Donna Margherita, Lavender Hill

This is not my first visit to Donna M – that was back in February when I skidded my way up and down an ice covered Lavender Hill and really hoped it would be worth it. That night, I warmed to the passionate owner Gabriele and his food almost instantly.

When we arrived at the restaurant this time, few tables were occupied so we had our pick of spots outside in the glorious sunshine. Ten minutes later the place was absolutely rammed. Gabriele bounced over, his usual enthusiastic self and with his (equally enthusiastic) young son in tow – stopping many times on the way to greet the numerous Italian diners at other tables. A brief chat about the food and of course, the heat and he left to fetch our antipasti.

This was simple and delicious – grilled vegetables in a garlic spiked dressing, scamorza, anchovies and thick chunks of parma ham – apparently cut from the butt of the ham when it is no longer good for slicing. Another starter of melanzane parmigiana was good – melty and rich but for me didn’t sit well in the heat of the evening.

A small portion of seafood risotto wasn’t particularly remarkable but the ‘special’ of scallop and courgette (above left) was like the risotto equivalent of crack. It was sweet with scallop and the courgettes had been cooked down with shrimp stock until they disintegrated, creating the most amazing deep, umami flavour. I could have gorged on it all night had I not needed to save room for pizza.

We kept things simple and went for a margherita and a marinara. The pizzas at Donna M have a real lightness about them, the base is airy and evenly but not overly blistered with black scorch marks from the wood fired oven. It is soft and easy to roll up and aim at your pizza hole. The toppings are pure of flavour and not too rich. I asked him several times, ‘this marinara is really just tomato, olive oil, garlic and oregano?’ It was bursting with ripe summer sweetness.

The reason I like Donna M so much is because you can feel the love in the food. It is simple, home cooked in style and utterly charming. Gabriele is bursting with Italian passion, love for his restaurant, his customers and his pizza. I really think Donna M should be recognised for what it is – a great little local run by a man who cares. Every time a pizza joint is reviewed in London, it is compared to Franco Manca and while FM may make what is widely considered to be the best, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give other places a chance. Judging by the lengthy queue still at the door as we were leaving, the people of Lavender Hill most definitely agree.

Donna Margherita
183 Lavender Hill
SW11 5TE
0207 228 2660

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13 thoughts on “Donna Margherita, Lavender Hill

  1. I never get invited to these freebie meals…guess I’m not important enough eh. Or I might take another disastrous date there…
    But the pizza looks good.
    I was round your way MsFoodstories yesterday. A fantastic dulwich allotment, a glorious day!

  2. Ah that is just my type of food. I have tried to re-create simple anti pasti plates and pizza from Italy so many times and although have all the same ingredients it just never seems to taste as good! I think having the warm Italian sun on your back makes a difference!

  3. Anywhere that rolls their pizza up into the doughy equivalent of a paper aeroplane deserves to be written up. Don’t worry Helen…you keep writin’ em and we’ll keep readin’ em

  4. Lovely post, Helen, as ever. The risotto equivalent of crack!

    I don’t mind reading several reviews of the same place, especially if there’s a bit of contention among them. Debates keep life interesting. Franco Manca’s still the best pizza I’ve had in London, though.

  5. You’re right, there is a lot of samey-samey going on on the London blogs at the moment, I’m guilty of it too. But some of us are friends and go out for meals together which are too good not to blog; similarly, some of us are on PR companies’ mailing lists. I’ve always made a conscious effort to not accept invitations to things unless they genuinely excite me.

    I loved DM’s pasta; I rarely order pasta as I cook it so much at home, but theirs was the shiz.

  6. If Lavender Hill weren’t such a trek for me, I would have taken up the PR man’s invite (but that was before the freebies debate kicked off!). DM does sound like a great place though. I love friendly welcoming local restaurants. It’s a shame it’s not closer to me.

    I’m also conscious of the comments about bloggers writing about the same events, restaurants or products. I wrote about our Hawksmoor steak tasting, as did everyone who went, but subsequently turned down the Belgo lobster fest invite because I wouldn’t have eaten there anyway. I’m still trying to establish some kind of policy in my head about freebies for the future – it’s a tricky subject.

  7. I dunno. There is repetition but part of me quite likes reading all the different opinions – especially when they conflict!

    Tell you what though, this post has me hankering for some scamorza.

  8. So true about the blogosphere being swamped with ‘sameness’. It happens in Sydney too. If I go to all the same events as other bloggers, sometimes I won’t review it at all, just post something yummy (and different) on the same day :)

  9. What a fantastic write up! “Like the risotto equivalent of crack” I do love that phrase – In fact, I said the same thing about padron peppers when Ms Marmite lover reviewed Dehesa last month ; D

    It’s so good to hear about pizza gems other than the usual suspect of franco manco, so thanks for this, will be sure to try it out!

  10. It’s strange how 3 outstanding Neapolitan style Pizza makers are in Sarf London – Donna Margherita , Franco Manca and the daddy of them all Pizza Metro ( also Firezza a delivery chain with a few seats also nearby should not be sniffed at).

    Nice review of a very good quality local restaurant !


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