After a culture-filled day out in London, we were eager to find somewhere to eat near the Threesixty Theatre in South Ken. Having never been, I was told I must try Da Mario on Gloucester Road.
The minute we entered from the cold July drizzle (a clear reminder of why I left England in the first place), we felt at home; it was warm, it was cosy and the incredibly friendly waiters treated us as if they’d known us forever. Even with no reservation, a few sips of a drink at the bar downstairs was all the time we had to wait until a table became available in the slightly more lively upstairs dining area.
Da Mario is an institution that I’m surprised I’ve never been to. It was opened in the sixties by Mario, a passionate Italian chef from Naples, who wanted to bring the delicious flavours of his hometown to London. Apparently it was a favourite of Princess Diana’s too; photos and paintings of her now line the walls. Sadly, Mario passed away in 2007, yet his son Marco continues the legacy, serving up authentic Neapolitan cuisine in a comforting, comfortable surrounding.
According to a dedication on the menu, Mario developed the recipe for the pizza sauce at Pizza Express. We had actually been there for lunch, so we were definitely honouring Mario and his delicious pizzas.
Speaking of pizzas, we had already had more than our share for lunch, yet we insisted on at least trying the Cestino di pane ai quattro formaggi – which was basically a tomato-less pizza. The base was perfect: thin, rustic and delicately flavoured, meaning the rich flavours of the gorgeous Italian cheeses really stood out.
The Gamberoni aglio olio e peperoncino, three beautiful grilled prawns drizzled with olive oil, thin slivers of garlic and chilli flakes, were delicious and succulent, whilst the garlic and chilli oil also served as a perfect dip for the bread.
Melanzane parmigiana is one of my favourite Italian dishes, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint: delicious layers of aubergine, Parmesan, tomato and basil, baked to golden and gooey perfection.
My main course of Papardelle adriatico – cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine, fresh parsley and swordfish strips on a bed of rocket – was divine. Both the pasta and the sauce were wonderfully fresh and light. However, whilst I thought the swordfish would add to the dish, it was actually a little on the dry side and I think the dish would have been perfect without it.
The Parpardelle branzino had the same sauce as the above, but instead of the swordfish, it was topped with a lovely fillet of seabass that was neither dry nor unnecessary; rather it completed the already delicious dish.
An original request for a Pasta da Marco (which, although is not on the menu, is apparently a puttanesca) was confused with a Rigatoni da Mario, more of a carbonara-style pasta. The waiters were hugely apologetic, offering to change it as quickly as possible, but we stuck with it and were pleasantly surprised. Although it was in a cream sauce, it was not too heavy, and the addition of chopped basil kept it fresh.
All thoughts of dessert were cast aside after our veritable feast and fears of missing the last train home, although of course we couldn’t turn down a glass of limoncello to round off the delicious meal!
Our total bill came to £25 each. Da Mario is an authentic slice of Naples in London, where delicious food is served with a genuine smile in an ambience that would definitely entice me to come again…if only I didn’t live on the other side of the world!
15 Gloucester Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7584 9078