“Ave Mario is 700 m2 of pure paradise, managed by our funky squadra of 120 Italians.” Big Mamma Group
Ave Mario in London’s Covent Garden is the latest opening from the Big Mamma Group who also own the hugely popular Gloria and Circolo Popolare. Like the other two venues, Ave Mario serves a menu filled with Italian classic dishes and is overly flamboyant in its design.
The space is a visual extravaganza inspired by Florence and it’s Duomo cathedral. The kitsch decor is an over-the-top assault on your senses. Neon signs, bold monochrome striped walls, deep red velvet furnishings and back-lit glass bottles stacked up from floor-to-ceiling at the bar all vie for your attention. The main dining room is huge and lively, the whole place echoes with noisy conversations. Disappointingly, our table was downstairs but the decor was still vibrant and the buzz kept alive thanks to all the tables being full and a large, boisterous group seated right next to us.
I loved the retro fruit and vegetable plates, jugs and salt & pepper pots, the authentic bold checked table cloths and the Italian poster art lining the walls. Who wouldn’t want their food served on a bright yellow sunflower plate? The cocktail menu reflects the restaurant’s fun with drinks such as the Gindependent Women, the rum infused Calm Your Tits served in a bosom shaped vessel and the Negroni Par-tea to name a few.
The third concept from Big Mamma has a lot to live up to and prove itself on its own merits once the initial hype has diminished. Judging by the lack of availability it seems to be doing well enticing curious Londoners looking for a good time post-lockdown. We couldn’t get a booking* on a weekday evening at either Circolo Popolare or Ave Mario so opted for a walk-in at the later and hunkered down for cocktails at nearby Mrs Riot until a table became available. Slight issue that we never received a call but took our chance to pop by to check only to find the hostess had written our telephone number down wrong. While it was great to see such a busy restaurant with such a vibe that comes at a cost as servers attention is spread too thinly.
Ave Mario’s menu is vast. It took a while to work our way through and even longer to actually place the order. The concept is food that nonna used to make with housemade pasta and pizza taking centre stage. The pizzas are prepared with ‘Biga’ style dough which takes 24-hours to leaven resulting in an authentic pilowy crust. To be honest if there’s a Melanzane Parmigiana on any menu I’m always going to order it, add in some hunks of Italian bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a glass of red wine and I’m happy. My only complaint was although the dish was very tasty it was quite cold probably due to slow service. My dining companion ordered the pesto pasta and a huge mountain of it arrived, so big that we had to take half home in a box.
Food theatrics at Circolo Popolare see their carbonara served at the table in a giant wheel of cheese at Ave Mario it’s a whopping 60cm tall Stracciatella Gelato Tower. We had seen this epic dessert on Instagram and witnessed a nearby table sampling it but sadly we were just too full to try it ourselves.
Ave Mario is definitely not for the reserved diner who likes a quiet meal in an elegant restaurant. For now everyone wants to be seen at the new kid on the block, take selfies in the neontastic bathrooms for Instagram but realistically it’s the quality of the food and service that brings diners back.
Would I return? Yes, I would as Italian cuisine is my favourite and I would like to try more of the menu but in saying that I predictably would be drawn back to the Melanzane. I would consume less bread to save room for dessert next time. Sadly I didn’t visit the bathroom which appears to have become the most photographed restrooms in London taking over from Sketch’s egg loos.
Location: 15 Henrietta St, London. WC2E 8QG
Opening Times: Daily 12 noon – 10:30pm (Thursday, Friday & Saturday until 10:45pm)
*Advance booking is recommended although they do save a few tables for walk-ins. Ave Mario brunch menu is served every Saturday and Sunday from 10am.
The menu has many options for vegetarians, vegans and those who are gluten free. They can also cater for other dietary requirements and allergies. There’s a kids menu available on request. Ave Mario proudly supports ThinkForward with a discretionary £1 added to each bill to support local people growing up in poverty to develop the right skills to find a job.
All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2021. All rights reserved. Additional photos used with courtesy of www.bigmammagroup.com