Style Profile: Tania Nicolo

Tania wears jacket and shirt by Plan C, trousers and turtleneck (warn beneath) by Pleats Please.

Few secrets are as poorly kept as Dilettante’s fixation upon Italian culture: art, architecture, fashion, music, and, of course, food. It’s in our blood! So it should come as no surprise that we’re particular admirers of Tania Nicolo, proprietress of Wembley’s cult Italian eateries Mumucc’ and Monsterella.

On the drizzly winter morning of our visit last week, we found Tania orchestrating the pre-trade hustle and bustle of Monsterella. Tables and chairs had been cleared aside to make way for the day’s fresh pasta preparations at the experienced hands of Tania’s mother Maria and her team of friends, all of them educated by a lifetime of home cooking in their native Italy. Peeping from behind Tania’s legs was Marlo, Tania’s 4-year-old daughter, all chubby cheeks and curly red hair, clutching a cup of Chicho Gelato (her cheeky mid-morning snack).

Slipping away from the hubbub, we strolled two doors down the road to the peace of Mummuc’s cool, mid-century atmosphere, where Tania sat down for a chat with Dilettante’s director, Diana.

Tania and daughter Marlo exchange a high-five as pasta is prepared in Monsterella. Tania wears blazer by Christian Wijnants and striped shirt by Plan C.

Diana: The last time we hung out, we were working together for a clothing store in the city, over 15 years ago! It’s strange to think that so much time has passed…You look exactly the same mind you.

Can you think of any lessons you learnt during that time that have helped you run your own business now?

Tania: I think the most important lesson I learnt was how to treat people, both staff and customers. I learnt that if you’re genuine and honest with people, if you respect them, you will get all that and more in return.

Your partner, Ryan, used to have a pizza shop in Swanbourne, did that make Italian food an obvious choice for you two when starting a new business together?

Absolutely, we always wanted to have a place where we could share the way that we eat at home, and at our family get-togethers. We also wanted [Tania’s mother] Maria to make the fresh pasta, as that’s something so entrenched in our family history. It’s also something that not many people do these days, so to have the ladies making the pasta by hand every day is very special to us - and the community.

Tania rolls pasta with her mother, Maria, wearing blazer by Christian Wijnants and striped shirt by Plan C.

It’s so beautiful to see Maria here, hand making all the pasta. I remember working with you all those years ago and even then Maria would pack you the most amazing lunches. Was it easy to get your mum on board?

Maria absolutely loves what she does at Monsterella. It’s in her blood to cook and make pasta. When we gave up pasta many years ago, she was devastated, at a loss. It was like she had lost a limb when we told her not to make pasta anymore! She loves being part of our working lives and we all love having her around.

Monsterella seemed like it was an instant success commercially. Were there any challenges in the early days?

The only challenge was the fact that Marlo was 12 weeks old when we opened the pizzeria. She wouldn’t take a bottle so there was a lot of to-and-froing from the shop to home to feed during service. Sometimes Mum would drive her to me, I would feed in the car, and then go back to work! Apart from that, no. We have been so lucky with our staff and customers - they’ve supported us from the get-go. I think they could feel that we really wanted to create a place that you can eat great, simple fresh food for the right price.

Tania wears top and printed trousers by Christian Wijnants, shoes by Ann Demeulemeester.

How long after opening Monsterella did you open Mummucc' next door?

Two and a half years after. The opportunity presented itself and we couldn’t let the space go. What was initially going to be a holding station for the overflow at Monsterella soon turned into the little neighbourhood bar that Ryan and I would want to go to.

Mummucc’ feels like the more refined sibling. It has a heavier focus on wine, cocktails, and there’s a more sophisticated palette of food on offer. Do you feel that Mummucc’ is more a reflection of yourself?

I feel like Mummucc’ is more of an extension of me. If Monsterella is my heart - me at home - then Mummucc’ is me for a night out! I don’t see them as independent of each other, they’re just two sides of the same coin.

You’ve managed to capture that Italian essence in a really comfortable and understated way. The charmingly executed service, the cosy yet sophisticated interior, the nostalgic Italian music, and the food - oh my god that octopus, I could live on that! Is there a particular place in Italy that inspired you for this venture?

Not anywhere in particular, we just wanted to try and create something that feels like you are somewhere else. We were trying to create something that feels like it’s been there for years. Just like the feelings you get when you’re in Italy or Paris.

How did you go about the interior design? Did you hire a designer?

Ryan and I enjoy these little projects, so we did the Interior at Mummucc’ ourselves. We just go by feel. We wanted it to be relaxed, and we took all the elements we love from our Nonna’s,  Zia’s, and other Italian houses that we have been to over the years. The goal was to create a space that has texture, that feels old and warm.

Tania sits beneath a framed portrait of her Nonna "Mammucc". Tania wears jacket by Plan C, top by Issey Miyake, and trousers by Christian Wijnants. Shoes by Ann Demeulemeester.

Where does the name Mummucc’ come from?

Mummucc’ is what we, and everyone in our Abruzzese community, used to call my Nonna - it’s kind of slang for “mummy”. We called my Nonno “Tuttucc” (“ta-tooch”).

They were the first market gardeners in the Wembley area. They used to grow sweet potatoes, melons and the like around Herdsman Lake. Mummucc’ was the feeder; she would take lunch down to the “swamp” after the boys and my Zia had finished working for the day. She was always looking after people, having barbecues with family and friends, I have so many fond memories of our family get-togethers with Mummucc’ and Tuttucc.

I think the tight family unit can be one of the biggest blessings about life as an Italian. Particularly when you’re running businesses and growing a family at the same time. I am forever grateful for the unconditional support of my parents. How do you juggle family, 3 kids and 2 businesses? Does your mum help with the kids much?

She does! I often remind Ryan that without Maria there would be no Monsterella or Mummucc’. Besides making the pasta most days, she looks after our kids when we work. She’s so patient with them and really gives them the time of day. We’re all very fortunate to have her, she’s so selfless.

Tania points out family members in framed photographs adorning the walls of the bar. Wearing jacket by Plan C, top by Issey Miyake, and trousers by Christian Wijnants. Shoes by Ann Demeulemeester.

I often see you running between both establishments. Do you give yourself a particular role within the business on any given night or are you there as a buffer to pick up any loose ends between services?

Well, according to Ryan, I have no designated position at either venue! I guess you could call me a buffer, tying up loose ends and putting out small fires. Some nights I’m on the phones taking orders, other nights front of house, other nights, on the pans. I could be on deli at the bar… I go where they need me!

Tania wears blazer, top, and trousers by Pleats Please.

To me, building a successful business is mostly about perseverance and evolution. Are there any elements of your establishments that have turned out differently to how you had initially imagined?

Definitely the standard of food, drinks, and service that Mummucc’ offers - which is largely due to having excellent staff. Namely Matt McDonald our Head (and only) Chef! It’s him you have to thank for the octopus dish. His Nonno, Luigi Di Virgilio, was the head store man at European Foods for 50 years. Matt just gets what we’re trying to do and he has complete control of the menu. Then there’s Bruno Serra, our Anglo-Sardinian bar manager. Hospitality runs in his veins. We are truly blessed to have not only these two, but so many loyal and amazing staff. They’re like our family.

Do you guys eat out much as a family? Where are your go-to places?

We do, actually. Our faves are Shadow Wine Bar for dinner and breakfast, and Petition Kitchen and Madalena's for Sunday lunch.

Tania wears top and printed trousers by Christian Wijnants with shoes by Ann Demeulemeester. Marlo wears her own dress with gelato from Chicho.

If you were to dress up for an evening out, what would you like to wear?

Anything Plan C!

How has your style evolved over the years?

I don’t think it has evolved really… I appreciate beautiful things - quality over quantity. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a T-shirt and jeans girl.

Your two restaurants are packed every night and you’ve just purchased your dream Iwanoff home. I’m curious, what else is on the list for you?

I think our main goal now is raising three empathetic, hard working, humble children….which might be the hardest thing that we’ll ever do!

Tania wears ruched-sleeve dress by Tülay Dinçel with shoes by Ann Demeulemeester.

Monsterella and Mummucc are located at 46-56 Grantham Street, Wembley.

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