday on a Saturday night in May 2009. The restaurant had not been open that long, but was already attracting a lot of media attention as being one of the only restaurants to being doing incredibly reall in the recession. And I understand why....
The reception staff were lovely, they greeted us with a big smile and showed us to our table. The restaurant was not full, and it seems they make a policy of not overcrowding it by filling all the tables at once. A really nice touch so that it is not too noisy and overwhelming.
The tables are generously sized with crisp white table cloths. You will not feel that you and your partner are bashing elbows here!
There is a special wine waiter who is on hand to provide assistance (should you need it) and offer advice and opinions. He is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and I later erad a review of the restsurant that implied he is one of the best in the business.
The menu is plentiful and true Italian with an added "something" thrown in for good measure. I started with a quail egg salad and my boyfriend had the octopus. Both incredibly delicious. We then had the pasta in pesto and the rabbit. I don't like the thought of eating rabbit, but he assured me it was tasty, but I can confirm my pasta was out of this world delicious and to this day I still get cravings for it.
The dessert menu is the hardest part. The choices all sound absolutely amazing and although you will be very full from your dinner, you will definitely want to try at least one of the puddings!
After dinner we were both so full that we decided to wait in the bar and have a couple of cocktails until our bellies felt less full before waddling back to the train station! The staff were lovely, and helped us pick a coupel of cocktails each, which were all scrumptious.
The staff here are wodnerfully attentive without being intrusive. They have an incredibly friendly manner, and you can see that they clearly enjoy working together and are happy. Their demeanour is not faked in any way.
In terms of price - this place is expensive! But well worth it for a treat. So many other top London restaurants you will encounter snootiness, but here they don't seem to mind who comes in for dinner, whether you are a celebrity or just a regular person - you all get the same treatment.
I would advise you to dress smartly for a place like L'Anima just because the whole restaurant feels so wonderfully posh that you will want to fit in. I'm not talking ball gowns or anything lke that, but smart jeans and a nice top is perfect.