My mother is clever, wonderful and very good at lots of things. (Hi Mum!).
However, even though I probably won’t get my 50p per week pocket money after saying this, cooking ain’t her forte.
If we go round for Sunday lunch, she always forgets to put the potatoes on, and, like many other children of the Seventies and Eighties, growing up I subsisted on Pop Tarts, Angel Delight (butterscotch, naturally) and Findus Crispy Pancakes.
There was a tuna dish she used to make, with ingredients including tinned fish, peas, mayonnaise and crunched up ready salted crisps.
I loved it, but it wouldn’t get her a slot on MasterChef.
Not that dad gets away Scot free. His signature dish is a mean Cup-a-Soup.
According to the Casa Mara website’s About Me section, this Spanish and Catalan restaurant is owned by the eponymous Mara, who wants to recreate her mum’s home cooking.
She’s opened in the former premises of The Roamin’ Nose, which, further back in time, was the location for Duck’s at Le Marche Noir.
After reading Mara’s web biog, I was expecting somewhere living-room-esque, but it’s actually rather smart, with banquettes as bright orange as a Buddhist monk’s cast-offs.
Unusually, while EVERYONE is moving towards casual tapas, mezze or sharing-style dishes, the menu is in a classic three courses one-after-the-other style. This may be a relief to one of my dining partners, who is not a sharer.
If able, she would rig razor blades onto her elbows, then install barbed wire around every plate.
Although we ordered from the à la carte, there’s also a lunchtime set menu with three courses and tea/coffee for £9.95.
Our set of six ham croquettes (£6.25) was dreamy – slick inside, hot and like bullets to the heart of any savoury cravings or blood sugar dips.
Two bites each, and they had vanished. The calamars farcits (£5.50), consisted of two bouncy rugby-ball-shaped stuffed cephalopod bodies, each containing a mixture of prawns, more squid and chopped boiled egg.
These were coated in a thick rich sauce sprinkled with shards of crushed almonds.
We loved the garlicky-ness of a large helping of mussels en salsa marinera (£6) in a moppable (bread was provided) white wine, red pepper and chopped parsley sauce.
For mains, the rape al ajillo (£15.75), or two fistfuls of monkfish and one beady-eyed prawn in a puddle of chilli and saffron tinged oil, was decent enough.
However, they could have bunged in an additional element, since the plate looked a bit like a deserted sports hall.
Another main of pollastre amb prunes (£12.50) featured soft chicken thigh meat in a sweetly fruity sauce, with a lake’s worth of liquid.
My other half was pleased to have ordered fat chips (£2.50) to sook up the jus.
I’d taken a hit for the team, or maybe it should be a kick, with the peus de porc (£14.25), or pig’s trotters.
These tootsies were served off the bone, so there were little flecks and shreds of meat and cartilage with white wine, tomatoes and onions, and a scoop of dinner lady mashed potato on the top. It was probably the most rustic dish of the three, but cockle warming on a cold day.
Of course, we had to try the crema Catalana (£4.50) and it was a goodie – gently citrus-y, with a toasted top and a lotion-like custard. The bunuelos de viento (£4.50), or sugar-dusted choux pastry buns were pleasantly squishy and cheek-like, with chocolate sauce slicked all over them, like when little kids get hold of lipstick.
However, I liked the Mara’s tart de Santiago (£4.50) best, mainly for its simplicity, but also because I have a fetish for almonds.
There is something authentically from-the-heart about this place, one of the few restaurants in the capital not trying to be trendy, with a selection of (mainly brown) dishes that are indifferent about Instagram.
It’s just somebody re-creating the soul-food dishes they love and hoping to share their Proustian feels.
In return, I hope one day to introduce Mara and her mummy to the joys of the Findus Crispy Pancake.