CODE's Callum Edge sits down with Francesco Mazzei to discuss his new role as Chef Patron at D&D's Sartoria.
Francesco Mazzei is running a little late. Staff uniforms need to be finalised; the restaurant’s façade isn’t finished; the private rooms are bare of decoration. At the time of writing, the doors will open in a just few days. And yet with so many potential pitfalls around him, Mazzei and his team are surprisingly calm.
Sartoria, of the ever-increasing D&D portfolio, has had an extensive refurbishment over the last three months. With the subtle address change (access to the restaurant is now on Savile Row), the room feels more up-to-date: there are now some stylish leather banquettes, a less frosty colour palette, and an outside terrace that, come summer, I’m sure will be a popular breakfasting spot. The sommelier’s table in the wine cave is also a fetching addition.
I thought it might be strange move for Mazzei to go from L’Anima, his independent restaurant in the City of seven years, to joining a perhaps seemingly corporate brand such as D&D. On the contrary, he tells me he’s always been a close friend of Des (Gunewardena) and David (Loewi), and Sartoria had “always been on [his] radar”. He was always intended as head chef in its previous guise, and reminds me that his first job in London was, after all, at D&D’s Cantina Del Ponte. So it seems something like fate, then, that he’s at the helm here now.
Mazzei believes that it is “his time” to come to the West End. “Surely it’s the dream of any head chef to have a restaurant here. It has a sort of luxury, charm, and class that is unique to London, the world capital of food”. Although he admits that there might be a different crowd compared with L’Anima, he is confident that many followers from his experiences elsewhere (in the City, but also his long-term association with Alan Yau) will be drawn to his cooking wherever he is. And it seems they are: the phones constantly ring as we chat in the dining room.
Mentioning Yau, I realise that Mazzei evidently takes his mentor, of sorts, very seriously. After all, he’s been there at nearly every step of the way: Anda, Hakkasan, Yauatcha, and Princi, not to mention his helping out with tasting dishes and consulting here and there. “Alan is amazing; a gentleman. He has changed oriental cooking around the world single-handedly. The man is a genius”. Indeed, for him, Park Chinois (Yau’s latest opening) might be the most important opening of the year: “it is revolutionary”.
It is clear Mazzei regards the London dining scene as the most vibrant. “In which cities can I go and have the best Japanese, Chinese, French, or whatever night after night? New York maybe, but certainly nowhere else in Europe”. And the British public will never fall out of love with Italian cuisine. So what will be different at here? “I’ve always said this is mamma’s cooking with a chef’s hat. It’s happy food that you can eat every day.” But Mazzei feels we need to stop staying that everyone can make it. “It’s simple, but hard to do well”. We can expect some of his signature Calabrian dishes, maybe with a twist, but much of the menu will be Italy-wide, delivering the “the whole Italian experience”. “We won’t play on the plate that much; the colours, ingredients, and flavours will speak for themselves”.
We move on to discuss the impact of the restaurant boom in the UK. Mazzei acknowledges that the skills shortage is “tough”, but hopes that having his name behind the project as well as D&D support makes things a little easier. The industry knows that “shouting does not help. We have to be nice, gentle, and give the staff good food and working hours in order to get the best out of them”. Thus, it’s welcoming to hear that he is seeing more Brits in the industry: one of his pastry chefs joined him around seven years ago as a stagiare and now she “probably makes the best tiramisu in the world. Brits work harder. They really want to push. So far so good”.
Sartoria is open Monday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.