I have been an avid fan of the rapidly expanding Big Mamma restaurant empire ever since a dinner at one of their first restaurants in Paris many moons ago.
At that time Pink Mamma was the most hyped and talked about restaurant in town - a feast for the eyes and a tasty dream on the plate, a flagship restaurant by two young restauranteurs who sought to bring a real sense of dolce vita and dining out FUN to stressed city dwellers and heck they hit a nerve!
Indeed, now the Big Mamma Group operates 13 restaurants across three countries and five cities, though this has thankfully not resulted in a "chain" feel to any of their operations. Yes, you can tell you are in a Big Mamma establishment - kitsch tableware, neon lights, walls lined with colourful glass bottles, yet each has a unique touch to them, a so concisely executed interior concept that result in almost every inch of the restaurants being "instagrammable" without ever trying too hard.
There are inevitably some downsides to this success. It is almost impossible to secure a table at their restaurants, regardless of location, unless you book a month in advance, and I have had a few meals more recently at their first two London restaurants, Gloria and Circolo Populare, were food was slightly disappointing (compared to the stellar meals I've had there when they first opened). Service as also sometimes felt a little overwhelmed, perhaps by the sheer volume of costumers, and not quite able to transport me to 70s Capri as much as in their first restaurants.
BUT I am always here to give a second chance, especially when Big Mamma had provided me with so many memorable dining experiences in the past, and quite honestly I was DYING to check out their newest London outpost, Ave Mario, the second I saw a few sneak peaks of the Art Deco, more is more, neon lights, kitsch religious interiors and menu that screamed "extravagant Italian".
Of course, it wasn't quite as easy as walking in for a dinner on a random Friday night (in fact my friend Renee and I attempted this not long after Ave Mario had first opened their doors and got quite bluntly told that there was no chance in hell we'd get a walk in table), but as a seasoned Londoner I know one has to plan strategically to get a table reservation and in the case of Ave Mario I quickly gathered that they release reservation at 12pm each day for exactly one month ahead.
Anyways let's get to what is most important: how the hell was Ave Mario then? To make it short: it had all the magic (and then some) of my first dinner at Pink Mamma. Interiors are stunning -shiny, retro, exciting, sexy. Service was impeccable. Attentive without being annoying, friendly without being obnoxious and always there when we needed a top up or had a question about the menu.
The food again was stunning. It's all about sharing plates here - the pizzas for example not as big as at the other "Mammas" but perfect as a shared starter. We had a wonderful version, the Saint Polpo, the most light and chewy dough topped with yellow datterini tomato sauce, mozzarella fior di latte, potato cream, octopus, Taggiasche olives, lemon, parsley.
Another winner were the Mac n truffle crochetta, Truffled maccheroni and cheese, deep fried for extra indulgence and formed into balls, a real must try for any truffle lovers.
A dessert of 'GIANT STRACCIATELLA GELATO' was a real spectacle to finish with, not only as all staff broke into an Italian happy birthday verse (again another sign of the attention to detail here, the birthday note on my booking more often than not would have been completely forgotten about, especially on a busy Friday service) but also because of the huge ice cream cake which appeared in front of us, marbled through and through with crunchy stracciatella chocolate. Carved out of this monstrosity we received a big slice of ice cream goodness which was then drizzled with the most luxuriously thick caramel sauce. I mean talk about making dinner interactive and fun! And the bloody thing also tasted great, no style over substance here though both come in large measures regardless.
What can I say, Ave Mario was a 10/10 for me, the sort of restaurant we all desperately need post lockdown, fun yet culinarily sophisticated and worth the 1 month wait for a table. Trust me on this one!