Words & Photography: Chris Pople
Despite the wild success of Padella in Borough Market, which proved that people will happily queue up in the rain for hours for a bowl of pasta providing said pasta is fresh, homemade and costs less than the price of a cinema ticket, London still isn’t exactly awash with good, cheap pasta restaurants.
Part of this is simply that making good pasta isn’t easy — it requires talent, patience and a great deal of experience and, no matter how much you’re planning on charging, skilled pasta chefs are in short supply.
But part of the problem is also one of logistics — if you’re in Soho or Covent Garden, where rents are astronomical, you can’t survive as a business charging only £5 for a bowl of homemade pasta, unless you really go bargain basement on the raw ingredients. Which is why there are as many awful branches of Bella Italia or Zizzi as you’d ever want (not that you’d want any), and very few places worth bothering with at all.
So for great pasta, we must look further afield. Deptford, in fact, where the clever guys behind Artusi in Peckham have opened Marcella, a no-nonsense Italian bistro with a daily changing chalkboard menu, and judging by the crowds being turned away at the door on a Thursday night, again have themselves a hit on their hands.
After a Negroni to settle the nerves (anyone who has to regularly use the Cannon Street line for commuting has our eternal sympathies) we tried a few fried gnocchi; perhaps more about the crunchy texture than the less interesting taste, they nevertheless went down quite well as a snack.
From the delicate outer petals to the soft heart inside, fried artichokes were, despite the fact the denser of the petals retained more cooking fat than we’d ordinarily like, still great fun to eat, especially when dipped in the fluffy aioli.
Pork jowl was a quality bit of pig, with bags of meaty flavour and a good firm bite. But more interesting was the ‘peach mostardo’ it came with: an interesting umami-rich concoction with a pinpoint sweet-savoury balance. Clever stuff.
But of course, we were really here for the pasta, and we’re happy to report that this is worth the journey out to SE8 and then some. Speck and mascarpone tortelloni had a marvellous al dente bite and contained a generous amount of filling.
And courgette, mint and chilli casarecce was full of summer flavours and colours, with just enough chilli heat to enhance the delicate slices of vegetables. But the real star was, again, the pasta itself: rich and silky smooth with an addictive firm texture, there’s hardly anywhere doing pasta better — at least, not anywhere you don’t have to queue up in the rain for.
By this point, Marcella had won us over completely so the stonking desserts were merely a most welcome bonus. A custard doughnut was warm and fluffy and contained a healthy (or, rather, unhealthy) amount of vanilla-spiked custard…
…and a super-smooth ice cream, blitzed in a Pacojet and topped with a superb blackcurrant coulis, was the perfect summer dessert. We polished it off quickly and easily.
In fact, it’s pretty hard to find fault with anything Marcella are doing. Despite being inundated with walk-ins, with some groups taking it upon themselves to squeeze seven people around a table for four (which surely would have given the kitchen staff kittens), you wouldn’t know it from the serene front of house, who were always available, always attentive and always pleasant. As we settled up and left, we overheard someone being told the wait for a table was now 45 minutes — expect this to be the norm once word gets out. So book ahead, grab your Oyster card and bring an appetite. Deptford just raised the game.
JOL was invited to review Marcella on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.