You can sum up the ethos of Carlotta and the whole of Big Mamma Group – the gaggle of visually decadent Italian eateries to which this new Marylebone den is the latest – by the statue that sits cheekily in the centre of its toilets. The piece de resistance in a circular, floor-to-ceiling mirrored room that’s more Studio 54 than manky cubicle, all bathroom selfies (of which there will inevitably be many) are presided over by the Virgin Mary with a ring light for a halo. Where tradition and overt, unashamed Instagrammability meet: this is the Big Mamma way.
Carlotta marks the fifth eatery in the group’s rapidly-expanding London portfolio following Jacuzzi just four months ago and, this time around, the MO was to create something more intimate. In very literal terms, it succeeds; where Jacuzzi is spread over four rambling floors, Carlotta is contained modestly to one, which is where the modesty ends. From the framed vintage Italian boxing shorts, to the draped gold fabric that gives the impression of eating dinner inside Aladdin’s lamp, Carlotta is still a thoroughly more-is-more type of venue.
All bathroom selfies (of which there will inevitably be many) are presided over by the Virgin Mary with a ring light for a halo.
With a pleasingly chintzy soundtrack and exceedingly friendly staff, this is the sort of place where you’re meant to have fun. This time around there’s no pizza, and so the menu is split into antipasti, primi (pasta) and secondi. In keeping with the slightly retro decor, a tempura shrimp cocktail starter came with a pleasingly classic marie rose sauce; plump prawns lounging round the side with a selection of crudites poking out the middle and made for dunking. The tempura was a clever, easy upgrade: something that a pistachio arancini, sprinkled with crumbled nuts that somehow added no discernible flavour, didn’t quite achieve. Sure, an oozing cheesy rice ball is never going to be a bad thing, but the description promised more. Likewise, a burrata as big as a baby’s head, served with a trio of garnishes – pesto, olive tapenade and spicy, chilli-soaked croutons – proved only that you don’t necessarily want all of those things with a honking great dish of cream.
At every Big Mamma restaurant there’s a star dish, and here it’s truffle fettuccine: brought in its pan to the table and tossed lasciviously in parmesan and truffle butter before being festooned in fresh truffle shavings. The visual flair is all there, but our pasta was extremely stodgy. Far better was the penne alla vodka, sprinkled with generous amounts of flaky white crab meat and with the bang on al dente texture our poor fettuccine may once have had in a past life. Breaded lamb chops Milanese, injected with lashings of mozzarella, left no room for the meat buried within to take centre stage.
Full to bursting, we ordered a portion of Carlotta’s wedding cake to share between two and wished we had a second stomach. An impossibly light sponge, slathered in strawberries and cream and covered in meringue pieces, it was like an Eton mess all dressed up and gone to the ball. It is imperative, at Carlotta, that you keep room for dessert.
With an Italian-American slant and portion sizes designed for sharing, you’ll leave Big Mamma’s latest very, very full and perfectly satisfied. But, as increasingly seems to be the case, you’re paying for the overall vibe rather than for your taste buds to be blown away. Go with friends, drink cocktails and eat cake; if it’s good enough for Marie Antoinette…
The vibe Vintage chintzy decadence with a side of Sopranos swag.
The food Massive, hearty portions with an Italian-American bent.
The drinks An impressive Italian wine selection from across the country, plus an array of visually-pleasing cocktails (ours was a Serpentino Martini).
Time Out tip Order the pudding. If Carlotta was anywhere near as fabulous as her wedding cake, she thoroughly deserves a restaurant named in her honour.