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Eating, Little Sardegna, Francesco Mazzei & Wishing
Francesco Mazzei & his son
On sunny days, I often think of my time in Cervo, the Liguria region of Northern Italy. I went there about three times a year during my 7 year courtship with the Hungarian Count. I could easily indulge in “eat”, pray, love whenever I wanted, and I did.
My favourite dishes where always octopus salad with sauteed potatoes, crispy on the edges with rosemary, drizzles of great olive oil and a generous squeeze of a yellow sunny lemon. Then I would have spaghetti with (just) tomato sauce and plenty of parmesan. It was all in a dated restaurant by the beach with slightly greasy plastic table cloths, bread sticks in wrappers and oily containers of vinegar and olive oil. The salt shaker had brown rice in it and the chubby middle aged waitress half smiles, “buon giorno…” because its too hot for a full smile.
After lunch, I would go back to the rocks of Portoghetto with a current dog eared, wet and salty book. I would crisp in the sun, my then youthful twenty-something unblemished skin would shimmer in sweat and lotion with the lit up water of the sea, twinkling like glitter. It would be hot and I would only think of basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with ciabatta and more good good olive oil, salt and pepper and an olive or two.
Italy is one of my favourite destinations in the world, mostly because I just love Italian food. The simplicity of it is divine and pleasurable to my every sense. And so, when the sun shines in London, I often wish I can go to Italy or I would close my eyes for a moment and imagine standing on the hill tops of some place in Liguria and listen to the sweeping shores lazily fold toward me. I can imagine the sip of cold crisp white Chardonnay and eat ravoli filled full with spinach and ricotta, coated in tons of butter and fresh sage; followed by (because I am greedy and I eat with my desire) roasted lemon chicken.
I wished this on a sunny Sunday morning to the ears of a Boy From Alassio (near Genova) and he said, lets go and have all that you wish to eat.
We drove to Highbury Hill, in the Figaro, almost like a scene from Felini. (It was where I grew up – its not Italy but indulge with me). We stopped to look at furniture and interiors boutiques on Blackstock Road, dreaming for the perfect home with the absolute beauty of a lampshade or a glass table or a chair or a set of grappa glasses.
And then, as destiny has it, we landed on Francesco Mazzei – (acclaimed Italian chef of L’Anima), who happened to be sitting by the open shop front of a lovely Italian restaurant called ‘Little Sardegna‘ with his wife and children. The Boy From Alassio and Francesco knew each other and Francesco invited us to join the family for lunch.
Francesco, his beautiful wife Maria and their two stunning children live around the corner and regularly visit Little Sardegna – a charming place that only remind me of being in Italy. All it needs is a view of cobble streets and some clothes blowing gently in the wind on a clothes line and few cats staring at height from windows and a mama sweeping the outside of her family home with a twiggy broom.
Marcello – Chef ‘Little Sardegna’
Francesco Mazzei & his son
(Not knowing I had wished for them), Francesco ordered absolutely everything I asked for that morning, including the loveliest wines, as Marcello, the head chef and owner of Little Sardegna kept bringing them out as he cooked them. We dished up each other’s plates, poured wine into each other’s glasses, laughed a lot, talked a lot and of course, someone would always spill something or drop cutlery and there would be a small roar.
Francesco would talk loudly, expressively and passionately whilst his little son would climb all over his father’s body like a monkey and Maria, a tired yet deliciously beautiful mother would speak gently to me about girls stuff like fashion and colours that suit. Mia Sofia, their pretty little daughter dressed as a pink fairy danced around (they had been at a party previously), falling over – nearly crying and then giggling again in the afternoon Autumn light of North London.
Marcello’s food tasted like it was made with pride, care and love. Proper good stuff, done the right way. He showed us how he started to paint someone eating spaghetti on the wall of his restaurant, then changed his mind, painted something else over it and then decided it was all crap and stuck another painting on top. We could only laugh our heads off with adoration.
A simple wish of Italy was answered. We didn’t have to go to Italy, it came to us. I continue to make wishes and highly recommend eating at Little Sardegna.