Why Ave Mario is much more than a feast for the eyes

Covent Garden restaurant's culinary attention to detail mirrors the care taken over its extraordinary interior

Tuesday, 5th April — By Dan Carrier

Ave Mario

THERE is a deep-rooted fear that raises its head when stepping into a restaurant that opts for a décor that simply takes your breath away.

You may find yourself asking if you’d gone out for a bite to eat, or some trendy immersive art show. You may ask yourself if all this Objets D’Art is because they aren’t up to much in the kitchen department.

Ave Mario, which opened last year on Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, delivers a combination of punches to the senses before you’ve been led to your seat on bright red Banquettes inside booths whose tables firmly strap you in for the forthcoming ride.

The smack-you-round-the-cheeks interior design not only is chock-full of Anglo-American-Italian influences, but gives the hungry eyes something to soak up and decipher while you wait for your aperitifs. Iconography, pop culture, and what can best be described as Baz Luhrmann does the Renaissance on LSD is the motif. It’s bonkers, and brilliant.

It would be easy to waste paragraphs on this décor, so eye-catching it is (the rows, rows and more rows of bright spirit bottles lining shelf after shelf after shelf are like an alcoholic’s version of one of Dante’s circles) but let its glare not blind us to the menu.

The team behind this brash, fun and gloriously irreverent eaterie have eight restaurants in Paris, other branches across France, one in Madrid, Shoreditch’s Gloria and Fitzrovia’s Circolo Popolare, both of which are frequented by Londoners who like good food and good times.

Take this winning formula, and repeat: it sounds simple and the Ave Mario staff make it appear so, as well.

The sideways approach stretches to a menu with jokey names for serious dishes. An example is the Led Zeppole, which they describe as their “Stairway to Heaven”, which are herby deep-fried dough balls in a tomato and basil sauce, or the Holy Cheesus, a four-way cheese party drizzled in honey and topped with pecans. Both are as delicious as their names are silly. These menu japes make light of some serious gastronomy.

Unable to resist Burrata whenever it is offered, we started with a dome of this ultra-creamy cheese, topped with breadcrumbs to give the gooey-ness a crunch, and a marmalade – perhaps a little sweet, overly masking the red onion, but not to the detriment of the marvellous Burrata. For those with a cheese addiction (like us), a creamy baked mozzarella camembert with walnuts and bread to shovel out melted mouthfuls is another to save room for.

For mains, the choice is wide and parts teeter on special occasion stuff – the Desperate Dan-style T-Bone steak weighing in at nearly a kilo and designed for two people, or the Italian caviar which is accompanied by different cheeses.

The Lamb Ragu was so rich you wonder if the base was begun before the restaurant opened its doors nearly eight months ago. The thick stock flavours come from the lamb getting down with a glug of Marsala wine, from the Sicilian city of the same name. The wine has been, as is the traditional way, reduced to a syrup with shallots and brings out the best of the flavours.

For another main, we had a red Linguine, the strands playing host to just the right amount of a garlic-almond pesto and flecks of sun-dried tomatoes. It was light, not too oily, and decently sized considering how more-ish each mouthful was.

Food is supplied by small firms – they buy ingredients from 180 independent caterers across food regions of Italy, meaning you’ll get Mortadella from Bologna, prosciutto, Calabrian salamis, ham from Parma and parmesan from Gennari.

Such attention to detail mimics the care taken over Ave Mario’s extraordinary interior. A well-priced menu providing excellent food in surroundings that have to be seen.

From £20pp
Ave Mario
15 Henrietta Street
Covent Garden

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