103 Cowley Rd.

On a boring Monday night in Oxford when work is never the appealing option, I found myself debating with 4 friends about where to go for dinner to liven up what was otherwise a day that had really nothing to be said for it. The discussion about where to have supper was protracted as options were vetoed as too expensive (Fishers), too boring (Pizza Express/Wagamamas/Ask) and too far (Cafe Rouge/Strada).

After much discussion it was concluded that Mario’s Italian restaurant in Cowley was to be the destination of our evening out. Having decided to make the trek into Cowley it was pleasant to discover that it really isn’t that far, although this may not be the case if you live at the opposite end of the high street to Magdalen Bridge.

However, having braved the pretty dubious British weather and arrived at Mario’s only slightly wet from that staple of the English climate – freezing drizzle – it was suitably welcoming and warm in the Italian that was to be our destination for the evening. Having been quickly seated, by an only relatively stroppy waitress, the menu was perused at length.

Once decisions had been made there was time to consider the atmosphere and our other diners. The latter were in fact sadly lacking. Undoubtedly Monday night is not the liveliest night of the week, however, one might have expected to see more people at what is essentially an unostentatious, local restaurant. However those that were there seemed to be enjoying themselves and there was just enough people to ensure that there wasn’t that awkward atmosphere in a restaurant when it is completely silent except for your party.

The interior of Mario’s is by no means particularly luxurious, but it is perfectly pleasant and in keeping with its niche in the market. In fact it is just what you would expect from you local Italian, and as a result is rather pleasing.

As for the food, the starters arrived speedily. Garlic bread, calamari fritti and prawn cocktail were all simple, but still delicious. Our choice of main courses may not have been the most sensible. Pasta carbonnara and pasta with meatballs were both perfectly pleasant but rather unexciting. The large quantities that were served were no doubt a very good thing and you had the feeling that you knew what you were going to get, no dubious surprises there.

The pizzas on the other hand were fantastic. Very thin crispy bases, lots of mozzarella – I sincerely wished I had chosen one of them. Overall, this restaurant seemed to be exactly what it set out to be, a cheap and cheerful local Italian with exceptionally good pizza.

Half a starter and a main course came in at under £10, and one left with the contented feeling that one had eaten lots of genuinely nice food. However, I’m not sure I would recommend it as a date destination on the basis of its slightly unexciting ambience. In spite (or perhaps because) of this, the downstairs room can be hired by a group and it would be excellent for not-too-boisterous socials.

PRICE  £10 a head including starters
IN A WORD  Cheerful