London restaurant boss Francesco Mazzei feels 'betrayed' by staffing crisis sparked by Brexit vote

JOnathan Prynn
Brexit woes: Chef Francesco Mazzei

One of London’s leading Italian chefs has said he feels “betrayed” by Britain after the Brexit vote triggered a staffing crisis and an explosion in costs.

Francesco Mazzei, who has three restaurants in the capital, employing a total of 110 staff, told the Standard that job applications from his native country have slumped by more than half over the past six months.

A feeling that Britain no longer welcomes European immigrants, combined with the jump in the cost of living after the Brexit vote and a “cauldron of bad news” such as the summer wave of terrorist attacks, has put off Italians from looking for work in London, he said.

At the same time, costs of imported supplies have rocketed because of the slump in the value of the pound. A litre of Calabrian virgin oil has risen from £9.45 to £13 a litre and dairy products “have doubled in price”.

Mr Mazzei launched his latest venture, Fiume, at Battersea Power Station last week but said he would now find it impossible to plan another restaurant. He said: “As a chef and as a human being I’ve always felt very happy in London but suddenly this happens, you do feel a bit betrayed.

“If I’m in London as an Italian it doesn’t feel so different but in Italy people say, ‘Oh Brexit, they don’t want us any more’. The way the whole thing has been communicated has been so wrong. If I employ a commis chef who’s making £1,200 a month, he’s got to pay £800 rent, plus travel that’s £1,000. If he’s staying in Milan he can make the same money but the travel and accommodation are only £700.

“Front of house is a disaster, the best guys are Italian, it’s what people want in an Italian restaurant and I just can’t find them any more. If I pay a front-of-house guy with a family £50,000 they will take home £3,000 a month and they’re having to pay £2,000 a month in rent. That leaves them £1,000 to live on — how are they going to do that?

“People are saying, ‘Why should I go to London? If I go to New York I can get a green card and I can live. We need Brexit to be more smooth, we need people to get help with travel cards or accommodation.”

Mr Mazzei came to London to work at the Dorchester in the mid-Nineties. He said: “My kids were born here but if things really get worse with Brexit I’ll have to think about going back to Calabria.” Only one member of his 110 staff is British: Michael Simms, the head sommelier at his Mayfair restaurant Sartoria.

Fiume, where dishes include octopus with cannellini beans, burrata tortelli, with hazelnuts and sage and lamb ragout fettucine, is in the Circus West Village development next to the power station building with views out over the Thames.

Mr Mazzei will oversee Fiume as chef patron, while head chef Francesco Chiarelli will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the kitchen.