Mammalena recently opened its colourful tricolour doors in North End, the ‘genuine’ Italian restaurant a franchise offshoot of an Italian company operating in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.
This is a fast food place, not where you’d find the likes of scallopine di vitello, osso bucco, risotto or that old chestnut, the huge touristy pepper mill.
But the choice is considerable with pasta dishes, piadizza (a pizza with thinner crust), cassoni, a kind of folded thin dough, and piada, Italian flatbreads, on offer.
The franchise has borrowed heavily from the fast food world. A panel above the counter offers meal deals, all emblazoned with coke and chips, a seemingly necessary nod to our culture.
The simple décor – the green, red and white of Italy’s flag – boasts red walls, chunky white chairs and plain top tables, too many jammed into the space and not many occupied when I went.
The competition is intense on London Road with no shortage of quick-fix eating.
A nod to Christmas was found on the backs of some chairs – a kind of enlarged Santa hat stretched over as a back cover complete with white pompom.
The restaurant differs from its competition in part by offering table service and wine. An Italian staff member was a fine example of how service should be: charming with an inside-out knowledge of the menu. The Milan-born chef can be seen in the large kitchen. Between them they manage the serving effortlessly.
Pasta dishes include ravioli, gnocchi, tagliolini, a string pasta, strozzapreti, hand-rolled dough, and cappelletti, a large round type of ravioli.
Match different sauces with the pasta: salmon cream, arrabbiata, green pesto, carbonara, Bolognese. Fillings for the cassoni, piada and piadizza (the pizza lookalike) vary: parma ham, stracchino cheese, rolled bacon, tomato sauce and mozzarella, vegetable, four cheese, tuna, sausage and potato.
There are salads too including one with spelt, rare in quick-bite eateries, the ancient wheat, made into a pasta, is combined with tuna, fennel, rocket and tomatoes. There’s an Italian breakfast too plus Italian desserts such as tiramisu and an array of savoury preserves for sale. Prices run from £5-£7 for mains, desserts from £2. Naturally, there is espresso and other coffees.
My strozapretti (literally, strangled priest came dosed with a fine amount of excellent pesto sauce, a moreish, filling dish. The lovely green sauce was plentiful, the pasta al dente as it should be and rarely is in this country.
I went down the cassoni route, the folded dough filled with Tirolo ingredients: speck, a type of mountain smoked ham found along the Italian-Austrian border, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Served on a round thick board, the thin but large wafer, cut in two, oozed tomato and good quality meat but not enough mozzarella. It was reasonably satisfying.
Mammalena certainly offers a different choice to the average fast food outlet on this long shopping road and is worth a visit.
If you’re after good hospitality you can count on the Italians: it’s part of their DNA and for that, much else can almost be forgiven.
My bill came to £12.50, not including a tip.
Mammalena, 45 London Road, North End, PO2 0BH (023)9317 8820
Open: 8am-9pm Mon- Wed; 11.30-10pm Thurs-Sat; 12.30-9pm Sun.
Directions: London Road is a continuation of Kingston Road and Fratton Road. The restaurant is on the left going north before Derby Road where there’s parking.
Disabled access: fine.