So L’Anima missed out on a Michelin star again. Francesco Marezzi – a man with much experience in kitchens that please the tubby tyre man – must be furious. Rave reviews from critics and bloggers alike have done nothing to appease that strangely revered committee, and he can look forward to another twelve months of trying again. I for one am pretty pleased, because L’Anima is one of the most overrated restaurants I’ve ever eaten in.
It’s not the food – the food’s not bad as wildly overpriced Italian cooking goes – it’s just everything else that goes with it. Plonked halfway up Generic Street in the riddle of empty roads between Liverpool and Old Streets that Cameron’s hoping to turn into Silicon Valley (a long, long journey if this place is anything to go by), it’s a huge gaping absence of character encased in glass walls and ridden with bankers and city boy twats. You enter through another glass cube of thumping bland-house music and people standing around with cocktails talking about share prices . It’s a thoroughly depressing start to the evening, and if every piece of writing on this place mentions bankers, it’s because L’Anima is riddled with them. They’re in the toilets sniffing Jo Malone candles and straightening pink ties; they’re clicking fingers at the elastic concierges while contemptuously holding a coat in the other hand; they’re at the table next to you, and the one next to that, rosy-faced from fine wine and spunking the money of the great dispossessed up the wall while offering a sneer to anyone that passes by. They’re so loathsome and churlish and dead inside you can’t help but feel decent food would be lost on them, and that any dignified restaurateur would humour them with mediocre dishes at astronomical prices.
Mazzei does just that. From a kitchen half visible through holes in the wall (heavily stage-managed open plan theatre) emerge all manner of disappointments. Hand picked crab and spicy tomato passata had shaken off its spice on the way through, and if the crab was hand picked it was picked apart later by a clueless sous chef. Four gobfuls: £13.75. The extortion continued with a healthy gusto (perhaps I’m to blame for straying from £31.75’s guiding principles, although we were on the major label dime): Norcia hand carved ham may have been sublime (and on a par with the real Umbrian deal) but at £16.50 turned risible, while aubergine parmigiana for twelve quid (billed as a Main) looked embarrassed to be there, a handful of soggy slices arranged miserably on a huge plate. I went for crab again for my main, to see where they’d put the rest of it. It came accompanied by Fidellini which is, according to the glossary, “a very thin spaghetto”. No complaints here, the crab tumbled off my fork and the pasta was taunted to perfection. I quite liked the definitions section, it laid out anything slightly unusual so our high rolling companions wouldn’t have the displeasure of having to ask what something was. Mortals find that an appealing part of the discovery of eating; their egos wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Cavatelli (it’s just pasta, OK) with sausage and purple sprouting was fine – as good as any we’d knock up at home on a Tuesday night, and thankfully “purple sprouting” did mean broccoli, not fungal disease. I was ashamed to ask as a suit was eyeing me but the gamble paid off. Perhaps the star of the show, though, was the burrata d’andria with red onion jam and hazelnut, a kind of cream soup with mozzarella floating around in it and as odd as it sounds. Cheeses were great and included a peppery blue, several inoffensive softies, and an awesome rock of something crumbly alongside chilli jam, honey, grapes and crunchy warm toast.
Service careered dangerously between friendly and knowledgeable and haughty and uncommunicative. It depended on who was passing really, and no-one passed by that often. Dishes took an interminably long time to come out and we engaged with a couple of waiters with a mutual disdain. One audibly sighed as he answered a question. I don’t blame their attitude. If I had to work here every day I’d be a raging mess, Skyping with Jared Lee Loughner and plotting to take the civilised world down in a handbasket.
As we now painfully know, complacency is the currency of the city boy, and their currency is spent at one of the most complacent places around. If you’re going to build a restaurant in a box, populate it with tossers, staff it with superciliousness personified , and charge through the nose, it had better be all about the food. Which it isn’t.
L’Anima means “the soul” in Italian. Oh, the irony. If any living thing’s soul looks or feels like this I hail eternal pity down on them. From the bus to work to work itself I encounter some blackened souls on a daily basis but none display the vacant chasm of character that this place is built around. There’s only one (rather inevitable) word for it: senz’anima.
Clientele: Please see above
Price per head: £62.50
Soundtrack: The self-satisfied guffawing of jackasses.