What: A huge, 7,000sq ft 'osteria' in the heart of London's Covent Garden.
Who: French-owned Italian restaurant group Big Mamma, which has somewhat cornered the London market in accessible, larger-than-life casual dining restaurants since launching Gloria, its debut site in the capital, in Shoreditch back in 2019. Big Mamma founders Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux exploded onto the Parisian restaurant scene in 2013 with their cult, quirky restaurants that were a breath of fresh air in the French capital, which had long been short on Italian casual dining options. They’ve since opened a number of lively trattorias there including East Mamma, Pizzeria Popolare and La Felicità, the last of which is claimed to be the biggest restaurant in Europe. Alongside Gloria and Ave Mario, the group's London estate includes Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia, which also opened in 2019.
The food: The kitchen at Ave Mario is run by Big Mamma’s youngest-ever head chef, 23-year-old Andrea Zambrano, who has drawn inspiration from across Italy to create a menu of new dishes that features little crossover with the group’s other London restaurants beyond the selection of pizzas and pastas. Signature plates include the giant carbonara ravioli filled with pecorino cream, egg yolk and guanciale (£15); and Cotoletta alla Milanese, veal cutlet coated in breadcrumbs and fried in butter (£15 per person). There's also a new caviar section on the menu, which uses Venetian Baeri caviar from the Gavieri family and is available in a 10g tin (£10), served on a pizza base with mozzarella and crème fraiche (£18); or atop crocchette with cheesy potato filling (£16). Big Mamma also has form for delivering show stopping, Insta-famous desserts and Ave Mario is no different, offering up a 60cm tall stracciatella ice cream cake that's marbled with chocolate spread, sliced table side, and covered in caramel sauce (£7).
The drink: A fully Italian wine list is available, with a bottle of house wine starting at £24. It's the cocktails, though, which are likely to grab people's attention. The house cocktails, poured at the table, include the Call Me Old Fashioned with Wild Turkey bourbon, ‘vin santo’ chianti-honey mix, bitter cherry (£9); and the Calm Your Tits with Havana Club 3, Appleton Estate, Trois Rivières rums, lychee, strawberry mint syrup and lime (£9). While the new list of 'House Giant Cocktails' includes the Spritz On The Beach with Absolut vodka, cranberry, orange, prosecco sparkling wine and peach (£13); and the Gindependent Women with Beefeater gin, Fever Tree tonic, fresh red fruit, juniper berries and lime slices (£14).
The vibe: The 295-cover venue is divided into three sections and features a large skylight-lit dining room, two outdoor terraces, a 70s luxe-mirrored basement with plenty of mood lighting, and a sunken kitchen to boot. As with Big Mamma's other London venues, the look is intended to be rambunctiously OTT and includes glitzy green and white Duomo-stripped walls; a 3,500 bottle display above the main bar; and a neon cock and balls by the entrance.
And another thing: Billed as a 'cheeky interpretation of a church', there's plenty here that brazenly plays on the notion of Catholic guilt, with neon-signs on the way to the bathroom that ask guests to 'confess here' with the promise that 'sins are forgotten, not forgiven'.
15 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8QG