I was on my way to meet the son of a Neapolitan chef who jointly founded pizza chain giant, Pizza Express, back in the mid-sixties, with their first tiny, two-table restaurant in London’s Wardour Street. On arrival outside his restaurant ‘Da Mario’, located in Gloucester Road within a four-storey, ornately carved stone building, I can’t help but notice a dedication to the late Princess Diana, inscribed onto steps leading up to the restaurant entrance. These two things alone, led me to think I was about to meet rather an interesting chap.
I wasn’t disappointed. Marco Molino, a tall, fair haired, blue-eyed man, (not exactly what I was expecting), wearing an open neck white shirt and blue jeans – turns out to be of half Italian and half Austrian heritage. Spending fifty percent of his childhood holidays in Naples, gleaning the art of Italian cooking with his paternal grandmother and the other half with his almost entirely self-sufficient maternal grandmother, in the Austrian countryside. Halcyon days were spent watching her make apricot jam from the fruit trees growing in the garden, producing all her own fruit and vegetables, plus on one slightly alarming occasion, catching her skinning one of the rabbits which she kept for food and clothing; along with a number of chickens, ducks and geese. Marco remembers feeling like the coolest boy in town, wearing a rabbit-fur waistcoat which his grandmother once made him and I also learned that he used to climb the apricot trees and ‘fight with the bees’ to be first to get at the sweet, ripe, coral-coloured fruits…whether he was wearing the rabbit fur waistcoat at the time, I didn’t ask!
Marco’s love of good food and cooking led him to take a two-year Cordon Bleu cookery course in Paris, gaining the prestigious ‘Grand Diplôme’, a fully accredited professional chef diploma, combining the study of both the Diplôme de Cuisine and Diplôme de Pâtisserie.
He then joined ‘Da Mario’s’ where he first met Princess Diana, while working at his father’s restaurant. Diana was a regular visitor, often lunching with her good friend Kate Menzies, or with her two boys, William and Harry. A friendly and chatty guest, who was very approachable and easily put any nervous young waiters immediately at their ease. One of Marco’s most prized possessions is still a Christmas card signed by both Prince Charles and Princess Diana, marked with the Royal Family insignia.
RIGHT: Marco’s father, Mario, as a young man, far right of table, with his family.
So, back to 2020 and to talk about Marco’s new project, the ‘Villa Molino Cookery Club’, which will be based at the family home in Bordon, Surrey. The property is designed to look much like an Italian Villa, set in 10 acres of land, including tennis courts, a soon-to-be built swimming pool and plenty of parking. The highly hospitable concept means that guests who book onto a cookery class are welcome to arrive early, or stay on after the class, to enjoy the enviable grounds and facilities. A refreshing dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day, a bracing game of tennis or just a gentle walk to discover what lies within the ten-acre plot – sounds idyllic. Future plans may also include the opportunity to stay over at Villa Molino, in one of the eight bedrooms.
RIGHT: Marco’s father, Mario far right, as a young man.
LEFT: Freshly made ice-cream at Da Mario’s, kept in the ‘pozzetti gelato’. Based on an original design from the 1930’s, the storage unit maintains ice-cream at the perfect serving temperature. The decorative lids are real gold plated.
RIGHT: Blood orange sorbet made freshly on the premises every week.
The kitchen itself is a spacious 1,000 sq.ft space with 5 metre high ceilings, kitted out exclusively with Sub-Zero & Wolf appliances. Marco has specified an M Series Professional double oven with warming drawer, an E Series Transitional Dropdown Door convection microwave, two Induction cooktops, Sub-Zero wine storage and the new PRO36G 914mm Professional refrigerator/freezer. New luxury small appliances from Wolf Gourmet include a 4-slice toaster plus high-performance blender, to ensure that every gastronomic whim will be catered for. A five-camera system is set to capture live cookery sessions with Marco; along with a rotating guest list of professional chefs who specialise in cuisines from as broad a background as Sushi to Spanish, Chinese to Chilean and everything in between. The sessions will broadcast on Molino’s own Utube channel, so subscribers can catch up with any sessions they are not able to attend.
A bespoke, luxury, 6 metre X 12 metre gazebo by Crown Pavillions, is currently being installed within the terrace of the property, which will be put to use for outside cooking and entertaining. Featuring a Sub-Zero & Wolf outdoor kitchen, as well as a wood-burning pizza oven; hand-made by the oldest oven company in Naples, who have been hand-building them since 1892. The passion and detail in which Marco talks about the project is a testament to his love of good food, hospitality and entertaining.
LEFT: Classic Italian pizza
RIGHT: Pasta with Parma ham and cherry tomatoes
Over a traditional and delicious Italian lunch of garlic prawns, aubergine parmigiana and garlic bread, followed by pizza, pasta and finally ice-cream; freshly made on the premises every week, we quizzed Marco to find out his thoughts on Sub-Zero & Wolf appliances, amongst other things.
Q&A with Marco Molino
SZW: How did you first come to know of Sub-Zero & Wolf appliances?
MM: I first discovered SZW in Bentall’s of Kingston, in their “Living Kitchen”. I would go there and dream that when I would get my big house, I will love kitting it out in SZW appliances. I used to enjoy watching the live cookery demos and remember seeing Raymond Blanc, which was amazing to see such a famous chef on the shop floor of Bentall’s! I also saw the appliances on James Martin’s ITV Saturday Kitchen. I have always been a fan and I knew that I wanted a set-up just like that. Then I used to go the SZW showroom at Brompton Road, just around the corner from ‘Da Mario’s’ and look at the appliances there. One day, two gentlemen came into the restaurant and I could see them looking closely at the wine list and that they were very much into their wines. I offered them some wine from my own personal stock and later we all sat round drinking Limoncello, as I told them about the history of the restaurant. The gentleman turned out to be Craig Davies, MD Sub-Zero & Wolf UK with his Showroom Manager, Greg Hughes. So, I showed him some pictures of the kitchen space in my new house and what I had planned for it. Craig asked me to let him know how I got on with the project and now both Craig and Greg are ‘Da Mario’ regulars!
SZW: What was the deciding factor of including SZW appliances in your new dream kitchen?
MM: Well as I say, I have always been a fan and I really wanted big ovens – wider than the normal 60cm, which I find very restrictive, as you can just about fit a chicken inside! I wanted an oven that could easily accommodate a rack of ribs or a side of pork. With chefs, it’s always the width of the appliance that’s important. And nice wide fridges so that you can easily fit in a side of salmon and wide ovens for big joints and poultry…that’s exactly what SZW specialise in.
SZW: Do you have a favourite dish that works particularly well on Wolf appliances?
MM: Oh, it would be a side of pork, dry rubbed and stored for a day in the fridge – super wide or a smoked salmon.
SZW: What tips do you have for unconfident home cooks or people with very little time to cook?
MM: Good ingredients are very forgiving, if you are not a great cook. Start with something good and the results will be a success. At home, in Surrey, I have a greenhouse and I raise our own produce; I love to grow cherry tomatoes. I even grow baby plum tomatoes on the balcony in London, above the restaurant!
SZW: How often do you cook at home?
MM: I’m at home on Saturday lunchtime, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and I love to cook when I’m there. We have some great farm shops near us and there is a farm with its own butcher’s, which is fantastic. I love buying from local independent shops and farms, I don’t generally use supermarkets.
SZW: Did you know your Wolf oven has a ‘dehydration’ setting for drying fruit, herbs and tomatoes?
MM: Really? That is fantastic, I was going to buy a dehydrator, as I hate the grit you get with dried porcini mushrooms that you buy – and now I don’t need to! Seriously, I love to dehydrate my own mushrooms, I love to use them in risotto and pasta. I like to make my own pasta with dried porcini mushroom or truffle in the pasta dough itself, or with sundried tomatoes.
SZW: What is your favourite thing to make in your Wolf Gourmet Blender?
MM: Margarita cocktails – the crushed ice is out of this world!
SZW: If you were allowed to take one item to a desert island, what would it be?
MM: Well, it would have to be a Wolf grill/BBQ. I’d be hunting for meat and fishing, so I would wrap what I catch in a banana leaf and grill it…either that or a helicopter to get me off the island!
Da Mario’s, 15 Gloucester Road, London. SW7 4PP