Ave Mario is a hedonistic homage to Italian culture and dining, with amplified portions, exaggerated interiors and boisterous staff. It’s bold, it’s OTT and just what the doctor ordered. Jenny Southan reports
Following the success of Gloria and Circolo Popolare, London welcomed Ave Mario, a third restaurant from France’s Big Mamma Group in summer 2021. Like a traditional Italian osteria on steroids, Ave Mario demonstrates an ambitious and joyful embracing of maximalism, not just in terms of the decor but the food (it’s one-metre tall stracciatella ice cream tower, which weighs 6kg and is served at the table, is just one example).Spread over 700 sqm, the Henrietta Street restaurant (near Covent Garden) is huge, with various zones and moods depending on whether you are seated in a banquette or cosy table for two, out the back beyond the eye-catching bar, which displays 3,500 bottles, downstairs in the 1970s-style mirrored basement with sit-up kitchen bar, or on one of two terraces. In total there is seating for almost 300 people.Staffed by 120 Italians who rush about serving food and singing loudly, it was suitably buzzing when my partner and I ate there one evening. Everything from the ceramic fruit-and-vegetable inspired tableware, to the busty cocktail mugs and the neon-lit bathrooms is designed to be Instagrammable. It’s sensory overload but in a fun way. And after the pandemic, I think we all need more silliness and opulence in our lives.The interior design by Studio Kiki probably makes Ave Mario one of London’s most postcard-worthy restaurants in the city. The website reads: “The team want to whisk you away to a warm late-spring afternoon in Florence or Siena. Trot past the terrace into a wickedly 80s entrance hall, and enter our ‘church of pizza’. Six metres tall, our hallowed main dining room is filled with Vatican red banquets, antique skylights and a gigantic bar. “Dine amongst the row of mirrors, which reflect the trippy duomo-striped walls and floor and showcase some of our speciali with viby neons. Our indoor courtyard transports you to a rustic antica osteria, filled full of fuschia flowers.“Signature dishes include pizzas made with “biga” dough (using a 24-hour levening process), giant carbonara-filled ravioli, La Gran Scaloppina alla Millanese made with high-welfare rose veal (not for me thanks) and Baeri caviar supplied by Italy’s Gavieri family. When I ordered a gin and tonic (the Gindependent Woman, to be precise), it came in a massive gold fish bowl glass. The decadence is unending and a far cry to the small plates served in stripped-back “industrial chic” warehouses that many trendy Londoners have been in love with for so long. That said, even at Ave Mario starters and pizzas are meant to be shared and come whenever they are ready. Even corona can’t kill off sharing concepts… (When can I order a dish that is just for me?)We ordered the 250g “fancy Burrata” (£12), which comes topped with breadcrumbs, caramelised onion marmalade and salsa verde; a modest margerita pizza for £11 (they are quite small but the dough is beautifully chewy); pasta with green spirulina pesto (not the best – and I notice that now they are serving a red pesto linguine instead); ravioli filled with ricotta, lemon and spinach (excellent at £13); and a chopped salad (£11). Maximalist dishes include truffled mac ‘n’ cheese croquettes, baked Camembert di bufala, caviar pizza and 850g T-bone steaks. And of course the ice cream tower, although in reality it’s as underwhelming as an £8 slice of Vienetta. The chocolate mousse (£9) was recommended by our waitress and it was dreamy.
The main problem with Big Mamma Group restaurants is that it is typically hard to get a table. When Circolo Popolare first opened there were queues going down the street. Bookings for Ave Mario open one month in advance at 7am. They also accept walk-ins. Good luck!