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The Spaghetti Tree by Alasdair Scott Sutherland 

THE SPAGHETTI TREE

Mario and Franco and the Trattoria Revolution

 

By Alasdair Scott Sutherland

 

With a foreword by Len Deighton

 

 

Published 1st April 2009, £14.99 illustrated trade paperback

Reprinted October 2013

 

Mario Cassandro died in 2011, aged 91. See the obituary, written by Alasdair for the Daily Telegraph, below.

Obituary Mario Cassandro

To mark the death of Mario Cassandro, the BBC Radio 4 The Food Programme broadcast an edition entitled “Mario Cassandro - the man who helped re-invent the restaurant in Britain.” Alasdair Sutherland was a contributor and you can hear the programme HERE.

 

“The trattoria revolution was the biggest leap forward in Britain’s culinary development since Escoffier.
This important chronicle of our social history is long overdue.”
Alastair Little

“This splendid book is a tale of passion and possession, vendetta and
repentance, a story of triumph, disaster and betrayal.”
Len Deighton

“A rich and revealing story of how Italian food
and Italian cooks have totally changed our national diet.

SHEILA DILLON BBC Radio 4 Food Programme

“A social history to salivate over.” MARY KILLEN

“This  fascinating and well-researched book reveals the inside story of how the
British have succumbed to our delicious Italian food and wine.”

Comm. ANTONIO CARLUCCIO OBE

 

PRESS RELEASE 1 February 2009

Who doesn’t love eating out in an Italian restaurant?  The British love Italian food, whether eating at a lively Pizzeria or Caffè, at the local trattoria with the giant peppermill or when celebrating in style at the upmarket ristorante with the pale linen tablecloths and soft lighting.  Indeed, in a BBC survey to chart the nation’s favourite meals, three different Italian dishes were in our top ten.

A new book, The Spaghetti Tree, Mario and Franco and the Trattoria Revolution, charts how Britain’s post-war love affair with Italian food has been largely shaped and coloured by the extraordinary influence of two Italian men.  Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla, former waiters at The Mirabelle, 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, restaurants were extravagant French affairs or rigidly formal hotel dining rooms: gentlemen wore suits, ladies hats and gloves (until 1964, The Savoy wouldn’t even allow women in trousers through the restaurant door).  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 – 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 weren’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?  The Spaghetti Tree author, Alasdair Scott Sutherland, brings it all alive as he was part of the crowd and came to know all the main characters personally.

However, unlike today, this was the era of congenial hosts fronting restaurants rather than loud 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 incredible vision and hard work resulted in one of the most successful restaurant empires of the last few decades.  It’s hard not to be swept along as you read of Mario’s passion and verve and Franco’s quiet but caring character, or feel the excitement as we share their successes and failures and meet their family, friends and adversaries.

Before Mario and Franco, the food found in Italian restaurants was limited and could more accurately be described as ‘Mock-Italian’ – an eclectic combination perhaps of pasta with French recipes.  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.  On the menu were classic recipes such as spaghetti alle vongole (with clams) and later, as they built on their success, dishes from other regions such as the robust Tuscan favourite, pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup).  Although these dishes are now appetisingly familiar to us, Mario and Franco were the ones who first introduced them to British diners.

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 trattorias 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 the restaurant equivalent of The Godfather.

Read it - and you’ll never again twirl spaghetti on your fork without thinking of Mario and Franco