The stereotype of Italians is that they are a passionate people. Naturally, one of the things that Italians are most passionate about is food. In a world of passionate Italians, Gabriele Vitale, the owner of Donna Margherita in Battersea, is a force of nature. I first heard of Donna Margherita through Cheese and Biscuits. The author of Cheese and Biscuits, Chris Pople, went for a meal at Donna Margherita and wrote a fair but negative review. Gabriele felt that Chris’s meal was not of the standard usually served at Donna Margherita and was so devastated that he responded to Chris’s post and invited Chris back for another meal. This time Chris’s review was glowing.
Since then Gabriele has been on a one man publicity campaign, inviting various bloggers to a meal at Donna Margherita. When I received an invitation to eat at Donna Margherita along with my friend Johanna I was intrigued to discover whether this small little trattoria lived up to the great reviews and I was also keen to meet Gabriele. I was certainly not disappointed. Upon entering the homely little restaurant a short walk from Clapham junction station, Gabriele bowled up to our table and explained that he would be bringing a selection of food for us to try. The food of Donna Margherita was food from Southern Italy, he said, in particular the Naples region.
The restaurant itself could have been whisked straight from Italy with its sunny yellow walls, faded black and white photographs, strings of garlic and football jerseys. There is nothing trendy at all about Donna Margherita and I note this as a good thing. The important thing, though is the food. We started with the antipasti platter (£6.75) and the friarelli (£9.20) a folded pizza similar to a calzone filled with a bubbling mixture of napoli sauce and cheese. The antipasti was standard fare but the friarelli was a revelation with its crispy base and rich filling. This was comfort food Italian style. To accompany this Gabriele suggested a bottle of Casa d’Ambra (£26.50) a light, subtle red wine from the Island of Ischia just off the coast of Naples. The wine list almost exclusively contains Italian wines (with the exception of Champagne) and includes some very reasonably priced options.
Donna Margherita prides itself on its pizza so of course we had to try the Margherita (£5.90). The base was thin and crisp and yet still soft enough to roll the pizza slices up in order to eat them “Neapolitan style” as exhorted by Gabriele. Having eaten pizza in Naples I have not actually ever seen people rolling their pizza to eat it, but I have to admit that rolled or not, the pizza at Donna Margherita was amazing. The base was delicate and imparted a fantastic smoky flavour while the freshness and quality of the toppings shone through. Even Johanna who is not much of a pizza lover was won over.
In case we had not eaten enough we then moved on to a selection of the risotto on offer. First of all the seafood risotto (£11.50) which was dotted with calamari, clams and mussels. The risotto was lacking the creamy consistency that is the hallmark of a great risotto however the juices from the seafood has infused the rice giving it a fantastic seafood flavour. Then the Vesuviano risotto (£9.95) which was studded with nuggets of pork sausage and scarmoza smoked cheese. This risotto was the pick of the two, it was incredibly rich with a mouth feel that was almost silky. I am not sure how anyone could eat more than the small portion that we tried but they would certainly have an enjoyable evening trying.
Finally onto the desserts. We tried a selection of the homemade desserts a creamy tiramisu (£4), a dense torta caprese (£4.50) which is an almond and chocolate cake and finally a shivering pannacotta (£4) dripping in a berry compote. The highlight was the pannacotta which was so light that it could almost be described as airy and was flecked with specks of vanilla bean.
We had a great meal at Donna Margherita thanks to the hospitality and genuine enthusiasm of Gabriele. As I generally review restaurants anonymously I could not help but wonder how much our special treatment affected our enjoyment of the meal. Still, on a Tuesday night this little local restaurant and its outdoor terrace was packed and the tables around us seemed as delighted with their food as we were. I don’t think this is a restaurant to cross town for but I do think that it is the sort of restaurant that you wish was your local. The denizens of Battersea are very lucky to have a restaurant like Donna Margherita at the end of the street.
Details: 183 Lavender Hill, Battersea SW11 5TE (Ph 079 5657 4753) Station: Clapham Junction
Damage: Reasonable but free for me
For a review of another great Italian local in London check out my post on Osteria Basilico in Notting Hill. If you want to compare the Southern Italian food on offer at Donna Margherita with the food on offer in that region of Italy itself you can read my review of Donna Rosa in Positano.
Gourmet Chick was invited to review Donna Margherita and was provided with a complimentary meal and drinks.