Ave Mario is a hedonistic homage to Italian culture and dining, with amped-up portions, over-the-top interiors and loud staff. It’s bold, it’s OTT and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Reporting by Jenny Southan
Following the success of Gloria and Circolo Popolare, London welcomed Ave Mario, a third restaurant from French group Big Mamma in the summer of 2021. Like a traditional Italian osteria on steroids, Ave Mario demonstrates an ambitious and joyful adherence to maximalism, not just in terms of the decor but the food (a metre-high stracciatella ice cream tower, weighing 6kg and served at the table, is just one example).Spread over 700m², the Henrietta Street restaurant (near Covent Garden) is huge, with different areas and moods depending on whether you’re seated in a banquette or a cozy table for two, at the back beyond the eye-catching bar , which displays 3,500 bottles, downstairs in the 1970s-style mirrored basement with seated kitchen bar, or on one of the two terraces. In total, nearly 300 seats.Made up of 120 Italians rushing to serve food and singing loudly, it was suitably lively when my partner and I ate there one evening. Everything from fruit and veg-inspired ceramic dinnerware to busty cocktail mugs and 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.Interior design by Kiki Studio probably makes Ave Mario one of the most postcard-worthy restaurants in London. The website reads: ‘The tteam want to take you on a warm late spring afternoon in Florence or Siena. Trot in front of the terrace in a wickedly 80s entrance hall, and enter our ‘pizza church’. Six meters high, our sacred main dining room is filled with red Vatican banquets, antique skylights and a gigantic bar. “Dine among the row of mirrors, which reflect the trippy duomo– scratched walls and floor and highlight some of our speciali with viby neon lights. Our inner courtyard transports you to a rustic osteria antica, filled full of fuschia flowers.“Signature dishes include pizzas made with “biga” dough (using a 24-hour rising process), giant ravioli stuffed with carbonara, La Gran Scaloppina alla Millanese made with high-quality pink veal (not for thank you) and Baberice caviar supplied by the Italian Gavieri family. When I ordered a gin and tonic (the Gindependent Woman, to be precise), it came in a huge gold glass fishbowl. The decadence is endless and a far cry from the small plates served in stripped down “industrial chic” warehouses that many hip Londoners have been in love with for so long. That said, even at Ave Mario, starters and pizzas are meant to be shared and arrive as soon as they’re ready. Even corona can’t kill sharing concepts… (When can I order a dish that’s just for me?)We ordered the 250g (£12) ‘fancy burrata’ topped with breadcrumbs, caramelized onion marmalade and salsa verde; a modest Margerita pizza for £11 (they’re quite small but the dough is beautifully moist); green spirulina pesto pasta (not the best – and I notice they now serve red pesto linguine instead); ravioli stuffed with ricotta, lemon and spinach (excellent at £13); and a chopped salad (£11). Maximal dishes include truffled macaroni and 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 disappointing as an £8 slice of Vienetta. The chocolate mousse (£9) was recommended by our waitress and it was dreamy.
The main problem with restaurants in the Big Mamma group is that it is usually difficult to get a table. When Circolo Popolare opened its doors, there were queues in the street. Reservations for Ave Mario open a month in advance at 7am. They also accept walk-ins. Good luck!