In Italian, radici means ‘roots’ or ‘rooted’. Tucked away down one of the side roads that connect to Upper Street in leafy Islington, this week’s Where To Eat feels like part of the locale’s restaurant-furniture. It’s been open since early 2017, and is run by Chef Patron Francesco Mazzei, who also masterminds Italian stalwarts Sartoria (on Savile Row) and Fiume, based in Battersea Power Station, too.
Take a look at its flowery-shirt and tortoiseshell glasses sporting clientele, and you’ll sense it’s a firm favourite with Islington foodies, and with good reason. Mazzei opened Radici to offer an honest and comfortable, yet chic culinary experience. From menu to decor, everything about the restaurant is inspired by Mazzei’s Calabrian heritage. The neutral palette of wooden tables and terracotta walls has a calming effect following a busy London day, and the interior’s turquoise and off-white accents bring touches of Southern Italy on a summer’s day to north London. The kitchen is open, with an easy view of bustling chefs and the tiled, conical pizza oven, with a store of firewood lining one wall.
So, it’s cosy, and has all the essential elements of rustic Italian charm, but it’s the restaurant’s polish that helps Radici stand out from other neighbourhood eateries that populate the postcode. It’s managed by Mazzei’s long-time right hand man Giuseppe Cafaro, and his commitment to simple, back-to-basics Italian cooking shines through. Originally from Naples, he learned how to make pizza at his mother’s knee, and how to bake from his grandmother. Together, he and Mazzei have created a menu that celebrates the radici of Southern Italian cuisine: hearty seafood, chicken calabrese and spicy nduja sausage are mainstays, as well as pizzas to make Cafaro’s mother proud.
We started with the burrata and prosciutto bruschetta, both made to share. Burrata is always a winner, but this was served with the clever addition of tart orange segments that cut through its creaminess with a pleasing zing. The bruschetta is also a fine example of something simple done well: the tri-coloured tomatoes were plump and the ham was a crowd pleasing addition to an often overdone dish. We ordered two hearty pasta dishes: the duck ragu and the seafood fettucini. The former was hearty and comforting, with the strong flavours of duck balanced with a classic ragu sauce. The latter is a Calabrese staple, and came bursting with an generous helping of octopus, mussels and tender squid – London’s restauranteurs aren’t always so liberal with the fruits of the sea. Whatever you order, be sure to add on the zucchini fritti: Radici’s was crisp and moreish, and deserves its reputation as some of the best in London.
The dessert menu, though small, features another roll call of classics: tiramisu, panna cotta and tartufo. As with the rest of the menu, there’s nothing too fussy, but the dishes we tasted were executed with flair. Masala sherry punches through the cream and chocolate of Radici’s tiramisu, and nutty fragments create a satisfying crunch, while the simple pistachio cake is surprisingly intense, baked with moist, moorish sponge.
It’s a restaurant to visit for a hearty, comforting meal, made with a welcome amount of refinement. There’s not much in the way of bells or whistles, but that’s no bad thing. When the food’s good, too much pomp and ceremony can distract from the satisfaction of tucking into a proper bowl of pasta, or creamy burrata, or mouthwatering pizza. Radici has weighed the balance between fine dining and wholesome, home cooked Italian food and perfected its own formula. We’ll certainly be back for a pizza and one (or two) Aperol spritzes in the near future.