So, you know Artusi. You don’t? Okay let’s rewind. Artusi is the achingly cool neighbourhood trattoria that, together with Thai joint Begging Bowl (which opened a year-and-a half earlier), properly put Peckham on the map. The ‘cool food map’. Marcella is its little sis. This time, it’s hoping to bring the magic to Deptford.
And magical it is. Fans of Artusi will recognise its calling cards. The room has a classy simplicity: two-tone walls (white on top, some sort of posh dark grey below), wide floorboards, a couple of designerish lampshades. Staff are smily and savvy. There’s a chattery buzz in the air.
But really, Marcella is all about the food. This is the kind of place where they make their own pasta. Well, duh. But they also make their own ricotta, and pickle their own nectarines. This all ends up on a plate with a heap of herbs. The result? Something beautifully simple yet deliciously complex: the creamy, subtle cheese offset by soft slices of fruit (which had a Wonka-ish knack of going from sweet to nicely vinegary and back again), plus the pepper-and-crunch of watercress, the aniseedy hit of tarragon and the zing of mint.
If that all sounds amazing, just wait until you try the saffron arancini. Arancini are, let’s face it, the socially acceptable face of fried food: yeah yeah, they’re complex carbs ’n’ all, plus cheese plus more complex carbs plus deep-frying, but they’ve also got a romantic-sounding name and get served as canapés at gallery openings, so they must be all right, right? But the ones at Marcella are genuinely elegant: each a crunchy-edged, spherical tomb, revealing hidden treasure: swollen, ochre-hued grains glued together with a pale, sticky cheese. Underneath: a mellow, cheese-smothered sauce. A sauce of dreams.
As it happens, sauces are a bit of a thing here. Another star, of grilled cuttlefish with borlotti beans and prosciutto, arrived in a glistening pool of herb-flecked, buttery gravy, its umami saltiness cut through with the occasional tease of lemon zest. You’ll want to do bad things to it.
Same deal with the pasta. At the risk of sounding like a pasta purist (aka, a bit of a knob), the pasta itself could have been more al dente. But oh, those sauces. Fusilli had been slathered with a rich, shimmering, carbonara-esque coating, plus slivers of courgette, just enough red chilli for a little heat, and just enough scraps of mint for a little zing. Equally beautiful was the pomodoro sauce – a ‘chef skills’ test if ever there was one – more of that cheesy, mellow tomato, laced with large, just-wilted leaves of fresh basil.
Another nice thing about Marcella is how clever and economical its menu is. Ingredients appear and reappear, like reality TV stars (but in a good way). You get a real sense that they’ve got the best seasonal things they can get hold of for the day, then figured out every which way to use them. With not a speck of waste. That ricotta reappeared in a warm doughnut. Lemon sang throughout, as did borlotti beans and those pickled nectarines. Tomorrow, it’ll no doubt be different. So I’ll need a return visit. Just to be sure.