The release of TimeOut’s 100 Best Restaurants in London is always an exciting day. Not only can you salivate over pictures of food, but you can start planning how to visit as many of them as possible while still attempting to save money to do the impossible for “generation rent” and buy a house. It’s even more exciting when there are restaurants on the list within walking distance of where I live in deepest darkest New Cross. Believe it or not, this trendy joint is in Deptford.
Marcella is the sister restaurant of Peckham’s adored Artusi. Like Artusi, Marcella focuses on taking the best seasonal ingredients and transforming them into wondrous plates of Italian influenced joy. As a result, the menu changes daily. However, the structure of the menu stays the same (starters; pasta; large plates; sharing plates; desserts). The emphasis here is on sharing, making this a great place to meet up with friends for a midweek meal. Bear in mind you can’t book unless you’re in a group of 6 or more. We got there at 7pm on a Wednesday, put our names down and got a call back in just over an hour. Luckily there’s some decent bars on Deptford High Street to pass the time. Marcella also has a cocktail bar downstairs, but it wasn’t open when we went.
So how’s the food? Superb for the most part and with lots of variety. Most stuff was great, but there were a few flaws. Perhaps to be expected with a menu that changes daily….
For starters we shared Fried artichoke with aioli, Cured trout with courgette and creme fraiche, and Homemade ricotta with Delica pumpkin and hazelnuts. 3 beautiful looking little plates of treats.
The best were the artichokes. Soft and juicy on the inside and smokey and crispy on the outside. All brought together perfectly with a seriously velvety aioli. YUM.
The homemade ricotta and pumpkin was also a triumph. These guys know how to make ricotta, that’s for sure. Naughty, creamy ricotta combined with soft, sweet, slightly caramelised pumpkin AND the crunch of hazelnuts created a perfect mouth moment.
And the cured trout was lovely too. More of a Nordic inspired dish than Italian, which is fine. It was actually a nice alternative to the other 2 starters – clean, fresh flavours to cleanse the pallet from creamy, rich, garlicky ones.
Now onto the most important thing, PASTA 🙂 . We ordered a small plate of each of the 4 options on the menu: Pasta al pomodoro; Spaghetti with anchovy, onion and sultanas; Casarecce with brocolli and nduja; and Prawn and tarragon ravioli.
The waiter told us they have pasta pomodoro on the menu everyday. Being such a simple dish means there’s nowhere to hide. The sauce was very good – creamy, fresh tomatoes and with a good dose of basil. The homemade rigatoni was sound, although maybe slightly overcooked. My photo of this didn’t come out 🙁 .
The spaghetti with anchovy was a triumph. On paper (or chalkboard in this case) it sounded an odd combination. I’m also not the world’s biggest anchovy fan – mainly because chefs that don’t know what they’re doing with it inevitably make whatever they’re making taste of nothing but anchovy. I’m pleased to say the guys at Marcella seems to be anchovy experts. This was beautifully salty with a hint of anchovy, and perfectly balanced with the sweet onions and sultanas. And the spaghetti was stunningly well made. I’ve never tasted a pasta dish like this. It’s very clever. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it and I ended up loving it. Bravissimo.
I’m really sorry to say the Casarecce with broccoli and nduja was rather disappointing. Although the pasta was really well made (a reliable theme here), the nduja flavour was almost completely absent. There were tiny morsels of the mighty spicy sausage meat present, but not enough to be able to taste them. So it was essentially a bowl of pasta with broccoli. I saw the person next to me order the same dish and his had far more nduja and a lovely red looking oil throughout. Think we just got unlucky.
Final pasta dish… Prawn and tarragon ravioli. Who doesn’t love ravioli? Pasta stuffed with delicious things – what’s not to like? Marcella makes perfect ravioli as you might imagine. Beautifully thin and glistening yellow pasta. It sounds simple, but those of us who’ve made the mistake of buying a pasta machine after watching too much Masterchef know how bloody difficult it is. The prawn filling worked perfectly with the tarragon.
To finish off the savoury section we went for on of the “Large Plates” – Cod with cauliflower, capers and cherry tomatoes. Something that frustrates me with fish dishes is the attitude of letting the fish be the star of the show. I agree it should be the centre-piece, but not at the expense of every other ingredient on the plate. I’m pleased to say Marcella seem to agree and everything in this dish was perfectly balanced. The fish wonderfully buttery, slightly salty and cooked to perfection. The cauliflower roasted and smothered in lemon. And the cherry tomatoes were lovely and sweet. Beautiful fresh cod with flavours of salt, acidity and sweetness. That’s how to treat a piece of fish son – good job!
We rounded things off with all three of the desserts – Scroppino, Marsala Ice Cream, and Plum and almond tart. I had no idea what scroppino was. Turns out it’s lemon sorbet with prosecco. Nice! It was just the right about of zingy for me and with a subtle hint of prosecco. I was a big fan. The ice cream was yum and went nicely with the plum and almond tart.
After eating so many different things we were pretty surprised when the bill came to only £30 each (including wine and service). Marcella is really good value for money.
Overall, a really enjoyable eating experience with some stand out grub. As mentioned, there were flaws, but I’ve got the feeling it has the potential to be closer to perfect depending on what’s on the menu that day. The changing menu has its positives and negatives. A big positive is people will want to keep coming back to try the new dishes on offer. I’ll certainly be one of those hungry gluttons.
James’ verdict: Great: worth making a detour
Good for: midweek meal; dinner with friends
|Overall:||(7.8 / 10)|
|Flavour:||(8.0 / 10)|
|Creativity:||(8.0 / 10)|
|Presentation:||(7.5 / 10)|
|Service and Ambiance:||(8.0 / 10)|
|Value for money:||(7.5 / 10)|