This is not my first visit to Donna M – that was back in February when I skidded my way up and down an ice covered Lavender Hill and really hoped it would be worth it. That night, I warmed to the passionate owner Gabriele and his food almost instantly.
When we arrived at the restaurant this time, few tables were occupied so we had our pick of spots outside in the glorious sunshine. Ten minutes later the place was absolutely rammed. Gabriele bounced over, his usual enthusiastic self and with his (equally enthusiastic) young son in tow – stopping many times on the way to greet the numerous Italian diners at other tables. A brief chat about the food and of course, the heat and he left to fetch our antipasti.
This was simple and delicious – grilled vegetables in a garlic spiked dressing, scamorza, anchovies and thick chunks of parma ham – apparently cut from the butt of the ham when it is no longer good for slicing. Another starter of melanzane parmigiana was good – melty and rich but for me didn’t sit well in the heat of the evening.
A small portion of seafood risotto wasn’t particularly remarkable but the ‘special’ of scallop and courgette (above left) was like the risotto equivalent of crack. It was sweet with scallop and the courgettes had been cooked down with shrimp stock until they disintegrated, creating the most amazing deep, umami flavour. I could have gorged on it all night had I not needed to save room for pizza.
We kept things simple and went for a margherita and a marinara. The pizzas at Donna M have a real lightness about them, the base is airy and evenly but not overly blistered with black scorch marks from the wood fired oven. It is soft and easy to roll up and aim at your pizza hole. The toppings are pure of flavour and not too rich. I asked him several times, ‘this marinara is really just tomato, olive oil, garlic and oregano?’ It was bursting with ripe summer sweetness.
The reason I like Donna M so much is because you can feel the love in the food. It is simple, home cooked in style and utterly charming. Gabriele is bursting with Italian passion, love for his restaurant, his customers and his pizza. I really think Donna M should be recognised for what it is – a great little local run by a man who cares. Every time a pizza joint is reviewed in London, it is compared to Franco Manca and while FM may make what is widely considered to be the best, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give other places a chance. Judging by the lengthy queue still at the door as we were leaving, the people of Lavender Hill most definitely agree.
183 Lavender Hill
0207 228 2660