Mamma Mia on Park Row is one of the stereotypical ‘traditional family-run Italian’ restaurants that are abundant in Bristol. It’s the type of place that always makes me think of the restaurant scene in “Lady And The Tramp” – red and white checked tablecloths and a tall candle on each table, the Italian flag and various other curios on the walls, Italian music playing gently in the background…right down, on one previous visit, to a heated argument in Italian in the kitchen, audible to the entire restaurant.
Our waiter, who looked unnervingly like Jeff Goldblum, spoke to us in Italian throughout our visit, except when he thought that we wouldn’t understand.
The laminated menus are extensive and traditionally Italian, but unless you have a knowledge of the country’s cuisine, you may struggle. Most of the menu sections – bar the pizzas – give just the Italian name and the price of each dish, but the Mamma Mia staff are happy to help with any questions. I’d also avoid looking at the prices alongside the menu on their website, if I were you, as I don’t think these have been updated since 1985 when the restaurant first opened…
Starters include the standard carb-heavy options of bruschetta and garlic bread, as well as items such as pate, snails and paprika-infused mushrooms.
Laura decided on the Insalata Caprese, which she’s a fan of due to its simplicity. “A sea of tomato” was how she described the plate that was presented to her: a massive portion of sliced tomato, mozzarella and basil (plus diced onions and olives), all drizzled with olive oil. She was happy with her choice, but pointed out that it’s “one of those dishes that’s hard to stand out and hard to get wrong”.
For me, the Melanzane Alla Parmigiana – an equally huge portion of grilled aubergines in a tomato sauce with basil and melted mozzarella (should it not be Parmesan…?), all served in a hot metal dish. The aubergine was well cooked, lovely and soft with a little crispness from the grill still remaining, and the tomato sauce was simple but enjoyable. If I had any complaint, it would be that the dish was a little cheese-heavy: a rare complaint for me, but it took away from the more delicate, fresh flavours of the aubergine, tomato and fresh basil leaves. If it had been the traditional Parmesan, I don’t think this would have been a problem.
Main courses are divided into multiple sections on Mamma Mia’s menu: choose from pasta, meat, chicken, fish or pizza. For me, a pizza – the Pizza Sorrentina – a woodfired base topped with Parma ham, mozzarella and olives. Simple, maybe, but very well done: the base was soft and fluffy inside but with the requisite crunch to the crusts, and the balance between toppings and base was just right. I felt guilty about having to leave some of it, but I’d been defeated by the starter…
Laura had ordered the steak Boscaiola, a generous portion of sirloin topped with mushrooms cooked in white wine and cream. Another Italian mamma sized portion here, not only in terms of the steak itself, but also the mounds of chips and salad that accompanied it.
Having asked for the steak to be served rare, she was happy with the way that it was cooked, and loved the richness of the porcini mushrooms that accompanied it. She raved about the chips, which were beautifully cooked, but again had to leave a lot of her meal.
Unsurprisingly, after the huge quantities of food that we had consumed, we decided to skip dessert and ask for the bill. At around £60 for two courses each, a soft drink and a 500ml carafe of wine (plus service), it was reasonable value for money, but not a standout evening. A solid option, though, if you’re in the area.
Find Mamma Mia on the Bristol Bites Directory…