It was the Monday that the Beast from the East had sidled its way into the British Isles and Nappy Valley was shivering under icy ... Read Feature
Lavender Hill might have been immortalised by the eponymous film, but these days it feel slightly left behind and a little forgotten when compared with the likes of the Northcote Road and the emerging south London Vegas that is Balham. That being said there are some interesting looking places for eating and drinking along its stretch and one I was especially keen on trying was Donna Margherita.
I’ve been intrigued by the place for years and have spent much of the last decade driving past, planning to visit but never actually doing so. My interest was further fuelled by the extremely high ranking given by Tripadvisor reviews, though it has to be said that those that were not so positive have been often met with a robust response.
Anyway one Tuesday night I was done with procrastinating and on a whim I suggested that the Ultimate Rugby Fan (URF) & I pop in for a spot of dinner. Donna Margherita is situated on what might called Lavender Hill’s home stretch, you know the last dip it runs through before meeting Clapham Junction and experiencing its metamorphosis into St. John’s Hill.
As it’d been a long day we popped into Bar Social beforehand. How this place stays in business is one of life’s great mysteries to me. Not because it’s bad, quite the contrary, the happy hour cocktails I think are generally better than the equivalent you’ll find elsewhere, but because I have never really seen anyone else in there. It could be busy at weekends I suppose, perhaps someone reading this can vouch for me.
After inhaling our cocktails we made our way up the short stretch of road that separated the two establishments, with me whistling a happy tune as I was hungry and had booked what for me is an earlier seating at 7pm. I’d booked this online through Quando, a site which I think is more popular on the continent than it is here.
It might be then a foretaste of the challenges Brexit might bring that our booking seemed to come as a bit of a surprise to the restaurant. Not a nice surprise or a nasty surprise, but you know just something unexpected, like when you hear a song you’d just been thinking about on the radio.
The dining room is fairly large and decorated with odd splashes of Neapolitan Italiana. You know what I mean, wine bottles, and pictures of the coast and photos of people who may or may not be Sophia Loren.
The menu seems well chosen and draws you in. Fittingly for a restaurant named after the supposed first ever person to dine after pizza, there is a separate and well thought out pizza menu with a good mix of quality and crowd pleasing choices.
To start we shared a mix appetiser plate of cheese, Parma ham & pork belly. I’d recently read a Jay Rayner review from several years back loudly extolling the virtues of the garlic bread. The wine list is very extensive, ranging across Italy and price brackets from about £22.50 to over £150. Personally I think that this is slightly over priced, and there could be an entry level wine at the sub £20. The organic wine I ordered though for £32 was delicious, if though similar in cost to the one I’d had at the Ivy a couple of weeks previously.
The garlic bread when it arrived wasn’t crispy and exploding with garlic flavours like I’d hoped. Instead though you could tell that the dough was good quality, to me it tasted more like herb bread than the orgasm for the tongue that Jay Rayner had led me to expect. The mixed appetisers were similarly underwhelming, the quality of the raw materials evidently very good, but looking a bit like something you’d by for a festive occasion from the supermarket.
For our main courses I’d gone for the Pizza Gay, interestingly named that one, a pizza base with half covered with fresh Parma ham, rocket, mozzarella & cherry tomatoes. Again the quality of the ingredients was top notch, but the base a bit underwhelming to me.
Much is written in the menu about the quality of the dough, and it has to be said that whilst partaking of the pizza and the garlic bread I didn’t feel any of the bloating that you get with cheaper products. The URF went for her standard of the carbonara, which whilst she felt it was OK, it didn’t go the extra mile for her.
I have to say our experience was somewhat underwhelming. It wasn’t just that the food didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders, it was also the speed of its arrival. Our starters appeared almost consecutively with us finishing ordering, and the main courses only a few minutes after we’d finished the starters. Indeed if we hadn’t had then wine to finish I doubt we’d have managed to stretch the experience out for a full hour.
The bill when it came was about £82, admittedly about 40% of this was on a bottle of wine, but this is not a cheap night out, or in our case a cheap hour’s experience. My problem is that I suspect this place has more to offer, all the people raving on the review sites can’t be wrong, and perhaps what we ordered wasn’t a true test of the kitchen. That being said however we went along hoping for Donna Margherita to shine, and for us it didn’t, perhaps you’ll be luckier.
183 Lavender Hill – Battersea, London SW11 5TE UK
Tel. 0044 (0) 20 7228 2660
Monday to Thursday From 18:00 to 22:30
Friday From 12:30 to 23:00
Saturday (all day) From 12:30 to 23:00
Sunday (all day) From 12:00 to 22:30