Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Donna Margherita, Battersea
Just in case I wasn't getting smug enough with the two excellent restaurants either end of my road (The Fox and Hounds and The Food Room), word on the street (well OK, on the internet) had it that some of the best pizzas to be had in London came out of an unassuming local Italian restaurant on busy Lavender Hill. I don't know if it's even possible to have a truly great pizza, a foodstuff which is after all only tomato and cheese on bread, and I suppose the best I usually hope for is that it isn't too oily and isn't too expensive. So once I found out that there was a chance I may have been missing out on a good thing, I eagerly made my way to Donna Margherita.
Unfortunately, I needn't have worried. Though not exactly bad, my pizza - a Diavola - was just very dull, the kind of thing you could get in more or less any bog standard Italian restaurant in the capital. The dough was slightly tough, but with the odd crispy burned bubble to give a pleasant bit of texture. The fresh basil was a nice touch, and the chilli oil wasn't too overpowering and overall the mixture had just the right balance of sweet tomato and salty cheese. More than once I've been served a pizza so groaning with cheese it was like eating a huge flat fondue, so in this respect I suppose they're doing something right. Overall though, the effect was desperately underwhelming. We had been told to order the garlic bread, so we did, and this was nice enough with little crispy bits of fried rosemary and basil on top, albeit with the same tough dough. I wasn't exactly in raptures.
I only wish I could have said the same about my companion's meal, but his seafood pizza was not just disappointing in flavour but an actual health and safety hazard. You see, the chefs in their wisdom thought it would be a nice presentational flourish to keep the mussels in their shells as a topping on the pizza. And indeed at first glance it did look quite impressive, arranged as they were amongst squid tentacles and a scattering of shredded basil. But under the fierce heat of the pizza oven the mussel shells had burned and splintered alarmingly, so much so that every mouthful of pizza required a careful dissection in case any of the razor sharp fragments made their way into your mouth and shredded your gums. Less a meal and more a culinary minefield, I'm afraid the question of whether he could recommend Donna Margherita pizzas was answered with a definite "Dear God, no".
However, all is not lost. Just a couple of doors down from Donna Margherita on Lavender Hill is a little takeaway place called Basilico. There's no eat-in option but they do deliver, and having sampled a few items on their menu there is only one I keep coming back to - the Pizza Funghi au Truffle, topped with generous amounts of lovely big salami and drizzled with truffle oil. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it was great, but it is certainly very good, and with very little danger of physical injury. Basilico has 5 branches scattered around London, and the Pizza Funghi au Truffle in particular comes highly recommended.
Donna Margherita 4/10