The Weird and Wonderful Angelina of East London
A fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisine creates a delightful dining experience at this eatery.
Considering the recent changes in the hospitality industry, Angelina could be considered a relative newcomer in Dalston's east London neighborhood.
The Angelina restaurant is a new wave of fusion restaurants headed by Joshua Owens-Baigler and Amar Takhar, formerly of London's River Café. It mixes Japanese and Italian cuisines. Even though these two cuisines might seem incompatible at first, just a few dishes in and you see their compatibility.
In Angelina, the two young restaurateurs pay tribute to Italian and Japanese cuisines, and although they don't claim to know them inside out, they do it inventively, carefully and with great care.
We can almost guarantee you'll be intrigued by each, and you'll love most of them. There are no promises that you'll enjoy every dish at this restaurant, but we can almost guarantee you'll enjoy most of them.
Although Owens-Baigler and Takhar have envisioned Angelina, head chef Usman Haider is in charge of the kitchen. A Kashmiri native, Haider grew up in India, but his passion for food was sparked by his travels around the world, particularly to Pakistan and Bahrain, like the restaurant's founders.
He has worked at Yottam Ottolenghi's celebrated NOPI and Polpo, among others, in London's melting pot of food and drink. The restaurant's unique cuisine has grown from strength to strength under his leadership. In the summer of 2019, he joined Angelina as sous chef, but he became head chef the following year.
Each menu at Angelina rotates every five weeks based on the seasonality of ingredients. The restaurant offers a ten-course Kaiseki menu and a four-course Omakase menu. Although each new menu is totally different from its predecessor, favorite dishes do tend to pop up now and then, remaining true to the intriguing fusion of Japanese and Italian flavors throughout.
The Kaiseki menu was just beginning to adapt to the fall bounty, with a few remnants of late summer still hanging around.
It included shiso-spiked caponata on Italian focaccia, sweetbread sandwiched between Hokkaido milk bread and sweet tonkatsu sauce, and lightly charred piadina bread topped with gorgonzola and eel. The day began in a strange but wonderful way.
There is a similar pattern to the 'raw' course, which features small, perfectly formed dishes. An Italian sushi dish you will not often see is beetroot wrapped in nori and paired with fig umeboshi dipping sauce. Razor clams go well with Japanese persimmons and pops of pomegranate.
A few of the larger dishes on the menu have an oozing smoked egg and a hint of Italian influence later on. I particularly enjoyed the giant raviolo sliced to reveal a smoked egg, as well as the delicate plate of quail leg, served with a tart blackberry sauce, pureed pumpkin, and hazelnuts.
Its menu spans continents, but its wine list sticks firmly to Italian wines. Angelina's sommelier hails from Piedmont and specializes in low-intervention orange wines.
As part of Angelina's recent renovation, Owens-Baigler's mother Anna Owens, of interior design firm Anna Owens Designs, designed a beautifully simple dining room.
Black ceilings offset a cool gray color scheme and oversized fig tree in the center of the room with a long, squishy banquette in front of an enormous window.
The large terrace outside provides extra space come summer, but with only a few seats, it's hard to get a reservation. There are just a few tables, so making a reservation is challenging. In the winter it's heated and covered, but it's still probably best just for a drink. Once the colder months arrive, the cozy dining room is the place to be. Each table is near the kitchen, but if you'd like a front-row view, take a seat at the bar.