CHEF FRANCESCO MAZZEI ON HIS NEW ISLINGTON RESTAURANT, RADICI
After a blowout success with his sophisticated Mayfair spot Sartoria, the acclaimed Italian Chef Francesco Mazzei gets candid about why he’s bringing real, no-frills Italian food to his local area in Angel
The latest offering from the renowned Francesco Mazzei – a man married to food and its innovation, tackling it with a huge, bounding personality and a big dash of fiery Italian spirit – Radici, meaning ‘roots’, will see the talented chef go back to basics, drawing inspiration from his childhood and the charming simplicity of his hometown in the Italian countryside.
Having lived in Angel for years with his family, Mazzei has long been a fan of the area’s eclectic offering, but had always felt it was lacking a ‘real’ Italian. So as soon as the opportunity to take over the Almeida restaurant space cropped up, Mazzei pounced, excited at the endless possibilities and determined to show London how real Italians congregate, eat and enjoy each other’s company.
Inside, the vivacious chef took charge of the design, cladding the large cellar in old wooden fruit boxes to house the wine collection. The mismatched stone floor is reminiscent of restaurants out in the Italian countryside, which was exactly what Mazzei was going for, and of course the kitchen comes complete with the most impressive stone pizza oven going. He explains: ‘My father used to be a master stone cutter, and that’s exactly how I remember him laying floors so that’s what I wanted to recreate.’
After a blow out success with Savile Row’s Sartoria, a sumptuous Mayfair Italian that serves classics with a twist, Mazzei has become a well regarded name on the gourmet scene. Once I’d sat down with him, he immediately prompted for me to pick something off the menu, because a moment sat in an Italian’s presence where you haven’t been offered food is a moment too long in their eyes. I went with the Milano dish, a saffron risotto cake topped with a soft boiled egg and wild mushrooms – naturally, it was divine.
They say the Mediterranean diet is the best because we eat in moderation rather than cutting out entire food groups. For us Italians, that way of eating is almost a religion!
I was quickly recruited onto Mazzei’s pizza tasting team for the morning, where he encouraged me to try some of the new pizzas they had in the pipeline. As I gorged on the light, fluffy breakfast pizza, Mazzei explained that pizza made the Italian way was never meant to be a gluttonous affair with starchy bread drowned in pizza toppings.
‘Back in Italy when I was growing up, we ate fish twice a week and meat once a week, as well as lots of pasta and vegetables,’ he says. ‘We didn’t have any fancy lobster; cod was a treat for us. We ate sardines and liver, our pasta wasn’t even made with eggs because people in our town couldn’t afford eggs.
‘Despite our consumption of pasta, we were all fighting fit and slim. They say the Mediterranean diet is the best because we eat in moderation rather than cutting out entire food groups. For us Italians, that way of eating is almost a religion. We do not waste anything!’
The dishes you’ll find on offer in Radici are just the sort of thing that Mazzei would whip up at home with his family. His young daughter is already a keen pizza guru, often telling her father that his own recipes need improvement, adorably having learnt from the best not to be shy and to say exactly what you mean.
Speaking of family, Mazzei jokes that his mother often tells him off for certain aspects of his London projects, and seeing that her voice is the most important, beyond all the well regarded food critics and continuous stream of praise from the media, this keeps the renowned chef grounded.
My mother is not interested in lobster. She just wants to have everyone around the table for a great feast in a laid-back setting where everyone is laughing and enjoying each other’s company. That’s the sort of atmosphere I want to create at Radici
He laughs ‘She came to Sartoria and just said “it’s too posh in here, it’s too expensive. Why is there lobster on the menu? That’s not how Italians do things!” This is because for her it’s not traditional enough; we never ate lobster growing up.
‘My mother is not interested in lobster, give her some sardines and she’ll get excited! She just wants to have everyone around the table for a great, healthy, seasonally fresh feast in a laid-back setting where everyone is laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The concept of London prices isn’t something that has hit home for her. But that’s the sort of atmosphere I want to create at Radici.’
With a quaint terrace attached to the new spot and the weather heating up nicely, something tells me that this new slice of the Italian country just off Upper Street will be swamped every summer evening. Mazzei just wants to give groups of friends a place to grab a beer and a pizza in, without all the stuffiness and properness.
For what it’s worth, we think this project’s the one his mum will finally give a solid thumbs up to because it promises to ooze Mazzei’s childhood nostalgia, bringing the brilliance of Italian simplicity to the masses. It will be just like dining at home around the table with the chef himself and his family, the wine flowing and the pizza glorious.
30 Almeida Street N1 1AD; 020 7354 4777; radici.uk
Video: Francesco Mazzei introduces Radici