We’ve already established that I’m really lazy when it comes to travelling around London. I stick to Zone 1 like an overgrown amoeba, but it’s not that I don’t want to travel outside of Zone 1, it’s just that I hate the tube. And I dislike the buses. So unless I can walk there, I ain’t going there.
Curiously, this dislike vaporises when it comes to food. Funny that, huh?
So when Donna Margherita‘s PR guy (Jamie Fox, and believe me I was beside myself when I thought Jamie Foxx was asking me out to dinner) contacted me offering a complimentary meal, I first recoiled at the idea of travelling out to SW11, but with all the fabulous reviews I’d read about the place, I soon found myself on the top deck of bus 87, careening precariously down the never ending road towards Lavender Hill.
And yes, I did just write a paragraph-long sentence.
Donna Margherita is not the multi-floored modern PR-packing establishment I expected. Just a quaint little family-owned PR-packing Italian restaurant. Not that there’s anything wrong with PR. I’m a firm believer that the food and service speak for themselves and granted that a PR excursion may compel better service, the food doesn’t change and really, that’s what we’re there for, no?
We’re greeted by the restaurant manager Enrico, a charmer of an Italian man, whose brother owns Donna Margherita. He tells us a little about Napoli and about their food, and offers us a chance to select our own meals (we decline) before suggesting he just sends out the chef’s recommendations.
No complaints there.
Let’s start. Wait. Stop. I need to re-jig something. I’d normally go through the dishes chronologically, but I can’t do that here. Let’s go all kinds of crazy and start with the pizza, the real test: Donna Margherita‘s margherita pizza.
I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a margherita pizza. I love the commercially heavy-toppinged (oh yes, another new word) pizzas a la Domino’s and Pizza Express (I know, shoot me now) and have always thought of the margherita as the plain Jane of the pizza playground. Really, I needed the edu-ma-cation. Because now having had Donna Margherita‘s margherita pizza, I can solemnly swear that the next time I’m at a traditional Italian joint, I am not even going to look at the menu. Bring me the margherita.
The mozzarella, the parmesan, the fresh basil, the crispy thin base and airy fluffy pizza edge. You know what, I can’t even put my finger on it, I suspect it was the creamy melted chunks of mozzarella (because under the load of BBQ sauce, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted good mozzarella), but this pizza, it stole my heart. Through my swooning and spouting of love poems, Enrico explains that the margherita, plain in nature but layered in taste is how you gauge a good Italian restaurant. The unique flavours should be quite separate, not overwhelming and the base perfectly warm, thin, soft yet crispy, a companion to the melody of toppings.
I don’t know if I really heard what he said. I was busy serenading my slice of pizza.
So if you go to Donna Margherita for nothing else, go for the margherita pizza. I promise you won’t regret it.
Ok, should we timewarp back to the present? Indeedy yes we should.
We started with a selection of antipasti, the bruschetta napulitane (with cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil) oooozing flavour but I wasn’t a fan of the homemade bread. This is just me, I know because everyone else likes crusty crusts, but doesn’t the hard crust hurt your mouth?! Is it just me and my delicate tofu gums?
We were also served two delicious plates of seafood – a’nzalat e purp (octopus salad with garlic, parsley and lemon juice) and frittur’e gamber e (fried calamari and prawns). The octopus salad was good, not jam packed full of taste the way I like, but surprisingly tender and the lemon juice added a refreshing tang.
But the fried calamari Oh My God, they were amazing. The batter (what batter?) is invisible, it coats the calamari in such a fine oil-less layer that I actually asked – Enrico thought I was a bit of an idiot I think – if it was baked. He said, no, fried.
So maybe when you go to Donna Margherita, start with the fried calamari, and then the margherita. Ooooh what an awesome meal!
Moving onto mains, we first tried the margherita pizza, and y’all know how that went down.
As if the pizza wasn’t hard to follow, Enrico next served up a’linguin ro RE (linguini with garlic, Sicilian prawns, cherry tomatoes and parsley). This dish is up my alley and totally what I would have ordered for myself if it were not for the expert (and the guy paying for the meal) at hand.
The linguini was a perfect al dente, and the deshelled prawns succulently sweet, and definitely not overcooked as I find is is the case with every other restaurant (possible slight exaggeration here). Again thumbs up for Donna Margherita, you get more than the two prawns ~ prawn flesh is cooked into the tomato-ey sauce which incidentally is tasty but not overpowering. If I’d ordered and paid for this pasta, I would have been a happy chappy.
Bloated and secretly hoping Enrico wouldn’t bring out a secondi (because honestly I don’t find meat or fish to be particularly Italian), my prayers were answered when he offered dessert instead. Apparently he didn’t quite get the details of my prayers though, because I quietly wished for tiramisu, but was instead served a slice of torta caprese (chocolate and almond cake). The cake was floury and light, and good but not orgasmic. But again big props for the giant ball of vanilla bean ice cream because there is nothing I hate more than restaurants that skimp on ice cream (oh except restaurants that don’t serve dessert at all).
Before I sign off, a word on the lubricants for the night. We shared a bottle of Ischia Rosso 2006 (£19.50 bottle) ~ I’m not even a big drinker (cadbury kid, cheap date, call me what you want I’ve heard it all) but this was dry, fresh and almost too easy to drink. And Panu followed up the meal with an espresso. Can’t go wrong much there.
All in all a worthy trip out to Zone whatever, and yes I will even go back and pay because I want to try their diavola. And also, if you’re there, ask Enrico about why Maradona’s football jersey is displayed so very proudly on the wall (well because the Argentinian was actually Napoli’s star player). He blushes and gets all embarrassed, realising that Maradona is (apparently) much disliked here in England.
Charming and endearing. And so is the restaurant.
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE
0207 228 2006