Who knew a last-minute decision to go for pizza would turn into such an adventure? From the pizza to the privy, Da MARA provided a mid-week night out to remember.
When you get a text from Mrs. B.B. at 4:15pm, asking what’s for tea, you need to act fast.
When she specifies “no chicken,” you know your go-to white meat and two veg (salad when the temperature’s above 20 degrees Celsius) speciality isn’t going to cut it.
Cue turning to Twitter
for help to complicate things:
And the winner (of the unofficial Twitter vote) is…
There are A LOT of places doing good pizza now apparently!
Having whittled down added a zero to the end of the number of pizzerias on my shortlist for the evening, I decided to ignore the notifications (still coming through as I type this) and plumped for da MARA.
To be fair, it had been on the ‘places to eat’ list for well over… well, way before they moved from Lakeside, so it was about time! (thanks to Twitter, this list won’t clear before I’m 50 now).
Parking next to a park
Given it was warm enough to expose my knees, and Mrs B.B. wanted a snap for Instagram:
…we decided to leave the car next to Roath Park – we could justify the calorie intake if we’d spent 15 minutes walking back from the restaurant.
I’d forgotten what a peaceful escape it can be on a summer’s evening (having moved from the area approximately five years ago) – well, until the warden started whistling and shouting at us that the gates had been locked!
da MARA with love…that chilli oil!
The restaurant was quiet when we arrived, which meant we were kindly given the choice of where we wanted to sit. Despite the doors being wide open, you could instantly feel it was too warm, so we attempted to get as close to the freestanding fan as possible without messing up our hairstyles (the odd salt and pepper cellar falling over provided more amusement than it really should have at my age).
“The odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus.”
The gentleman who show us to our table made us feel very welcome – the odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus – and generally we found the staff attentive but relaxed. Particularly the lady at the end who saw the funny side of Mrs. B.B.’s grumbles that the portions were too big.
And to think how thoughtful I’d been when I gobbled up all the complimentary olives to help her out when we arrived:
We were having an alcohol-free night. The Italian mineral water tasted the same as any other mineral water (although, the label probably added an extra £1 to the bill) – from what I could see on the menu, they offer a good selection of white / red wines (predominantly Italian with a couple from Argentina and Australia) priced up to around the £25-mark
Surprisingly, there were only 3 options in total for beers / ciders – they should look to partner up with The Bottle Shop, which is literally next door!
It’s definitely on the ‘posh side’ for a pizza joint.
The décor is chic without being pretentious. Dark furniture, trendy wall art, interior stone cladding – and a nice decorated screen over the side window. The downstairs seating (which I walked through on the way to the wrong lavatory – more on that later!) looked a little less interesting and more formal.
The real winner for us though was the playlist – but you only get the full, surround sound (well, there’s a speaker in the ceiling) experience, though, when you’re on the toilet!
Although some were sung in English, I assume they were all Italian artists (or at least, I didn’t know any of them!) – it was an odd mix of Nickelback-esque rock, uber ballads, chirpy ditties and covers (Mamas and Papas California Dreamin’ was particularly bemusing).
Each song was almost as much of a delight as each mouthful of pizza.
Yep, it’s time to talk food!
Having umm’d and arr’d about whether to go for a starter or save ourselves for desserts, the gorgonzola swung the decision.
How could a gorgonzola smothered (the menu did claim stuffed but there was no containing it) portobello mushroom possibly pair with strawberries?
In a very peculiar way, it worked – Mrs. B.B.’s taste buds at odds with what she could see on the plate.
It was a bit pricey for what you got, though (£7.50) – especially when the strawberries were “very Tesco” (otherwise known as mushy).
Fearing my heart couldn’t take a mozzarella wrapped in ham pre-pizza, I opted for the calamari on a bed of mayo.
The calamari itself was cooked well. Firm but tender in texture. But the batter was a disappointment. It lacked any crisp – and someone had been a little heavy handed with the salt. I also think they could have put a bit more effort in with the salad – a few dry leaves (on the verge of turning).
I enjoyed it, but I think it was mainly down to the mayo!
We were nearly swayed by a couple of the specials (the Spaghetti Con Gamberoni sounded particularly sexy with a mix of giant and baby prawns), but having sent the Cardiff foodie community into overdrive on Twitter (there are still several tangent conversations going on now), I felt we had a duty to order pizza! It had nothing to do with the £24.95 price tag… honest!
I went for the Diavola:
Mrs. B.B. had the Crudo & Rucola.
From the small areas which hadn’t been drowned in tomato sauce on either pizza, the base texture was light, slightly chewy, with a crisp accent on the crust (I would have preferred it a little crispier). However, for the most part, the moisture had taken over – which only highlighted the need for a proper pizza cutter. It was quite a challenge to cut a neat triangle slice with the knife provided.
Toppings were generous on both.
The Crudo & Rucola pizza was a mix of prosciutto, mozzarella, rocket and cherry tomatoes.
Mrs. B.B. said she was happy with her “proper Italian pizza,” but I could see envious eyes…
“I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!”
After a quick Google of Spianata Calabra, I opted for the Diavola. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say every mouthful tasted different – nor that every mouthful was a real sensation.
The Spianata Calabra and Nduja were hidden under the mozzarella. My first mouthful put my taste buds into a frenzy as they were kicked about by the heat of the pepper and spices.
There were some additional blobs of (caramelised?) chilli, which wasn’t advertised – and I was being liberal with the dangerously addictive chilli oil that had been wickedly brought to the table.
Despite it all, the heat was never overwhelming. There was a definite kick, but my eye balls weren’t sweating – I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!
I was in pain from about halfway in, but there was nothing stopping me. I finished proud that there were only a few crusts to spare, but this was tinged with a sadness I wouldn’t get a pud.
When discussing the pros and cons of a starter or dessert, Mrs. B.B. made a statement that she will regret for at least 3 days – “I bet they’ll only do a Tiramisu and then it’ll be ice cream.”
Well, actually, they do two ‘proper’ desserts – yes, a Tiramisu (although it didn’t look like any old Tiramisu) AND profiteroles (which again didn’t look like any profiteroles I’ve ever seen). The white chocolate shavings were the making of them – visually at least.
We watched as the couple dining next to us gleefully consumed both said desserts and made the promise for the 16th time to date that next time we go for pizza, no starters! (In fact, we could have missed the starter and shared a pizza and still left feeling like we’d feasted royally).
Before we go, I just need to nip to the… ladies!
Now, I wouldn’t normally talk about my toilet habits (on here), but I thought it was worth highlighting my experiences for anyone else with similar attention deficiency problems – and who doesn’t like to No.2. in the dark.
Having found my way to the toilets in the basement, I was presented with two doors: one to the left, one to the right – both ajar.
I quickly dived through the left door where I was presented with a lavatory and a large sink – room for one – and started to go about my business…
It’s pitch black!!!!!!
Stand up, lights on… Sit back down, (30 seconds later) lights off… Stand up, lights on… Sit down (30 seconds later), lights off… You get the picture. As well as bringing on the sweat I’d managed to avoid from all the chilli, this was seriously impacting my digital note taking.
Just about keeping things together…
There’s no loo roll!!!!!!
I can hear someone shuffling about outside – they’ve already tried to get in twice.
What do I do?
Maybe the black cabinet has… Yes, there’s a bottom drawer.
Does it have a… Yes, there’s a top drawer – it has toilet paper! Phew!
(fast forward – c’mon, I’m not that bad) I’m getting out of here.
I open the door to find a lady whose facial expression represents an odd mixture of annoyance and surprise.
I glance up to see the door directly opposite has the male WC sign.
I don’t look behind me: just smile and walk away run.
What I’ve been through, so you don’t have to
So, there are a few takeaways / lessons learned from our meal at da MARA:
- There are clearly a lot of places doing good pizza in and around Cardiff – when we get around to them, they’ll have a tough task to beat the flavours at da MARA.
- Skip the starters – they were ok, but we’d have been happier leaving room in our tummies (or stretching them) for dessert.
- We need to find some chilli olive oil to drink at home.
- “Just tiramisu” may be enough.
- Inspect the lavatory doors before entering – and maybe take a torch in with you as back-up.