london 820

Ave Mario

Covent Garden, WC2E

As new openings go, Ave Mario is the restaurant du jour. It’s been everywhere for the past 6 weeks and when their two terraces open it’ll doubtless be London’s darling of the summer. How dreadfully predictable.

A restaurant like this strikes at the heart of why critique is needed. All of the hype and press releases have been cramming this down your throat, telling you to come here and spend your money. And yes, this kind of build-up will undoubtedly send flocks of millennials and Gen-Zs to book a table. But honest appraisal, not paid-for hype is what’s needed now more than ever – particularly in a post-lockdown world where integrity in our industry must supersede paid partnerships and spin. If you are going to the effort of obtaining the near-unobtainable and actually scoring a reservation here, it better be worth it.

The food at Ave Mario’s sister outposts (Gloria and Circolo Popolare) is far from terrible. But, let’s face it, no one who goes there (or here for that matter) gives a monkey’s about the food. The restaurant could be serving fermented shark carpaccio or bull’s anus spaghetti and they’d still be fully booked. Everyone who goes about the arduous task of reserving a table cares only about the gram. Amour propre for the 21st century means one thing: online clout.

I am an ardent believer that restaurants are about who you are with, not where you are. One of the biggest problems with the restaurant culture propagated by self-aggrandising “influencers” is that where you are becomes more important than who you’re with. The fact is, anyone possessing an iota of adoration for food and respect for their dining companions would happily eat anywhere half-decent, as long as you are with people you love. Who cares about being digitally ‘seen’ at London’s latest hotspot with glamour models when you can grab a beer in a local with a pal?

Ave Mario is a restaurant for them: the Insta-age sycophants. A dining room full of gloomy-looking beauties concerning themselves with their socials, as opposed to actually being social. Dining out with this lot must be as depressing as a summer in Swansea, and just as lonesome.

it’s more like an acid trip in Pisa went south after your thirteenth Negroni and now you’re vomiting Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat all over a restaurant

Upon arrival two besuited ‘ragazza’ (their word, not mine) are staring at their iPads like 14 year olds discovering Pornhub for the first time. An unbreakable gaze only briefly interrupted by a colleague and, eventually, a silent nod. Yes we do have a booking. Yes our names are those names you have. Please let us in…

The overstated décor screams “look at me, I’ve arrived”. An erudite ethos of ‘less is more’ is the path this restaurant has chosen not to tread. Instead it’s more like an acid trip in Pisa went south after your thirteenth Negroni and now you’re vomiting Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat, with Italian subtitles, all over a restaurant.

The main space, featuring a black and white striped, mirror-adorned wall, complete with fake plastic flowers and red banquettes is cartoonishly garish. Downstairs, the dimly-lit basement shows off mirrored ceilings and tulip chairs like an oversized cocaine booth in someone’s crass interpretation of Studio 54.

Fortunately, the service inside is more pleasant than at the door, but menus have to be found through a QR code. Half the menu isn’t available during our visit but of course, you won’t be able to hear which half as the waitress must battle with the increasing volume of the room and her own diminishing vocal capacity to shout dishes at you. Possibly recommendations, maybe informing you they aren’t on? Not sure. Can’t hear.

After a minute or two we give up and naively ask “What’s good?” “Ah”, she replies. Then there were some more imperceptible words shouted into the noise like pissing in the wind. I just about made out “ham”, “pizza” and “caviar”. That’ll do for now.

The menu is a 9-page, 1,200 word sleeping pill split into ten sections. TEN. It showcases more upmarket offerings than Gloria and Circolo Popolare: caviar-topped pizza, caviar-topped langoustine tacos and caviar-topped potato crocchette. This is not the millennially-friendly priced menu found at the other outposts; here, instead, the owners seem to be targeting London’s young elite (a group well-known for having impeccable taste…).

And yes you read that right. Caviar-topped langoustine – and melon – tacos. Tacos. Here? They taste of almost nothing but a faint memory of melon; a gargantuan, ostentatious waste of langoustines – and caviar. The cheese and potato crocchette would be utterly forgettable were it not for my frothing indignation that these three miniscule, flavourless testicles (topped with the omnipresent caviar) cost a blood-boiling £16.

The ham was fine, but then, all they had to do was plate it. More a bravo for the supplier than any demonstrable skill from the kitchen.

this bat-wing of a Milanese would have been more useful attached to a searchlight on the rooftop at Gotham PD

Much has been made of the ‘Biga’ technique in the pre-opening hype – a 24 hour fermentation on the dough to make their pizza base. It was disappointing. If they hadn’t made such a song and dance about this base I probably wouldn’t have noticed it, but they promised the best pizza since sliced pizza and it just wasn’t.

More worrisome than the so-so base was what sat on top. A ball of cat sick? Cleaned u-bends from the lavs downstairs? The questionable mush turns out to be an aubergine *ahem* “caviar” which tastes of nothing but raw heat from chilli sitting underneath it.

My crashing misery would surely, surely be assuaged by the mains. Pasta. Veal Milanese. Come on, show me the good stuff.

The Milanese at £15 seems reasonable enough until it arrives burnt. Not ‘charred’, not ‘blackened’, not ‘well-done’. Overdone, corners cooked-to-shit, burnt. Predictably leathery around the edges and barely passable in the more tender middle, this bat-wing of a Milanese would have been more useful attached to a searchlight on the rooftop at Gotham PD.

The ‘giant’ ravioli were off that night. Apparently the chef thought it would be a good idea to serve the ‘normal’ variety hidden under what I can only assume is a 300ml carton of double cream with a crack of black pepper. These tasted eerily similar to the spinach and ricotta ravioli available from Sainsbury’s for £3.95 and when cutting into the pasta in the bowl, a slimy indistinguishable slurry results. For a more accurate critique I’d need to send it off to lab for analysis. Let’s see if they can find any discernible flavour.

Before dessert was served, I paid a visit to the gents. This usually wouldn’t warrant so much as a word in most reviews but again, here at Ave Mario, they don’t miss a trick to up the hype. Going to the loo is now an opportunity to confess your sins and receive limoncello from a priestly looking chaplain from behind a confessional booth. How droll. As brand partnerships go though I’m not sure the Catholic Church would be my first choice – offering alcoholic drinks to impressionable youngsters never worked too well for them in the past.

It’s also a chance to marvel at the idiocy of the bathrooms. Behind soft-beaded curtains lie the ladies’ and further beyond, the men’s. So to access the latter, one must enter the former. No door separates the genders here, just more beaded curtains. Now, call me old fashioned, but I’m not sure conviviality is an attribute I admire in a toilet.

This is a vapid hotspot for London, serving up wave after wave of airy, languid disappointment to a cute crowd

Back upstairs and I come to realise the head chef must be a part-time dentist looking to drum up a bit of new business. It’s the only fathomable reason I can deduce for making everything on the dolci list as teeth-shatteringly dolce as possible.

As a table we all agreed that the tiramisu wasn’t as soulful, creamy or in any way delicious as ones we’ve enjoyed elsewhere (or for that matter, prepared ourselves) and the lemon tart was buried under so much meringue I found myself feeling desperately sorry for the hens whose thankless task it was to lay these eggs – so much white needlessly wasted, adding nothing but a sugary clog to the dish.

But the cavity creating beast and ‘most-hyped’ dessert of them all goes to the 60cm ‘tower’ of ice cream cake. It arrives, you get a slice, caramel gets poured on top (presumably to ensure you get diabetes) and it’s remarkable. Marvel at its creation. Be baffled. For it’s even more palate-cripplingly sweet than 3 pints of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough and yet tastes of almost entirely nothing.

This is a vapid hotspot for London, serving up wave after wave of airy, languid disappointment to a cute crowd. An audience who I hope will soon start to care how much better they could have it elsewhere.

Ave Mario
Food & Drink26
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15 Henrietta Street
Covent Garden

August 2021


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