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Margherita Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
We chose a Tuesday evening to visit this little corner of
Clapham, and it had all the makings of an
uninspiring event. The weather was cold and dull (this is England in
spring so what do you expect) and the restaurants we passed along the
way were mostly devoid of clients. Those eateries that had signs of
life were peopled by a couple of paying customers (placed prominently
by windows or doors) or sadder still, by bored waiting staff who seemed
set for a long and fruitless night. What would our destination hold in
Donna Margherita was buzzing! It was evident that this restaurant had
been discovered by the regular Jacks and Jills of Lavender Hill and
they are making good use of it. There seemed to be regulars who were
warmly greeted by Enrico, the co-owner, as well as a table of some
dozen or so 30-somethings. This was looking good! A restaurant with few
empty tables in the chill of a financial crisis speaks for itself and
the covered outside area (including a heater, thank goodness) suggests
that this spot is expected to be popular all summer.
This isn’t a huge impersonal restaurant but one rather suggesting a
rustic sitting-room, but without the manufactured rusticity of so many
Italian establishments. This was a cosy, brick walled haven from the
traffic of Clapham and Battersea. The sideboard heaving with antipasti
and the unpretentious wood tables add to the appeal.
The menu was a surprise. It’s extensive and very well priced. There is
an additional weekly Specials menu which offers tempting and reasonable
food, and a wine list that seemed rather good value with wine by the
glass on several of those listed. Pricey wine is so often the pitfall
of eating out, but not so here.
We ordered a selection of the aforementioned antipasti, along with some
bread baked in the wood-fired oven, fruity olive oil and balsamic
vinegar, and marinated olives. The servings are large here and
attractively presented. There were the traditional favourites but my
guest particularly enjoyed the baked aubergine with mozzarella, and the
deep fried courgette was a triumph. (I now have the recipe but you will
have to visit the restaurant if you want to discover the simple secret
of these crisp and flavourful vegetables.)
Pizza promises so much but so often delivers so little, but it’s a
speciality here and I’ll go as far as to say it’s the best I have had
in ages. We chose the simple Margherita which was light and delicate
with a thin crust. The underside had the distinctive brown spots of a
perfect bake and the topping of tomato and cheese was ample but didn’t
reduce the base to a soggy mess. There are 18 or so other pizzas to
choose from including classic pizzas like Quattro Formaggi (Four
Cheese), Romana (anchovies, olives, capers) and Marinara (tomato, olive
oil, oregano and garlic).
The restaurant menu is broad-based, offering pasta, risotto, meat and
fish. We were tempted by the mixed shellfish and octopus in a delicious
and rich broth. Octopus is often tough and unappetising but the chef of
Donna Margherita knows what he is doing. It was tender and married well
with the king prawns, clams and mussels. O’pignatiello, the
romantic-sounding name for this dish, was served with small rounds of
baked pizza dough although we resorted to dipping bread into the bowl
to soak up the juices that we were loath to leave. This should be the
restaurant “signature dish” and is amazingly good value for money at
around £13.00 per head.
You might not make it to dessert (the portions are generous) but there
are treats in store. Try Zuccotto al Cioccolato Bianco (£4.00):
homemade sponge cake filled with chocolate ice cream topped with white
chocolate. There is a dark chocolate version filled with vanilla ice
cream which is equally as good. Affogato al Caffe (£4.00) is
vanilla ice cream with espresso coffee. This is a simple dessert but it
always seems sophisticated.
Donna Margherita Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria offers the real
wood-fire oven experience. It doesn’t have to try to be authentic, it
just is authentic. The cognoscenti (those in the know) already make
this a popular eatery and I doubt that they will thank me for
publicising their secret slice of Naples. I’ll return but I might make
a reservation next time. Donna Margherita is no longer a secret!
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE
020 7228 2660