165A Deptford High St, SE8 3NU
It seems you can even go to Deptford these days and find a decent meal.
Deptford is the type of bleak place you wake up in when you have accidentally fallen asleep on the night bus. Staggering to the other side of the road to catch the exact same bus you just got off of, you drunkenly wonder what redeeming features this destitute and monotone little district could possibly possess that would encourage people to live here. The answer is pasta, it turns out.
Pasta, not unlike Deptford, has a chequered history in London. It is undoubtedly a superstar food – up there with the likes of ice cream, chips, and sandwiches…and probably hummus by the time the millennials are through with it – and yet getting a decent bowl of it in London has often proved problematic. Terrible identikit Italian restaurants have done such a good job of churning out reheated, sauce heavy, bland, smile-killing bowls of the stuff that the general rule when ordering pasta in a restaurant has been “don’t”.
So when Padella opened last year in Borough market, specialising in pasta dishes that were fresh, affordable, delicious, and every bit as comforting as a bowl of pasta should be, people went mad for it – obviously. Who doesn’t love pasta? It’s just been let down by kitchens (both professional and our own) for so long that we consigned it to the role of king of the comfort foods; to be eaten in massive quantities through tears of shame as a remedy to a long week full of petty arguments with co-workers and carb-free dinners. But not anymore. Padella proved that there was literally an appetite for a restaurant doing quality pasta. And so now…
Now we have Marcella. Situated just around the corner from Deptford Station, Marcella is set over two floors; the downstairs bar is a darker, more intimate space, while upstairs is all natural light, high ceilings, conviviality, and clean white lines. But who cares about all of that, or the staff or the drinks? (Both lovely, FYI) It’s a pasta restaurant, so let’s get to it.
The pasta is great. Really, really great. The Pasta al pomodoro was that often sought but rarely found beast of a simple thing done well. Perfectly cooked rigatoni coated in exactly the right amount of an unfussy, delicious sauce that tasted primarily of sweet, ripe tomatoes. Fusilli, courgette, chilli, and mint was also delicious. Of course it was, listen to those ingredients. It was summery, and light, and all of those other words. Squid ink bucatini (big spaghetti with a hole in the middle) with seafood may have been the star of the show. May, because I wouldn’t want to choose.
We kept diving into each dish and changing our mind on our favourite with each forkful. I often tell The Girl that I dream of one day becoming a fat Italian man, cigar in one hand, negroni balanced on my perfectly round, respectable belly, comfortably dozing in the Sicilian sun, surrounded by the smell of lemons and nubile farmer’s daughters (she’s not a massive fan of the idea, incidentally), and I tell you now, if I lived in Deptford then that dream would become reality sooner than I imagined (the fat bit, anyway – probs not the rest.) Because this is food I would happily eat two or three times a week from now until the day I die of a sudden heart attack as I play with my grandson amidst the tomato plants.
Marcella does other bits and pieces too – starters and the like. Confit pork jowl with peach mostarda (a chutney, essentially, although the Italians would vehemently disagree – with much unnecessary hand waving, no doubt) was rich and fatty and soft as butter. It turned out the way you always expect your slow cooked meat at home to turn out, but never quite does.
In fact, all of the food here is of that charming, rustic style that we grew up watching Jamie Oliver cook with consummate ease. It is intuitively delicious. There was always a sense when watching Jamie that you looked at his food and just thought, “Well, that’s obviously going to be yummy”. And the same is true here. Saffron arancini – not exactly revolutionary, but bloody tasty.
We got chatting to the couple next to us. I hate talking to people. I especially hate talking to strangers, with their stupid names and inability to laugh on cue, but it is the sort of friendly, relaxed place that encourages chat. Even with randomers. Plus, I was in a good mood from all the pasta. They too had travelled to Deptford especially to dine at Marcella. As I have already touched upon, since the docks closed in, oh I don’t know, fucking forever ago, there really hasn’t been a lot of reason to come to Deptford. Plenty of councils have promised to deliver regeneration, and implemented many stupid ideas and wasted much money in the pursuit of making Deptford relevant again. Yet like so much in life, the answer all along was pasta. Because damn right I’m coming here again. And maybe next time I’ll look for a local boozer in which to sink a few post pasta pints. Next thing you know I’m floating the idea of the affordable cost of renting in Deptford to The Girl and then all of a sudden, bam! Wankers like me with my French press are moving in and you have got yourself some seriously divisive gentrification on your hands.
And all because of a good bowl of pasta. No wonder it’s such a god damn superstar.
VERDICT: Makes a trip to Deptford worthwhile.
BETTER OPTIONS: As mentioned, Padella, on the fringes of Borough Market, is also going great guns on the pasta front.