Marcella, 165A Deptford High St, London SE8 3NU
Deptford continues to fascinate me and the deft brilliance of Marcella is no exception
Paint-splattered on the outside (non-commissioned) and angelic white within, the walls of Deptford’s Marcella are painted with images of pasta and booze. They play off the slick contemporary aesthetic of oxidised copper plates, stripped wood floors and wine glasses twinkling overhead at the bar.
Not all set menus are created equal. Whereas some play nothing but the hits for a bargain, many feel like a bit of a cop-out; a smothering of freedom, the bumpers on a bowling alley that guide you to someone else’s idea of a strike via spreadsheet. Marcella is doing one for their lunch service and I’ve been meaning to get there for ages, so beggars will not be choosers. As it turns out, I should shut my mouth altogether because we order everything. Healthy slices of rye sourdough soon arrive, the edge of the plate trowelled with light, creamy butter and a crust that is a satisfying 60:40 chew-to-crunch ratio.
Ultimately, my motive for visiting is veiled as thinly as the slices of rosy pork loin in their tonnato. The sauce is light but still robust in brine and acidity, finished with globules of good olive oil and poddy little capers. I park some to the side and ask for a little more bread with the next dish in mind.
Uncut gems of Vesuvio tomato and curls of redolent Breme onion reside under a shingle of pangrattato, inter-splodged with ricotta and dressed with parsley leaf and oil. Loading my extra slice of buttered bread with a little of this salad and my banked tonnato, I make the finest mini sandwich of arguably biblical proportions. I saw everything that I had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31a
The paccheri (or “slaps” in Italian) does precisely that. Ribbed for our pleasure and of course gratifyingly al dente, it offers an ideal surface area for the cucunciata sauce. Sticky with reduced tomato and starch water, it binds the black olives, capers, anchovies and the vinyl skins of aubergine without struggle. Despite the salty elements, it’s all in key- even when topped off with parmesan.
The pork and beef meatballs are something to behold and a bit of a curveball for a 33°C day, but thank Sagan there’s air conditioning here. Coarse and ever so slightly loose, these burly boys are well caramelised, beautifully seasoned and sparkling with juices inside. A clutch of new potatoes pop from their burnished skins with ease and sweetly dressed endives are piled beside, pert and bitter.
The chocolate mousse is a quenelle resembling a little league American football- liberally showered with a scree of roasted hazelnuts. Lightly aerated and seductively smooth, it has you diving back for more. I keep shaving slivers off toward the absolute mid-point as I wish to share only what I must.
Finishing on the lemon sorbet, it’s the same consistency that I try and bring about in my Calypso ice lolly- slushy enough to drink without becoming total liquid. I love it. The base syrup lets the lemon zip before dying down into zesty bitterness, keeping you on this treadmill of rinse and repeat. Brain-freeze be damned.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that there’s just a chef and KP for the entire four hours of service and they are making it seem effortless. Yes, it’s a demonstration of preparatory power but with a full floor, dishes are leaving the kitchen with total symmetry to tables bustling with satisfied expressions. With my prejudices suitably schooled, surely things can only improve with a full menu to pore over? I suppose I’ll have to go back. Woe is me.
This piece was originally published for Palate Magazine, here.