Pizza pizza pizza. Is there anything that can really beat it? The wine it accompanies perhaps? I recently returned from Rome, where I spent many arduous hours hard at work, researching the best cheese-topped delights the city had to offer. So on my return I was eager to put to the test Donna Margherita, whose doughy creations were previously dubbed 'the best pizza outside Italy'.
On a gorgeous summer's evening I strolled across a sun-soaked Clapham Common, heading to try the neighbourhood's much touted Italian, Donna Margherita. I was ravenous and looking forward to a much needed injection of good Italian carbs. As I rounded the corner onto Lavender Hill, the restaurant itself was almost easy to miss, standing unassumingly on the road between Clapham Junction and Wandsworth Road train stations.
At 7pm on a Saturday evening the restaurant was already busy and bustling, and the tables flowed out onto the shaded outdoor veranda at the front. The décor inside is simple and unpretentious, and with a friendly Southern Italian vibe. Historic images of Naples from across the twentieth century adorn the walls, and the venue’s great selection of Italian wines line the shelves.
It works perfectly as a local neighbourhood Italian, and is clearly very popular. However, Donna Margherita is more than that - fresh, well-sourced ingredients, a lively atmosphere through which the restaurant’s passionate, Southern Italian spirit shines through, and an infusion of Neapolitan culture and history in every dish.
Food and Drink
To begin, some good old Italian aperitivo - Aperol spritz cocktails and nutty green olives from Gaeta. Much of what is so great about Donna Margherita comes from the authenticity of the ingredients - diligently sourced and most imported direct from Napoli or the surrounding area.
Our tasting menu continued with the Bruschetta (£6.90), whose gorgeous cherry tomatoes and a splash of extra virgin olive oil made these a delicious appetizer, Parmigan e Mulgnan (£7.90), a baked aubergine dish in a wonderfully cheesy, rich tomato sauce, and a selection of moreish A' Fritturin (£8.50).
Then the moment we'd been waiting for, the pizza. Presented in the traditional Neapolitan style of a large slice rolled up into a cone shape, it sure was good. A simple Margherita (£7.50) forming the perfect trio of tomato, mozzarella and basil on a gorgeously thin base. It was some of the best tasting pizza I have ever had. The key, I believe, was in the base - made by Gabriele Vitali and his team using only the finest quality flour and a centuries old Neapolitan recipe.
Whilst it was going to be pretty difficult to top the Margherita, we were then brought a taster of their pasta and risotto dishes. The spaghetti, homemade of course, was excellent and was served with huge, juicy king prawns and covered in a fresh tomato sauce - try the O'Scialatiell ro' re Ferdinando (£13.90). The Risotto ro' Vesuviano (£11.90) was bursting with great flavours - deliciously smoky Provola cheese, leafy green Friarielli, homemade sausage and Parmesan.
From the wine list we tried the award-winning Falanghina (£29.50), sourced from the Terre Stregate vineyards only an hour’s drive from Naples. Like the ingredients of the food menu, the wine list echoes the authenticity of the venue and the importance put on sourcing the best Italian fare.
To finish we sampled a selection of the desserts. The Tiramisu, a house speciality, was good, though I particularly enjoyed the Pear Tart whose pastry was excellent - once again showing that Donna Margherita know how to do a good base.
Donna Margherita is a buzzy, happy place to be sure. Families, couples and friends are all there to enjoy the fantastic food on offer, relax and enjoy the evening. A pleasant hum of chatter fills the restaurant and those out on the terrace enjoy the still lingering summer sunshine pouring in. Service was at first perhaps a little slow, but soon picked up and the team are certainly friendly and very accommodating.
This is somewhere you can turn up any night of the week and feel completely at ease, while at the same time is somewhere you can dress up for if you want to for date night or an evening out with friends. Make sure you book though, in-the-know locals and a loyal clientele from further afield know how great this place is, so tables fill up fast!
A fantastic Neapolitan menu, beautiful, rustic flavours, a great wine list and well-sourced ingredients from the Campania region - there really isn't much missing from this authentic neighbourhood Italian. 'Best pizza outside of Italy'? A high bar to set to be sure; Donna Margherita may even be a step above.