Bit outré for you? God forbid, but why not get up to Marylebone and a somewhat more urbane, 'bacari'-inspired diner – read our review of The Italian Greyhound.
When you're full of that, check out our list of the best restaurants in London.
What is it?
If you live in London, you have some sort of parasocial relationship with the Big Mamma group. Maybe you’re an enthusiastic patron of their high-octane, high-calorie Italian restaurants (Gloria in Shoreditch, Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia) or their ever-so-extra, lockdown delivery service, Napoli Gang. Maybe you revile their PR-boosted empire and everything it stands for (hype, Instagram, inauthenticity). Maybe you’re confused about why a French company keeps opening very popular Italian restaurants.
Love them, hate them, pretend you hate them but secretly love them, Big Mamma aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’ve just added another notch to their groaning belt – Ave Mario, a lavish 295-seater trattoria (lightly) inspired by Florence’s antico establishments. Appropriately, it’s just off of London’s most famous piazza – Covent Garden – behind a rather inconspicuous white facade marked out only by the words ‘osteria pizzeria’ lit up in neon.
So when one of the bubbly staff swings open the smallish door to unveil a club-soundtracked world of Italo-glam and winking whimsy, it’s a dramatic reveal on a par with Naked Attraction’s slow-opening booths. The long entryway – studded with more retro neon signs and art deco chandeliers – opens out to a vast dining room, its walls striped green and white in a homage to Florence’s Duomo cathedral. The circular, mirror-panelled bar at back is upstaged by the 3,500-strong bottle wall that looms above it. The tables are, naturally, flanked by red velvet booths.
Food-wise, you can expect the same formula that Big Mamma have finessed at all their other ventures in London and beyond – loud, playful, decadent Italian food where flavours are anything but subtle. Think oozy, cheesy pastas; pizzas piled with caviar or black garlic cream; and a 60cm-high marbled stracciatella cake that’s periodically paraded out and portioned by the slice. Haters take note: the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is outrageously fun. Ave Mario is ‘eating out’ turned up to a 10, the perfect antidote to a year of takeaways. Embrace it.
What should I order?
Each of the pasta dishes in the menu’s primi section follows the same basic premise – rich, comforting flavours delivered care of copious cheese and cream. A dish called ‘Where Are My Ravioli?!’ plays a game of hide-and-seek under an opaque blanket of parmigiana foam. Excavate the pasta with your spoon and find generous parcels brimful of lemony ricotta.
The parmigiana di melanzane – aubergine parmigiana, for the laymen – is so smoky it tastes like it’s been toasting away on a campfire for several days. Served tongue-searingly molten in an iron ramekin, each layered scoop of melting veg, tomato sauce, and provola affumicata is heavenly.
You can’t argue with a good tiramisu, and Ave Mario’s offering is bang-on. It comes as a deconstructed pile in a fruit-shaped bowl, with mascarpone and cream escaping towards the edges. Addictively creamy, it’s a ‘screw it, why not’ cap on a long, indulgent meal.
Why should I go?
You don’t just want dinner – you want fireworks, and a few cheeky Instagram pics.
15 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8QG