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W


hen Giorgio Locatelli and his wife Plaxy opened Locanda


Locatelli on the ground floor of the Churchill Hotel just behind Oxford Street ten years ago, it became a magnet for the A-list – a list too long to mention. It’s more a case of who hasn’t been there over that time. “Just before the Olympics we had Arnold Schwarzenegger on


one table and Paul McCartney sat at another table,” says Giorgio. Madonna was – and still is – a regular, and at the launch of


Giorgio’s book Made in Sicily last year, guests included Gwen Stefani, Nigella Lawson and Kate Winslet. “The thing about Madonna,” says Giorgio modestly, “is that she


came to live just around the corner. If you had a couple of grand in the bank and this was your local restaurant, you would come here every night, wouldn’t you?”


Since it opened, Locanda Locatelli has attracted a growing


international clientele. “During the Olympics, we noticed an enormous increase in Brazilian people but I felt there were fewer Americans,” says Giorgio. “I think there has been a subtle change in the type of clientele and what they spend, the way they entertain, why they entertain and why they go to restaurants. “But there has definitely been a revolution in the understanding of Italian food in London in the last few years and an appreciation at every level of very good Italian produce.” Giorgio believes there is now more of a focus on seasonality and


quality ingredients. “People want to know what they are eating and why they are eating it,” he says. “They are buying in a more ethical, responsible way and are happy to pay that penny more or whatever.”


Prior to opening Locanda Locatelli in 2002, Giorgio had set up


Zafferano in Belgravia, where he gained a reputation for being one of the best Italian chefs in town and won a Michelin star to prove it. Locanda Locatelli also picked up a Michelin star a year after it opened, which it still holds to this day. Before Locanda Locatelli, there wasn’t an Italian restaurant with a Michelin star in a five-star hotel in London and that opened the door for others – the Four Seasons and the Bulgari Hotel both have Italian restaurants. “It shows how as a cuisine it has really developed into an international power house,” says Giorgio. Since opening the restaurant, Giorgio’s mission has been to offer


good food in a family-friendly environment. A family man himself, Giorgio has two children – Jack, 24, and Margherita, 16, who by a cruel twist of fate is allergic to many foods. It was cooking for her and having to be careful about what she ate during family holidays in Sicily that resulted in the book Made in Sicily – a follow-up to Made in Italy. “We’d been going to Sicily for 16-17 years and every time we


went there, the set-up was that I would cook lunch and then in the evening we would go out for something to eat so that Margherita would have had at least one good meal,” says Giorgio. “We’d go to the market, buy spices and get all the fresh stuff that was available, so the cooking I was doing there was very different. Plaxy kept saying I should put those dishes in to the restaurant but I said no, because the restaurant is more formal. So we kept the recipes and included them in the book.” Earlier this year, Giorgio also made a BBC2 three-part series called Sicily Unpacked with art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon, which gave an insight into the rich cultural heritage of the island. “I love Sicily,” says Giorgio, who was actually born in the north of


Italy, near Lake Maggiore. “It is so interesting. With Sicily there was this incredible feeling with the land and I felt very much at home. And the food is incredible.”


The menu at Locanda Locatelli still has its roots in classical,


regional Italian cooking but is constantly adapting and evolving. “I tell the boys in the kitchen they can always bring in new ideas,” he says. “Obviously, we had this big wave of Sicilian influence when we were doing the book but otherwise the food has been pretty steady. “People come in different seasons to have things that they like – they’ll come for rabbit or pheasant ravioli or the white truffles. We are just waiting for things to trickle in. Some grouse just arrived and we want to give that a little twist. So the developing of ideas still goes on. There is a massive wave of molecular cuisine in Italy, which is being appreciated all over the world. I see it as important as it regenerates our food and brings a little more technical inspiration into the kitchen. “But there’s no overuse of technology – there are certain types of cooking in the bag and there’s always one dish we slow-cook, but we are still very much on the fire. I want my chefs to do the basics and then if they want to transform it into something a little bit more molecular, that’s fine. It’s not going to change Italian cooking – the importance will still always be on the ingredients and the provenance.” Since opening the restaurant, Giorgio has written books, done his


fair share of TV, opened another restaurant in Dubai (Ronda Locatelli at the Atlantis hotel) and backs a restaurant over in Belgravia, called Tinello, run by two of his former employees Max and Frederico Sali. “These are developments that really make life worth living because you become part of a team that works together and there is a certain amount of cohesion on every level,” he says. So what of the next ten years? “The main challenge really is to stick to the principles the restaurant started with,” he says. “We try to keep the fizz going – that’s quite important. It’s an achievement to have a restaurant that stays open for ten years and I hope in another ten years to be doing just what I do now because I enjoy it. I come into my kitchen and I can produce whatever I want out of my imagination in a couple of hours. It’s like a big toy.”


FOOD & DRINK: Selma Day selma@pubbiz.com


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