Soft launches in London are always a bit hit and miss but Angelina managed to be both hit and miss. It all started relatively good, with an inviting, dark façade and beautiful, stylish interiors welcoming us in from the cold empty streets of Dalston. But with the restaurant full, our reserved spot wasn’t quite ready, and so we were ushered into the seperate bar area. We had been promised a secret bar inspired by Shinjuku, where phones are banned, forcing drinkers to put away instagram and to discover a more sociable drinking experience. In reality it’s a backroom with a queue to the toilet striking through its heart, with a few seats and a cute little bar. And when the restaurant got fuller, so did the bar – with seats enough for only 6 people and all of those taken up by folk waiting for their reservation – the promise seemed flawed. The cocktails were decent enough though and I’d be interested to see how this pans out in the future, but for now it really didn’t appeal.
The Food At Angelina
The kitchen at Angelina is fully open, with the restaurant bar seats facing the chefs with a full view of everything that goes on. The 8 plate tasting menu, the main offering, seems fairly priced at £48 a head and the dishes, an intriguing display of Italian classics spruced up by Japanese flavour and technique are for the most part very good. However, there were a few issues on the night…
From the menu, the first dishes of smoked sausage with boba leaf and mint, Fritto Misto with ‘Worcester Sauce’, and the Crudite tuna flew past, each well balanced and minimal with simple but effective presentation. The tuna served with veal mayonnaise and capers was the first standout, but it was followed by the disappointing Cavolo Nero with half an egg that was just a touch overdone with the centre though gooey beginning to firm up once it reached the table.
The standout dish of the evening goes to the Unagi Risotto, for which I can forgive Angelina for all of its sins. This is a stunning risotto dish flavoured with Unagi, burnt soy butter and Dashi, the outwards simplicity of which lowers your guard and does nothing to prepare you for its mouthwatering inwards complexity, with rice cooked perfectly, the unagi soft and surprsingly sweet, and the soy butter thinned by Dashi to create an incredible injection of pure umami. Salty, creamy, rich and pungent. This is where the promise of Italy meets Japan, comes into full force. An Italian staple, reimagined as though served on the very streets of Shinjuku. More dishes like this and Angelina will soon be crowned culinary queen of East London.
After this however we were served a thick cut of Onglet with radicchio, soy and sesame. Simple enough, this should have been good, and it was…. for one of us. Before being served we noted that after the initial cooking, the steaks were being held in a large oven dish above the stoves on a high shelf. We were unfortunate enough to have a birds eye view as we were sat on the bar directly across from the steak’s bedroom. I don’t think that this in itself is room for too much criticisms, but rather the fact that they were up there for some 30 minutes before making their way on to the grill for their final sear. Despite this, they were good. Lots of flavour, served medium rare-ish, and the sauce a pleasing, albeit simple accompaniment. But it all lagged behind the genius of the Risotto. On the side however, the radicchio had seen better days. Mine was okay, just a little over charred perhaps but I happen to like that sometimes. My dining partner’s though was a blackened mess. And the server did not bat but a single eye at it. After inspecting the underside and finding the same charry abyss, we tried to get some attention, but the front of house and kitchen seemed slightly at odds and one server in particualr seemed absent whenever I tried to get his eye. And so we left it without explanation and put it down to a rushed kitchen going through the rigours of a well publicised trial opening.
The dessert was a Black Sesame Pannacotta with milk chocolate, and proved a tasty end to what was a menu of two distinct sides: brazen Italy and modest Japan, a touch of genius but ultimately flawed on delivery.
Angelina has all the parts to make what could be one of London’s best restaurants. It’s a good idea, mostly pulled off as promised, mixed with capable chefs and what seemed like good service… perhaps a little too rushed and perhaps not yet comfortable enough to challenge the kitchen when they send out a bad dish? Who knows. But on the night, I think it suffered from teething problems that with some luck, should be yanked out once the soft launch is over. But that secret bar is just a fancy toilet queue with a bar attached to the end.
Angelina, 56 Dalston Ln, Dalston, London E8 3AH