I was thwarted on my first couple of attempts to dine at Marcella, the latest addition to Deptford’s burgeoning scene, by some dodgy electrics. The large hole in the pavement out front indicated that someone from the National Grid had demonstrated less than due diligence while rummaging around below our streets. I really did feel for Team Marcella, working hard to launch the restaurant, only to be thwarted by matters beyond their control, but the third time’s a charm, they say, and it really was – as I set foot through the door on a late summer Friday evening the place was high-voltage buzzing.
The place was wall-to-wall packed. Even the downstairs bar, which was empty on my last attempted visit a month ago, was rammed with people either enjoying a drink as they waited for a table or sampling an Amaro Spritz, an Italian herbal liqueur made from herbs, roots, flowers, and spices, which Marcella is boldly declaring to be the new Aperol Spritz. I’ve yet to try one, because for me it’s all about the sweet, citrusy Frangelico Sour (pictured below) to get the juices flowing.
It’s all very impressive. Although, as the sister restaurant of Artusi in Peckham, which I gave a hearty 5-star review three years ago – I expected no less. Plus, Deptford is generating such a buzz at the moment that Marcella is no doubt in the right place at precisely the right time – it’s just what the place needs.
Like Artusi, the menu is made up of fresh, simple, authentic dishes from Italy and the Mediterranean. And like Artusi, Marcella delivers. A simple small plate of fried whole artichokes with a generous dollop of alioli was an excellent start. Across the table, another small plate of confit Old Spot pork jowl with peach mostarda was another hit – deliciously crispy and fatty and melt-in-the-mouth, the peach mostarda providing an intriguing lift.
The succinct menu, written up on a chalk board on the wall (which is a bit pesky for those facing in the opposite direction, but a quick phone snap soon solves that problem), is divided into small plates, big plates, pasta dishes (available as either either large or small servings) and sharing dishes. So you can approach the menu as you like – small plates as starters with big plates as mains; a small serving of pasta as a primi; or just a whole bunch of small plates so you can try a few dishes.
The Old Spot pork jowl with peach mostarda was a hit – deliciously crispy and fatty and melt-in-the-mouth, the peach mostarda providing an intriguing lift
But we went the more conventional route of small plates as starters followed by a large pasta dish each, knowing that this is the place if you’re a fan of proper, handmade pasta. My head was almost turned by the big plate of Swaledale lamb with smoked aubergine, peppers and green beans, but I guess there’s always next time…
The paccheri (huge pasta tubes that collapse in on themselves when cooked to form a smooth, silky kind of hollow ravioli) with sausage meat and saffron ragu, was divine. So moreish that I kept leaning over the table to steal more of it from my poor dining partner.
I ordered the spaghetti with sardines and sultanas, which was good, but not as good. First impressions were that the handmade spaghetti was a little too thick, a little too robust, but then perhaps I’ve simply acclimatised to rubbish supermarket spaghetti. But the beauty of this dish lingers at the bottom, and once I delved down to where all the juices lingered and hit one of those sweet, gooey sultanas, the dish really came into its own. Those sardines are pretty potent though, so consider ordering this as a primi rather than a main.
Marcella looks great – blue/grey painted banquets with a sandy padded back rest run parallel along the white walls (pleasing to those of us who like symmetry). At the back is the busy bustling open kitchen, and to the left a little bar and counter where the more causal diners can hop a stool. But as much as I love a cool, contemporary, pared-back interior, it does tend to make for a rather noisy environment.
You know you’ve reached a certain age when you start hankering after a nice set of curtains, but the lack of fabric and wall hangings means that noise just bounces around creating a cacophony off conversation and clattering so that you have to yell across the table to your date/mate/mum. Speak into my ear trumpet, if you will…
We skipped dessert on this occasion, but I was sad to leave without trying the Scroppino – a Venetian digestif that’s half cocktail, half dessert, made by topping a lemon sorbet with vodka and Prosecco – or the honey ice cream, or the chocolate mousse with cherries and almond. Or the aforementioned Swaledale lamb, come to think of it… So many reasons to return!
165A Deptford High Street SE8 3NU; 020 3903 6561; marcella.london