Sometimes things just don’t go to plan. And so it proved for Donna Margherita, at 183 Lavender Hill – one of our longest serving Neapolitan restaurants with two decades on Lavender Hill, and a firm favourite for years. When Coronavirus hit, restaurants were some of the hardest hit of all – but as we reported, Donna Margherita found a whole new opportunity, opening a delicatessen at a time when shop stocks were scarce and many were staying close to home and avoiding crowded supermarkets. A wide assortment of Italian produce was on sale, and while maybe not what they’d planned for, this clever approach kept things ticking over until we started to see light at the end of the tunnel. By spring last year, it was looking like the worst might be past, and they were again offering food service.
But then another disaster struck, with a kitchen fire in April 2021 that destroyed the back of the premises, and caused smoke and water damage around the building. With cruel timing this closed both the shop and restaurant with immediate effect. Initially there was shock and uncertainty on the part of the team, as they wondered if insurance would come to the rescue – but things started to fall in to place, leading to a substantial rebuilding exercise just as they had hoped to get going again after the worst of the pandemic. And having seen what the deli could do, the owners set out to rebuild as a pizza restaurant as well as a delicatessen.
Works got going quite fast, with a clearout of the fire damaged contents, and building works to repair the back of the premises. As we understand it, things proved a bit more complicated than initially expected, and the premises needed rather more work than expected – so what had initially seemed like maybe a couple of months work stretched out in to more like five or six months, including quite significant repairs to the flooring beams, a complete rewire, and various other works.
The opportunity wasn’t lost though, to create something brighter and fresher than what had gone before, with a new look – including bringing light in to the back of the restaurant area with the previously largely hidden window, a curved new feature ceiling in sky blue, and a crisper, simpler overall design, There was still the all important pizza oven, at the back of the premises.
Things were actually coming on pretty well, to the extent that by September last year, we could start seeing what Donna Margherita 2.0 was going to look like. Donna Margherita’s Instagram was clearly showing the enthusiasm too: “Ciao Amici! We’re still full-on working hard on our Donna Margherita 2.0, works are proceeding great but unfortunately, it might take a few more months before we can safely open our doors.We appreciate every single one of you reaching out and we hope to see you as soon as we open! This is the longest break we took in over 20 years and it will probably be the longest one we’ll take ever, we love our job and making you smile with our food!“.
But then everything stopped. We hoped it was just a case of struggling to find people to do the finishing touches in a very tight market in the building trades. But six months on, the site remains deserted and there’s no sign of action, suggesting that the pressure of keeping afloat with the restaurant a building site may have been too much.
So… is this goodbye? It would be a sad end to a local institution. What went wrong? Can Donna Margherita still rise from the ashes? We’ve tried to get in touch and will let you know if we hear; and if any of our readers can provide any update on the team or the restaurant, do let us know.