The Spaghetti Tree, charts how Britain's gastronomic revival was largely shaped and coloured by the extraordinary influence of two Italian men. Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla opened their famed La Trattoria Terrazza in London's Soho in 1959. It was to be the start of a restaurant revolution which was to change the way we eat out now.
Before La Terrazza, most British restaurants were extravagant French affairs or rigidly formal hotel dining rooms: gentlemen wore suits, ladies hats and gloves. The only real alternatives were cheap and cheerful milk bars or a Lyons' Corner House café. La Terrazza was a revelation: here was a place you could go to eat authentic Italian food in relaxed surroundings. By the early 1960s, the legendary designer Enzo Apicella had given the restaurant a modern look ñ what became known up and down the country as 'Trattoria Style' - tiled floors, white plaster walls and atmospheric down-lighting over the tables. Nothing like it had been seen before and La Terrazza became the most famous and influential restaurant in London. This was the apogee of Sixties' glamour and if you werení't seen dining at La Terrazza you weren't part of the scene. Where else could you be rubbing shoulders with Brigitte Bardot and Gregory Peck or watching David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton? Spaghetti Tree author, Alasdair Scott Sutherland, brings it all alive as he was there, and came to know all the main characters personally.
However, unlike today, this was the era of congenial hosts fronting restaurants, rather than celebrity chefs creating in the kitchen. Everyone wanted to be known by Mario and Franco. The Spaghetti Tree shows how their engaging partnership along with their incredible vision and hard work resulted in one of the most successful restaurant empires of the last few decades, an empire which affected the way Britain eats out today. It's hard not to be swept along as you read of Mario's passion and verve and Franco's dedicated perfectionism, or feel the excitement as we share their successes and failures and meet their staff, their partners and adversaries.
Before Mario and Franco, the food found in British Italian restaurants was limited and could more accurately be described as 'Mock-Italian' - an eclectic combination perhaps of pasta with French dishes given Italian names - Pollo Principessa at the old Leoni's Quo Vadis was in fact a French dish, Poulet à la Princesse. But when La Terrazza opened its doors in 1959 to serve its first 35 customers, Mario and Franco focused on what they knew best - traditional food from Southern Italy - boosting their own Neapolitan roots with two excellent chefs from the region.
Through the 1960s many of Mario and Franco's former employees left to open their own places - taking with them Mario and Franco's menu, their recipes, their style, their staff, their designer - and even their customers. Dozens of similarly styled trattorie eventually spilled outside London. As the "godfather of modern British cooking," Alastair Little, comments in the book 'The Trattoria Revolution was the biggest leap forward in Britain's culinary development since Escoffier'.
Even today, fifty years later, as the author discovered when he visited the kitchens of Giorgio Locatelli's Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli, Mario and Franco's legacy lives on.
The Spaghetti Tree is a deeply evocative piece of social and food history which maps out the Italian invasion of Britain's food and restaurant culture. With its cast of flamboyant characters spliced with high drama and an ear for the mood of the times, this is a missing piece of the social jigsaw that was London in the sixties.
Read it - and you'll never again twirl spaghetti on your fork without thinking of Mario and Franco.