Choosing which toppings to have on a pizza is always hard, and arguably nowhere more so than at Duke of London’s temptingly aromatic in-house pizzeria, Santa Maria.
Do you keep it simple with a margherita? Maybe indulge your inner Neapolitan with a handful of anchovies and olives? It can be an excruciating ordeal, and no matter how much you end up enjoying every single slice of wood-fired goodness, there will always be the niggling doubt that you should have been bolder, less obvious; maybe even thrown caution to the wind and taken a risk with some artichokes.
Whatever you eventually decide, it’s important not to rush the decision process because that’s good practice, as it turns out, for what comes next.
Tear yourself away, when you can, from the heat of the oven and the waft of nduja and consider the restaurant’s setting. Strangely enough, Santa Maria occupies a corner of the first floor of a long-decommissioned 1930s soap factory, but there’s little here in the way of flaking paintwork, leaking pipes and smashed windows.
Negotiate your way around the immaculate Renault Clio Williams 2 (one of just 482 right-hand-drive examples) and try not to bump into the tastefully lowered 997.2 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet (with 639bhp from its tuned flat six) and you will see that the choice you must make is rather more burdensome than constructing your perfect lunch: how could you possibly pick a favourite car from this collection?
This is a car dealership like no other. In fact, it would be reductive to bestow on it such a single-track title. Factor in the Italian restaurant, on-site pub, restoration workshop, detailing studio, gym, bike repair shop and cobbler (that’s right), and Duke of London must really be considered as nothing short of a mecca for the modern petrolhead.
The capital’s automotive equivalent, if you like, of an all-inclusive resort in Barbados. It’s no surprise, then, to hear that the (surprisingly young) duke himself, Merlin McCormack, has been familiar with the motoring enthusiast world from a young age. He recalls: “In 2010, I left school and started helping my mechanic dad out around the workshop, and a lot of his customers were coming to him and asking for advice on what to buy. That’s not really his passion, so I stepped up and picked up the slack.”
Just four years later, he was running the first Duke of London dealership alongside his dad’s workshop in Kew Bridge, before relocating barely a mile down the road to what was once Brentford’s thriving dockland area. Today, his headquarters sits slap-bang in the middle of an expansive urban redevelopment project, which on the plus side provides just the right sort of gentrified brutalist background that appeals to Duke of London’s deservedly substantial Instagram following but, on the other hand, means it doesn’t have long to get too comfortable before the wrecking ball starts a-swinging.