Stephanie Brookes, BBC Radio London food expert, offers her pick of an eating establishment for this month, a taste of Italy at Marcella in Deptford.
It’s something of a luxury having a local restaurant which happens to feature regularly in your top 10 list. I have, at any one time, a well-vetted inventory of restaurants ready to hand, whether I’m speaking about my latest finds on the radio, or simply chatting with friends. I’ve noticed I’m increasingly mentioning the name Marcella on almost a daily basis.
Fortunately for me, it’s also a ten minute walk to Deptford. I almost find myself bragging (in the nicest possible way, of course) about the highlights of this area. Far from keeping this place a well-hidden secret, I truly want to share.
Deptford has become something of a culinary hotspot in recent years with the development of Deptford Market Yard which now hosts the weekly Deptford Bites Market. This Saturday event holds a mix of independent culinary vendors with something to please almost every appetite (I’ve done the legwork here). Marcella, however, has become the destination of choice for locals in the area. The restaurant founders have a passion for quality Italian produce and fresh, seasonal ingredients. Their recent introduction of a Sunday set menu is something of a weekend must: three courses for a very reasonable £20.
Chicory, Peach and Gorgonzola - Photo copyright: Stephanie Brookes
This restaurant’s ever-growing popularity does mean placing a booking is highly recommended. If you happen to be passing by without a prior reservation, however, friendly staff will always endeavour to accommodate, and will likely suggest their countertop seating, close to the kitchen – surprisingly not as noisy as you might think. On this occasion, we were seated in the main dining area: always the preferred option, of course, and an excellent vantage point for perusing the board of daily dishes.
As it was a weekend, I ordered a cocktail quicker than our server had the chance to ask: “still or sparkling?” The Frangelico Sour is the perfect cocktail (I have discovered) to kickstart the savoury taste buds: fluffy clouds of egg white top a deliciously nutty concoction of hazelnut liqueur blended together with fresh lemon and lime. Order without hesitation.
To begin proceedings, the snacking dish of Saffron Arancino has become something of a fixture on the menu. These crispy coated rice balls are evenly golden in colour, delicately flavoured with floral saffron, and when pulled apart, a vibrant yolk-rich colour reveals a moreish filling of soft, creamy rice. The arancino is served with a drizzle of sharp balsamic and topped with a grating of salty pecorino.
The small plates are all designed to tempt a visitor into naturally wanting more, and luckily the first course of Chicory, Peach and Gorgonzola arrived before a greedy second order was placed. The starter: an earthy mound of soft green leaves, flecked with soft Gorgonzola and atop fresh, ripe peaches. The natural bitter flavour of chicory is instantly mellowed by the fleshy, sweet peach which coats the leaves in its natural juices, creating a wonderfully light sauce. The creamy Gorgonzola brings a much needed salty note to the overall dish. If any notion of ordering salad might seem a ‘boring’ way to begin a meal, this starter is the perfect example of why a selection of a few, carefully considered ingredients can create a true star of a menu.
Sbrisolona - Photo copyright: Stephanie Brookes
At Marcella, it can’t be guaranteed a favourite dish will be on the menu as options change daily, however, one thing that is certain is that a tempting dish of freshly made pasta will always be present. I have a weakness for any kind of pasta, but I’m rendered incapable of ordering anything but when dining at Marcella. The dish of Trottole alla Norma is the definition of relaxed, weekend fare. Each perfectly made trottole contains these little spiral ridges which trap much of the fresh tomato sauce accompanied by gloriously chewy, charred bites of spongy aubergine.
If my server noticed that I had finished my Sunday lunch a touch on the speedy side, she didn’t let on; this is something to be expected at Marcella, perfectly clean plates. This couldn’t be said for my childhood eating habits. Today, my good behaviour was being rewarded with a delightfully messy, divine final dish of Sbrisolona. The dessert instantly piqued the attention of the next table, with a just-audible “oooh”. Sbrisolona is a traditional Italian almond cake which can be broken into generous chunks (as here). I was pleased to see an addition of fresh fruit with a scattering of gleaming dark cherries and mounds of crème fraîche. The dry, almost biscotti-like texture of the Sbrisolona is softened by the oozing sweet cherry juice and the creamy, yet air-light crème fraîche. I quickly ordered a coffee as it seemed to me the perfect pairing, and I actually put aside a few pieces of the almond cake to ‘dunk’ into the steaming hot espresso.
The leisurely weekend lunch I had envisioned didn’t quite work out as planned. All in all the experience lasted shy of around fifty minutes. Clearly, I’m not cut out for pacing myself when Sunday lunch is this good.
165A Deptford High Street, London SE8 3NUWebsites: www.marcella.london
020 3903 6561 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org