Small Talk

Antonio Mellino on Quattro Passi London and the importance of good ingredients

By Carina Perkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Want, Italy

Antonio Mellino has brought his Italian fine dining concept to London
Antonio Mellino has brought his Italian fine dining concept to London
Two Michelin-starred chef Antonio Mellino graduated from Naples Hotel School in 1974 and began his career in hospitality working as a waiter on cruise liners. After working in kitchens around the world, he opened his award-winning restaurant, Quattro Passi, on Italy’s Amalfi coast in 1984. He recently moved to London with his family to open Quattro Passi London on Mayfair’s Dover Street.

Why did you decide to bring Quattro Passi to London?

An investor who I worked with in Russia said he wanted to do something special for me and my family, and had found me the perfect place in London. Coming to London was the dream for me because there is so much going on and so many people live here from all around the world, but it is still very close to Italy. It was the opportunity to change my life and couldn't turn it down, I couldn't say no to London. My family has moved with me and my two sons are working here with me, so it has been good for everyone, and I am very happy.

How will Quattro Passi differ from other Italian restaurants in the capital?

I think the biggest difference will be the passion and energy we bring to the place. I have been to many restaurants in London and it is rare to find on an owner or a chef that will come and talk to you. I think that people want the owner to be there and to take care of them.

 If people come in my restaurant and don’t like something, my manager comes downstairs and tells me and I will go and talk to them and make them something else. This is the same as it is in my restaurant in Italy, there is no difference. My restaurant is a family restaurant and there is warmth here. I think we need a place like this in a big city like London.

What has been the biggest challenge with this new project?

Finding the right people to work in the kitchen has been hard. I have 20 guys and 15 of them have come over from Italy. The rest I found in London but I had to work hard to find them. The guys in London seem to have a different mentality. In my kitchen, we don’t look at our watches, we need people to work hard and with passion. Sometimes you find people who are looking at their watches all the time, and want lots of days off or don’t like to clean the kitchen before they finish. This is no good. I stay here all day and night, I don’t go on holiday, and I need my staff to show the same dedication. But I have a very good team now, so I am happy.

Are you really buying all of your ingredients from Italy?

Of course not everything is coming from Italy. I have bought a little truck and I go to the markets in London twice a week. If I find what I need, and it is the right quality, I buy it. But in a Mediterranean kitchen we have particular things that we need and if we don’t have them we can’t make the same dishes. So if I can’t find something I call my Italian suppliers and they send it to me. I can order fish one day and it arrives the next morning, which is amazing, although of course it is expensive. I also have some fish and seafood coming from Scotland, so I mix a little bit of everything.

I have rented a storage place for all of the food that is coming and that has been really important. Before, if I needed tomatoes from my friend in Italy he would send me just two or three boxes because I didn’t have a lot of room for storage here. Now he can send me half a truck. Everything goes into the storage and if I need it, I take my truck and it takes me 20 minutes to go and get it.

What are your favourite things to cook?

Pasta is my speciality, but I also love cooking fish. I was born with this – my mother was a chef and my father was the best fisherman in my area. In my opinion, fish tastes best when it is simple. If fish is served with a lot of cream, or sauce, you cannot taste the fish. Why go to the market and buy the best fish if you cannot taste it? If you have good quality fish there is no sense to touch it too much, the more simple it is, the more you will taste it.

In your opinion, what makes excellent food?

If you start good you finish good. The ingredients you use have to be the best, because it makes a lot of difference. But I think that in the kitchen two things need to come together – good ingredients and a chef who is careful with those ingredients. If you find good ingredients but you have the wrong person cooking them, you will waste them. So ingredients are maybe 90 per cent, but you also need a chef who has a lot of patience and respect for those ingredients.

Who inspires you?

I have met lots of chefs and eaten in a lot of restaurants around the world. For me, the best were Alain Ducasse, Nadia Santini and Heinz Beck. But I also have two places in my area where I eat every time I am home. San Pietro, a big hotel which has a very good chef, and a restaurant called Il Faro di Capo D’Orso. This is the restaurant in my heart, where I had the most beautiful evenings, the most beautiful food and the best company. When I go to a restaurant I don’t just think about the food, I look for a beautiful place, friendly people, a professional sommelier - all the little things. For me, the whole experience has to be magic and the gold standard is Il Faro di Capo D’Orso.

Any more plans for the future? 

I hope this restaurant goes very well and is successful, but I don’t think it will be the last project for my family, I think we will do something else. The next thing I would like to do is a nice place where you find the best product to take home with you, with a big selection of cheeses, tomatoes, oils, all the things you might want to buy. After the dinner or lunch you pass through and you find all these beautiful things for a souvenir.

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