In London it’s a toss up as to which is more synonymous with Italian food, burrata or Francesco Mazzei.
Helpfully you’ll find both at Islington’s Radici, which is fresh out of the ever-expanding D&D stable replacing their dutiful but dated Almeida restaurant at the Highbury end of Upper Street.
It’s Francesco’s third London restaurant, after L’anima in the City — where he made his name but is no longer involved — and Mayfair’s Sartoria, which he breathed much-needed new life into when he took the helm a year and a half ago.
It’s his most casual and most accessibly-priced restaurant yet, but it’s also the one with most heart. Radici translates as roots, and it is quite clear that this is Francesco going back to his.
The restaurant itself is rather simple, with a tiled floor, pale terracotta walls and shelves laden with jars of preserves conjuring the notion of a rustic southern Italian trattoria — albeit a not very shabby but rather chic Islington interpretation of one.
The cooking fits the same bill. It’s the kind of stuff an impassioned Italian mamma would whip up for the family, if she had the skills of a leading, Michelin-trained chef.
An antipasti dish of charred mackerel is searingly fresh, its flesh wonderfully moist and skin blistering to the point of crackling. Lagane, fagioli and pancetta — a pasta and bean stew — is richly flavoured, but far more delicate than the gutsy pots of it you might find in Tuscany. An earthy ragu of tender beef is almost as good as the sloppy, buttery polenta that comes with it. And, perhaps best of all, is soft, slightly rare rolled calf liver, wrapped in bacon and served with creamy mash.
Oh, and fans of Sartoria rest assured that as different as these two restaurants are there is one dish that does make the transfer — Francesco’s abominably addictive zucchini fritti are present and correct.
There’s also a short selection of pizzas on the menu, which at first feel like they might be an afterthought. It is imperative you realise they are not. They are bloomin’ bellissimo.
The team have perfected the soft, chewy, salty dough that signifies the Neapolitan style, whacked on a seriously ripe-tasting tomato sauce and got a bit creative with toppings — who knew aubergine was so good on pizza?
If you’ve considered heading tom Stoke Newington on a Neapolitan pizza pilgrimage, to queue round the block for L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, perhaps just book a table here instead and tuck in over a bottle of funky Sicilian red made from grapes grown in volcanic soil.
Still need convincing? Here your meal can end with not one but two boozy desserts — a generously masala-drenched tiramisu, or a well-laced limoncello baba. Finito.
Radici: The lowdown
Final flavour: Francesco Mazzei serves brings home-style Italian food to Islington
At what cost? Antipasti from £7.50, primi from £8, secondi from £10, pizzas from £8, dolci from £6.5.
Find it: 30 Almeida Street, N1 1AD; radici.uk.