Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Clapham Junction station, Donna Margherita might not be the first dinner destination you think of in SW11. Yet this unpretentious Italian restaurant, located across the road from the Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill, is often packed.
Why? The wood-fire pizza oven helps – but as owner Gabriele Vitale emphasised at the start of my meal, Donna Marghertia offers more than flavoursome pasta dishes and calzone. It’s a Neapolitan restaurant through-and-through and with this comes a varied and interesting menu.
Of course, you can find all the Italian favourites here. It’s hard to look past the selection of topped-bruschetta to start, the homemade gnocchi plus the extensive pizza list. However, I was encouraged to sample traditional cuisine and wine from southern Italy. This meant a bottle of Otello Nerodi Lambrusco was opened (as far as frizzante red wines go, this was the best I’ve ever tasted) before I was presented with a starter and a main from the specials board. I’ll also own up to trying a pre-starter slice of the restaurant’s signature margherita. It looked too good to miss.
Topped with bubbly mozzarella, there’s no way pizza lovers won’t approve of the thin sourdough crusts that this restaurant proudly serves. However, after trying other dishes from the list of mains, I can see why Gabriele takes just as much pride in the other half of his menu.
Deep-fried squid wouldn’t usually be my first starter choice in a neighbourhood Italian, but Gabriele and his staff did their best to convert me. The batter was crispy, the squid was fresh and it was served with a sweet but slightly spicy tomato sauce.
The ultimate comfort food soon followed – a rich beef ragu served with a fettuccine-like pasta and a sprinkling of Parmesan – before I was asked if I’d like to choose another dish from the meat or fish menus.
While slow-cooked belly of pork and chargrilled whole seabream sounded tempting, I was saving myself for dessert. The warm chocolate and almond cake was excellent. Just another simple but brilliantly executed dish in a restaurant where the people are passionate and the food is authentic. It’s no wonder Gabriele is bursting with pride.
183 Lavender Hill – Battersea, London SW11 5TE, donna-margherita.com