When Parisian restaurant group Big Mamma came bursting onto the hospitality scene in 2019, we knew they meant business. If you were lucky to nab a table at their first opening Gloria, you'll be familiar with the OTT decor, food and drinks; transporting you to Southern Italy via East London. Fast forward three years later, and their third restaurant, Ave Mario is looking just as popular.
Unlike its plant-fronted sister to the east and queue-inducing sibling in Fitzrovia, this Covent Garden gem is a little harder to find. I spent ages outside scrambling between Flat Iron, Da Henrietta and Osteria Pizzeria - the latter of which turned out to be green neon lights advertising Big Mamma’s latest restaurant. At first glance, it even felt a lot smaller than I imagined - ostentatious interiors and calorific dishes plastered over social media give this place a larger-than-life identity. However, once I ventured down to the neon-lit, Sopranos-themed bathroom and discovered three floors packed with diners, the buzzing party vibe hit me hard. Red velvet booths and intimate tables were matched with monochrome walls, neon-lit mirrors a massive and statement bar. Frantic and sexy all at the same time.
One thing that you can count on at Big Mamma restaurants (aside from Instagrammable interiors) is the vibrant staff. Our waitress was on point; teaching us the correct Italian pronunciations for mains and recommending a side of garlicky foccaia (£4.50) to mop up our starter of giant oozy burrata (£12.50) that arrived on a bed of caramelised onion marmalade and salsa verde.
Personality flows through the drinks menu too, with cocktails arriving in boob-shaped vessels and given hilarious names. Described as "feeling naughty as running through fields of wheat," our Call Me Old Fashioned (£9) was a softer take on the classic, mixing Wild Turkey Bourbon with a chianti-honey blend and bitter cherry. Skipping the pizza, we dove mouth-first into the pasta. Of course, we couldn’t turn down the mafaldine al tartufo (£18.50) which smothered the homemade signature swirls of pasta with a decadent creamy sauce and shavings of fresh black truffle. Its tomatoey counterpart, ragu di agnello (£16.50) saw tagliatelle enveloped in a slow-cooked lamb ragù and topped with heaps pecorino cheese (plus extra, because why not). By this point, it was trouser-unbuttoning-time, but we carried onto dessert like troopers.
Afters are no joke here, as giant gelato towers and a lemon tiramisu make up the list. With just enough room for something small, we settled on a couple of cocktails and a sweet like chocolate (£9) to share. With a margarita (£10) in one hand and a spoon in the other, we polished off the creamy chocolate mousse. Flavoured with nutmeg, a dash of olive oil and Maldon sea salt, it provided the perfect light finish. Bellisimo.
The DesignMyNight Digest
It's third time lucky for Big Mamma, as this charming restaurant proves. Not only is Ave Mario packing a punch in the looks department, but substance follows style with luscious Italian plates and quirky takes on classic cocktails. Round up the gang and get ready for toilet selfies now.
💰 The damage: £100 for 2 (3 courses and 2 cocktails each).
📍 The location: 15 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8QG.
👌 Perfect for: A fun night out with a belly full of food.
⭐ Need to know: The restaurant fills up fast so you'll want to book ahead.
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