All over the UK, we are surrounded by chain pizza and pasta eateries. Great for a cheap and cheerful quick bite to eat. But isn’t it giving Italian cuisine an image of being a “safe” option lacking in variety and adventurousness? For those who want to be reminded of the rich diversity of Italian cooking, an authentic restaurant is becoming hard to find.
When I want a genuine Italian experience, I book a table at Da Mario on Endell Street in Covent Garden. A short walk from the Royal Opera House and a number of West End theatres, Da Mario is a cosy family-run restaurant with charming, outgoing staff and a warm atmosphere ideal for different occasions be it a big social gathering, a pre-theatre meal or a romantic date.
On my latest visit, which was a family get-together, I started off with the sublime concoction of scallops, asparagus, roasted peppers and crispy bacon served on a bed of baby spinach. The asparagus and peppers were perfectly al dente, teamed with the softness of the scallops mingling with the light smokiness of the bacon.
For the main course I had my all-time favourite calves' liver in butter and sage. The calves' liver came in a generous portion and was tender and melted in the mouth. If anything, it is the best calves' liver I’ve had in a restaurant to date. Along with their mouthwatering regular dishes, Da Mario has a specials board which is always worth a try. From the specials, Papa Kinsey had the handmade (all of Da Mario’s pasta is handmade on site) wild boar tortellini which had just the right combination of richness and delicateness.
Desserts on the menu include elegantly produced classics such as panna cotta and homemade lemon cheesecake topped with berries. The comprehensive wine list is completely Italian, ranging from the light and easy Orvieto Classico to intense reds such as Ripasso della Valpolicella.
The only drawback with Da Mario, which is usually the case with traditional Italian restaurants, is a lack of vegetarian options - although the few veggie pasta dishes on offer, such as the tagliolini with black truffle, are to die for. Da Mario is essentially a paradise for pescatarians and carnivores. A plus for those with dietary requirements is that gluten-free pasta is available meaning that you don’t have to rely on yet another chain restaurant to meet your needs.
So if you’re in the heart of London and up for a truly Italian experience from a great independent establishment with extra smiles, get yourself down to Da Mario on Endell Street. It’s like being on a Roman holiday for the evening!
Da Mario, 63 Endell Street, London, WC2H 9AJ
Nearest tube: Covent Garden
Approximately £80 for three courses and a bottle of wine for two people.
For reservations call 020 7240 3632
All photos: www.da-mario.co.uk