When a restaurant tries to fuse two disparate cuisines it usually goes horribly wrong. Look at Novikov, the Japanese-meets-Italian restaurant that should never have worked… and still doesn’t. So when we heard about Angelina and its Turin-by-way-of-Tokyo inspired menu we were cynical to say the least.
Opened earlier this year, the restaurant celebrates seasonal and regional dishes from both countries, but there’s nothing lost in translation here. Owner Joshua Owens-Baigler, whose CV boasts the likes of River Café, has put together a winning team. He’s bagged Daniele Ceforo (ex-Bocca di Lupo and Murano – two of London’s most respected Italians) and Robin Beparry (ex-Head Chef of Kensington institution, Daphne’s). It’s a winning combination that brings together the warming, cosy comfort of Italy with the exciting authenticity of Japan.
Sat in painfully hip Dalston, Angelina is perhaps the most elegant eatery in the area which tends to be peppered with basement bars with no name, chicken shops and boutiques selling millennial fodder from cacti to £6 almond lattes. Angelina is anything but. It’s chic, cool, sexy, without being flashy – if Angelina were an actor it would quite literally be Angelina Jolie.
As I walked in, we were offered the sunken seats by the floor to ceiling window, the sprawling, expensive looking marble sharing tables lit with pretty candles (very Italian) or the chef’s table that peers over all the action (a nod to casual Japanese dining).
Despite the restaurant being quiet, we chose the chef’s bar to really soak in the atmosphere. It was the best shout, with optimum nosing from the surgeon-steady hands plating up micro herbs on the pass to a heated conversation between head chef and junior on something not being good enough to serve. Each day the team offer a regularly changing five-plate tasting menu. Priced at a seriously reasonable £39 and a further £35 for drinks pairings, it seems almost impossibly cheap and while the portion sizes aren’t huge, they are perfectly balanced and good. Really good. In fact, I’d say I haven’t been this excited about a menu for a while.
First up was the Fritto Miso – a playful take on the classic Italian dish of deep fried, well, everything. Angelina’s take marries that satisfying fatty batter (although theirs is delightfully light) with umami flavours and crispy kale and leafy veg.
More small plates followed, like the moreish savoury doughnuts made with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) dipped in a rich anchovy cream and just-seared salmon with black truffle and aged olive oil – a mere morsel of a dish but for what it lacked in size made up for in flavour.
It was a surreal take on ravioli that was the real winner, though. On the surface it looked like regular, plump pockets of pasta filled with an oozy carbonara sauce. It had all of those things but also a juxtaposed, glistening ramen-esque broth infused with spring onions and nasturtium, that was poured over at the table. The dish was unique, delicious and modern without being pretentious. Perfectly summing up everything about Angelina.
The drinks are well thought out too, with an uncomplicated list of wines that aren’t over the top in the price department and cocktails that aren’t afraid to have a bit of fun – The Big Cheese is a must-try with its whimsical blend of pear, sochu cognac liqueur and the rogue ingredient of Pecorino.
The choice to change the menu so often obviously keeps the team on their toes, the creative juices flowing and a reason for me to go back. If I had one niggle (and it’s a tiny niggle) it has to be the ‘secret’ bar at the back of the restaurant. It’s said to be inspired by the drinking dens of Shinjuku, a district of Tokyo. It only sits a handful of people, has brash purple-hued strip lighting and garish wallpaper. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that Angelina is so good the bar doesn’t seem necessary. Also, you have to walk through the bar to get to the toilets which kind of takes away the ‘secret’ element altogether.
Everything else I couldn’t fault. Fusion might have become a dirty word on the London food scene, but if Angelina have anything to do with it, I’m on board.
Angelina, 56 Dalston Lane, London E8 3AH