Ave Mario was the biggest London restaurant opening of 2021.
And that’s meant both figuratively (we’ve rarely seen so much excitement about a new place opening – our week of preview nights for Nudge Members booked out in about 10 minutes) and literally, because while it doesn’t look that big from the front door it actually stretches back and down another two floors. Ave Mario comes to to us courtesy of maximalist restaurant posse, Big Mamma Group. They’re the team behind pizza delivery brand Napoli Gang and also London’s biggest pre-covid openings, Gloria and Circolo Popolare. You know, the ones with 10-layer lasagnes, walls lined with 20 thousand liquor bottles, and perpetual queues lining the streets outside….
The main reason that all of Big Mamma Group’s Italian restaurants (including Ave Mario) are as popular as they are is basically because they’ve nailed that rare combination of fun interiors, great food and music, strong drinks and a buzzing atmosphere – all at a price point that doesn’t break the bank. It’s essentially just a fun place to go on a date or with a group of friends: you can be sure there’s going to be a good vibe on the night, the restaurant’s going to be full and you’re going to have a rollicking good time.
Head along, and you’ll find the entrance – covered in Italian stickers – on Henrietta Street in the heart of Covent Garden.
On entering Ave Mario you’ll immediately notice that in-house interior design team Studio Kiki has tipped its berretto in the direction of Florences’s famous zebra-striped Duomo cathedral, which means striped walls in the main skylight-illuminated dining space, complemented by a fair amount of religious iconography – in fact, the Ave Mario team describe it as “our own cheeky interpretation of the Church, Version 2.0”. But while Florence is the main inspiration here, they didn’t restrict themselves only to that location, liberally poaching ideas from “Liguria to Venice to Milan”.
As for the food? Well it’s carefully sourced directly from 180 Italian family-run suppliers, the majority since Big Mamma’s inception in 2015. To name and celebrate a few from Ave Mario’s current menu: Mortadella from Giovanni Bertarini in Bologna; Salvatore Corso for the freshest mozzarella di bufala; burrata from Salvatore Montrone in Puglia; prosciutto ham by Devodier which has been matured 36 months in the cellars of Parma; Vittoria Calla’s smokey yet spicy ‘nduja from Calabria; 24-month-aged parmigiano reggiano from Gennari; gambero rosso freshly plucked from the Ionian sea; and Italian Baeri caviar from the Venetian Gavieri family. And when they haven’t been able to get the best of the best from Italy they’ve headed to our shores, where they’ve found high-welfare rose veal from Rachel & Jeannie in Shropshire, beef from Phillip and Ian Warren, and Big Mamma bespoke beers from Pig & Porter.
Captaining the food ship is 25 year old head chef Andrea Zambrano, who started out at Gloria before impressing everyone so much that they decided to give him the keys to his own kitchen. Highlights from his menu include carbonara ravioli; a gigantic breaded veal cutlet; a dedicated menu of Venetian caviar; pizza made using the traditional ‘Biga’ technique (resulting in what they describe as “the pillowiest pizza you’ll ever eat”) and a staggering 60cm-tall stracciatella ice cream cake marbled with chocolate which is wheeled around to those sensible enough to order it, before being served at the table.
Amen to that.
NOTE: Ave Mario is located on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden. It’s open for dinner daily, plus lunch Thurs & Fri and brunch on weekends. They accept walk-ins but you can also reserve a table – find out more, and book, HERE.
Ave Mario | 15 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8QG
So, you’ve ticked off Ave Mario? Continue on and tick off the rest of Covent Garden’s best restaurants.