As lavish, excessive and bonkers as their restaurants are, some do not care for the Parisian group Big Mamma. When the owners of London’s Gloria and Circolo Popolare launched their latest UK restaurant, Ave Mario in Covent Garden, guests were encouraged to “take confession”, which involved sitting down timidly as any Catholic might, only to be served a shot of something heady by a marauding “priest”. He handed the drinks through a curtain. I confessed more times in those few hours than I have over the whole of the last decade.
The food? That’s where people take issue. The Sopranos pastiches in their loos, and those Instagram-ready luminous strip lights appeal to them far more than sloppy linguine and burrata by the bucket. The critics carp that while Big Mamma does “we’re on a night out in London and have more than £100 to spend per head” very well, their food is not so well considered. For all their red tiles and bright banquettes, art deco artwork, faux foliage and chrome, the saltimbocca alla romana might be lacking. Don’t bother with the lobster.
Funnily enough, for the most part I am not one of those vocal detractors. Big Mamma menus change every month and prices aren’t as delirious as some might expect. It’s more about ordering well, which is the case in casual but fun restaurants everywhere.
Roll in on a Friday evening and order a three-tiered stand full of focaccia, cured meats and cheeses and pair all that with a bottle of house white and/or red for £24 a pop and there you have it – a good night out in town for a reasonable smack of the wallet.
It was at Gloria’s that I had the group’s carbonara. Executive chef Filippo La Gattuta’s recipe is traditional – it would not be out of place in an elegant, pared-back Roman trattoria, despite the hyper-modern, billowing nature of the restaurants it is served in. It says something about Big Mamma and its
customers that the group feels the need to mention that, being traditional,
cream is not one of this dish’s ingredients. This is not a snobbish point; it is one about knowing and respecting your clientele.
At Gloria, La Gattuta makes a spectacle of serving their carbonara straight out of a big pecorino wheel. It is a solid dish.
LA GRAN CARBONARA
3 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
90g/3oz (1 cup) grated pecorino cheese
90g/3oz (1 cup) grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon pepper
8 slices of guanciale (cured pork cheek/jowl), finely sliced
In a bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the pecorino, parmesan and pepper. Set aside.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, then drain, reserving the cooking water.
In the meantime, add the guanciale slices to a dry frying pan/skillet over a medium heat and sear for 5 minutes, or until crispy.
Add 1 tablespoon of the pasta cooking water, followed by the spaghetti.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg mixture and mix briskly. The
eggs should not cook too much and the consistency of the sauce should be
Transfer to a large serving dish and serve immediately.