I recently went to Da Mario, a London pizza place that was beloved by Princess Diana.
The restaurant pays tribute to its most famous fan without being a cheesy tourist trap.
I loved Da Mario's intimate and charming vibe, and I had an incredible pizza, pasta, and bruschetta.
The royal family has always loved high tea and British cuisine, but Princess Diana was also a big fan of pizza.
While she had a penchant for enjoying baked beans for breakfast, Diana loved taking Prince Harry and Prince William out for pizza.
And it's been reported that her favorite pizzeria was Da Mario, located less than a mile from the royal family's Kensington Palace home in London.
"Our most famous client was Princess Diana," Marco Melino, whose father opened Da Mario, told The Society of British & International Interior Design in 2021.
"She used to come in, and it's very well-known that the boys' favorite food was pizza, so they used to sneak in and enjoy our pizzas," he added.
Da Mario wasn't just loved by Princess Diana. It has a long history — and many famous fans.
Da Mario actually began as a Pizza Express, the first major pizza chain to hit the UK. Melino told SBID that his father Mario — a founding partner — helped launch the concept back in 1965.
"He brought the idea from Italy because, prior to that, there were no pizzerias in the UK," Melino said.
Melino's father eventually decided to leave Pizza Express, which now has more than 350 locations across the UK. But he kept the location on Gloucester Road, turning it into Da Mario.
Celebrities including Madonna and Dustin Hoffman have since walked through its doors. Renée Zellweger also frequently ate at Da Mario while trying to gain weight for the first "Bridget Jones's Diary" movie, according to PopSugar.
I visited Da Mario during a recent London trip, and was instantly greeted by steps that paid tribute to Princess Diana.
Princess Diana's name is inscribed on the stairs leading up to the restaurant, letting the world know about Da Mario's most famous fan (and creating a photo opp for locals and tourists).
A burst of colorful flowers also framed the entrance.
The flowers were fake but I thought the bright yellow, pink, and blue petals looked beautiful — plus they definitely caught my attention.
I later scrolled through Da Mario's Instagram page and saw that the flowers were a special summer decoration, which I thought was a cute and charming touch.
The restaurant instantly transported me to an Italian grandmother's dining room.
The space was small and intimate, with marble tables and wooden chairs squeezed close together. A beautiful chandelier glittered from the distance, there were cute little knickknacks everywhere I looked, and framed photographs filled almost every inch of the pale-yellow walls.
Princess Diana's favorite pizza place could have easily become a cheesy tourist trap, but Da Mario's interior still felt effortlessly authentic.
But there was one last tribute to Princess Diana ...
A colorful painting of Diana and Mario hung right beside my table. It showed Diana — elegant as ever in an off-the-shoulder gown — and Mario gazing down at a pizza loaded with toppings.
… and a sweet dedication to Mario.
A black-and-white photo of Mario was on every menu, along with handwritten praise from friends and colleagues about his pizza prowess.
It was yet another sweet touch in what was turning out to be one very endearing restaurant.
Before digging into the pizza, we wanted to sample some appetizers.
First up was Da Mario's Bruschetta Al L'Italiana. The dish — which cost £5.90, or around $7 — features grilled ciabatta bread topped with fresh tomato, basil, and crumbled goat cheese.
This was hands down one of the best bruschetta appetizers I've ever had. The ciabatta was cooked to perfection, adding just enough crunch to each bite. I loved the salty punch from the delicious goat cheese, and the balsamic drizzle on top added a nice hint of sweetness.
The whole dish was light and fresh, a perfect way to start the night.
This eggplant dish was a cheese lover's dream.
The £8.20, or around $9.82, Melanzane Alla Parmigiana dish features layers of eggplant, mozzarella, basil, Parmigiano cheese, and tomato all slowly baked together in Da Mario's pizza oven.
I was also a huge fan of this appetizer, as were my friends Ekin and Katie — who helped me test Da Mario's dishes. The tomato sauce was especially delicious, adding some lightness to the rich and savory eggplant.
"It's very cheesy, very rich — perfect comfort food," Katie said.
"I love that they're not stingy on the cheese here," Ekin added.
We also had to try some pasta.
Da Mario has four handmade pastas on its extensive menu. We opted for the Ravioloni Pomodorino a £14.20, or around $17, dish that features ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, topped with a cherry tomato sauce.
The dish was a stunning sight as it arrived at our table. The ravioli looked plump and plentiful, and the sauce had a beautiful scarlet hue. I also loved the addition of blistered cherry tomatoes on top.
The ravioli was one of the best dishes of the night.
The cherry tomato sauce was definitely the star of this dish. Ekin even went so far as to call it sublime. We loved the flavor so much that we kept eating spoonfuls of the sauce even after we finished the pasta.
Each ravioli also had plenty of filling, and the spinach and ricotta combination was creamy and indulgent.
So far, we were definitely impressed.
It was time for some pizza, and first up was the Bufalina.
Da Mario's Bufalina pizza — which cost £12.90, or around $15.45 — features San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and Buffalo mozzarella.
The mozzarella tasted delicious, and the pizza was light and thin. But, overall, the flavor was a bit unremarkable, in my opinion. I've had plenty of great pizzas that keep things simple (like the incredible Margherita pizza at Jon & Vinny's in Los Angeles) but this pie just didn't stand out to me.
"It's more of a safe choice," Katie said.
Next up was the Calabrese pizza.
The £12.90, or around $15.45, Calabrese pizza features Spianata salami, fontina cheese, a spicy tomato sauce, peppadew bell peppers, and Calabrian Nduja — a spicy paste made from pork and peppers.
While the Bufalina pizza was forgettable, we loved the Calabrese pie. Just as with the ravioli, the tomato sauce on this Calabrese had a great kick and tasted fantastic. The blistered tomatoes on top balanced all that heat with their sweetness, and the crust was crispy and thick without being too chewy. I usually prefer my pizzas to be super thin, but Da Mario's delicious crust easily won me over.
We finished the meal with a showstopping tiramisu.
The tiramisu — which cost £9, or around $10.78 — was, as the Brits like to say, absolutely lush.
The filling was light and airy, while the chocolate drizzle on top gave Da Mario's version a decadent and distinctive spin.
Days after the dinner took place, we were still talking about how great this tiramisu tasted.
If I lived in London, I'd go back to Da Mario again and again.
I love an Italian restaurant that actually feels like it belongs in Italy. The vibe was so charming and welcoming, and we loved every dish except for the Bufalina pizza. The portions are big, the prices fairly affordable (especially for London's ritzy Kensington neighborhood), and the menu is both enticing and extensive — I could easily try new pizzas and pastas with every repeated visit.
In an era when the royal family was surrounded by controversy, it's no surprise to me that Princess Diana sought out some warmth at Da Mario.
After all, pizza can cure all — at least for a little while.
Read the original article on Insider