Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Modern Italian in London: L'Anima

When I travel, I usually like to focus just on the cuisine of the country I visit. On this recent trip to London, I decided to forgo the myriad of gastropubs and Indian restaurants and try something different. Afterall, London is a mega metropolis like New York City, filled with top notch cuisine from all corners of the world. This something different was L'Anima, a much reviewed, highly buzzed about Italian restaurant on a quiet side street in Central London.

First impressions when I entered the place: there's a lot of glass in here. L'Anima's large modern space was split into two sections: a spacious bar area near the entrance and the main dining room to the left separated by a thin glass wall. We were seated at a table in front of the floor to ceiling windows that had an unobstructed view onto the streets of The City, all the while facing a kitchen that was semi open with porthole like windows peering into the chaos within. I felt like both a voyeur and a voyee.

The menu: organized, long and educational. It contained definitions of Italian phrases that those of us who are linguistically challenged were very thankful for. Great selections of cold and warm starters, pastas and risottos, entrees and grilled proteins, sides and salads. This is not a good place for someone who can be paralyzed by an abundance of options.

We decided to start with 2 appies: crab, avocado and Sardinian flatbread (pictured above) and wood roasted aubergine with burrata (below). Both dishes were very straighforward and clean, probably made with no more than 5 ingredients. While the crab and avocado was a good dish, it wasn't that inspired and I've had better avocado at hole in the wall Mexican joints in CA and NYC. The aubergine and burrata on the other hand: magnifico. The burrata, creamy. The aubergine, softly roasted to perfection. Mix them together and we were devouring the dish by the spoonful. A great start.

First entree was a well executed veal fillet in sage and butter sauce with pancetta and pumpkin. A bit salty for my taste but the meat was done perfectly.

What we were really looking forward to were the pastas. All the pastas were homemade of course and our first choice was the tonnarelli with crab (yes, more crab), chili and garlic. Fresh and just the right amount of spicy.

Second choice was mushroom fettucine with black truffle. The truffle was disappointingly tasteless, perhaps the reason we got so much of it. But the mushroom sauce and handmade fettucine were to die for. Brought me back to Tuscany for just a nano second, though in Tuscany the truffle was unparalleled.

Maybe I am too jaded from my eating adventures around the world or maybe there are just too many good Italian restaurants in NYC but I do think L'Anima is a bit over-hyped. The number of glowing posts about this place was overwhelming. Can any restaurant live up to buzz like that? Still, L'Anima is a solid restaurant that I very much enjoyed as my farewell meal and would return to for some cocktails at the bar or more of that aubergine and burrata. Maybe next time the truffle will taste like truffles should.

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