Despite the recent influx of niche gin bars and expertly brewed coffee to Deptford, where I’ve lived for a few years, up until now there has been a curious lack of outstanding restaurants. With the exception of the sublime cocktail bar-cum-Jamaican restaurant Buster Mantis and the dubiously named (but surprisingly good) Job Centre, there wasn’t much at all in the way of places to go for a memorable meal.
The arrival to the high street late last year of Italian restaurant Marcella – the newest offering from the team behind Peckham’s lauded local Artusi – has changed that. Nestled between an after-school club and an estate agent, its stark, clean exterior stands out in contrast to its surroundings. After passing it a dozen or so times, I eventually made a reservation.
Once in the door, the 40-seat restaurant – there is also a basement bar/private dining area for 25 – felt intimate and relaxed, maximising its small space in a well-considered way. A clean and unfussy aesthetic was matched by a pared-back, seasonal menu (about £30-£35 per person, including wine) scrawled on the chalkboard.
My dinner date and I began by sharing some small plates: crisp Taleggio arancini; sardines with firm but sweet winter tomatoes; and a glorious mussel squid-ink pasta sprinkled with coarse breadcrumbs – a hearty dish with freshly made spaghetti that had a good heft to it.
We both decided on the braised lamb shoulder as a main – after realising neither of us much fancied the idea of sharing. Our greediness paid off – the lamb was mouth-wateringly good. It arrived on a bed of white sprouting broccoli and spring greens, drizzled with a buttery, garlicky sauce; it was so tender that it fell apart as I cut it.
While lingering over our wine and rhapsodising about the lamb, we glanced at the two-item dessert menu, which proved rather interesting: lemon bay ice cream and olive oil cake. Curiosity got the better of me and I convinced my companion to share a slice of what proved to be a delightfully odd bake; subtle citrus flavours balanced the olive oil perfectly. It was the ideal note on which to end what is the best meal I’ve eaten in the neighbourhood, and established Marcella as a firm new favourite.