Francesco Mazzei: succeeding in London

A chat with the Calabrian chef. He's opened Fiume, his third restaurant in the British metropolis

17-01-2018

Francesco Mazzei (right) with Francesco Chiarelli, head chef at Fiume. It's the third restaurant the Calabrian chef opens in London after Sartoria and Radici (photo from instagram)

Sartoria (tailor’s shop): the name might seem strange but it’s actually right on point. We are in fact, on Savile Row, the heart of London’s tailoring experts, where a handmade suit can cost a fortune. The restaurant has been here for a long time but only a few years ago Francesco Mazzei, chef from Calabria who moved to the city quite a while ago, took over its ownership (through the D&D group). He turned into a popular and trendy destination, thanks to its sober elegance and mainly, thanks the authentic food prepared in a modern and innovative way.

To promote more widely to non Italians the best of our food, Francesco goes beyond his home region: ingredients and dishes span across the whole peninsula, including the islands. Sardinian fregola pasta, milanese veal chop, Carnival biscuits, carbonara and burrata from Andria all appear on the menu. Breakfast lets the chef marry his original land with his adoptive country especially in the hot dishes: apart from a valid cappuccino and croissant, Eggs in Purgatory are spiced up with ‘nduja while the Italian job swaps bacon for pancetta.

Yet he didn't stop in Mayfair. While Sartoria is the smart side of his cuisine, the casual side is instead Radici, which he opened last year in Islington, the neighbourhood of London where he lives. It is here that we catch up with him for a chat, on a Sunday where he’s here to support his team in the kitchen, despite being pretty busy with a gala dinner the same evening at Sartoria.

Octopus salad at Fiume, inside Battersea Power Station 

Octopus salad at Fiume, inside Battersea Power Station 

Running around, he still welcomes us warmly, Italian hospitality never fails. He had described Radici to us as a trattoria, a ‘family restaurant’ where most Sundays he enjoys lunch himself with his family, where the menu offers somehow rustic dishes: meatballs, pizza bread, lasagna laden with Grana Padano and roasts. Yet even here anyway, we note the same elegance in the fittings and the decor in the wide, bright dining room and stylish bar area.

We ask him if he thinks Italian chefs have difficulties opening in London and what are the obstacles they might encounter. “In my view it’s not difficult to open, the real challenge is to find the right staff; especially after Brexit and the strength of the euro, people are more wary. The problem is also a way of cooking that is a little abstract, difficult to interpret for a Brit” - he answers - “here there is still space for a typical, regional Italian cuisine, which brings surefire success!”. And his restaurants are clear proof of that.

Which are the stereotypes of our food hard to stomach? “Definitely our cuisine isn't as limited as often people think over here” - he explains - “We don’t just cook pizza and pasta but many British chefs [who open up an Italian restaurant] feel it’s very easy; instead we know very well it isn’t”. In fact, recently there’s been a flurry of restaurants offering only pasta, while Neapolitan pizzerias have sprouted all over the place, with people queueing for ages and instagramming every morsel of food. Cacio and pepe has never been more trendy!

Francesco Mazzei, 44, born in Cerchiara, in Calabria

Francesco Mazzei, 44, born in Cerchiara, in Calabria

“A pasta plate, if cooked with high standards, can become a gourmet dish. And going back to the stereotypes, from our own country there is so much to discover for those not from Italy, because as we are all aware, each town, village and regional has its own, unique, food. There is no limit!”

And to keep spreading the enjoyment of our authentic regional recipes, Francesco has just opened his third outpost, this time he’s moved south, by the Thames, right next to the iconic Battersea Power station. Called Fiume (river), he offers a menu with loads of dishes well known to Italians but that will be a surprise for those not familiar with our very own regional different flavours.


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