L’Anima: Soulless (April 2015)

For any restaurant to call itself ‘the soul’ (the translation of L’Anima) is a bold claim, particularly when accepting the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of this as being the ‘principle of life in man or animals.’ A recent visit to said restaurant proved itself to be the very antithesis of this idea: our group of four found the place lacking in atmosphere and the food good, but not excellent and certainly a long way from being the ‘principle of life.’ The reason for such an outcome may have been the recent departure of star chef Francesco Mazzei (apparently with “immediate effect”, I was informed) and its corresponding impact on staff morale, but even his presence may not have rescued what I find to be an uninspiring setting. Located on the fringes of the City on one side and Old Street on the other, it is hard to know what sort of crowd L’Anima naturally appeals to. Had we not secured the booking some time ago, based on the food and the reputation of the (now-departed) chef, I would not have chosen it for either its location or its looks. Inside, L’Anima reminds me of a hospital: lots of white and shiny metal with floor-to-ceiling windows and well... lacking in soul. The serving staff exhibited a broadly similar level of soullessness. Despite the place being less than half full on arrival, we were rushed relatively quickly from our drink at the bar to our table. Meanwhile, our primary server at the table seemed more interested in his own appearance (hair in particular) than the comfort of his – surely more important – guests. Even prior to the arrival of the menus, we were also left somewhat scratching our heads at the food: the arancini (stuffed rice balls) that were brought with our aperitifs came without sticks, cutlery or napkins, resulting in a lot of mess and confusion, while, at the table, one tiny dish of olives was placed within reach of two of our group, but required an effort for the others to reach. At least the menu sounded good, even if not cheap, with starters coming in at £15+ and mains for barely less than £25. The food, in summary, was presented beautifully, but did perhaps not taste quite as good as it looked. Both my raw tuna starter and oven-roasted black pig main were slightly adulterated by the inclusion of unnecessary additional flavours, with something close to barbecue sauce appearing on one part of the pork to cite just one example. Culinary plaudits were most merited for the interesting cheese board with which we finished; an inventive array but, of course, only selected by L’Anima rather than prepared in-house. Drinks were a redeeming feature and deserved praise goes to an extensive wine list, which does not just favour the obvious regions. We loved our Franz Haas white and Eugenio Rossi red, as well as the aged Grappa at the meal’s end. Even good drink though cannot give a place soul.