“Is this your first visit to Angelina?” the voice came from the next table. Normally I’d regard this as a pickup line but, not this time. I had been eyeballing the menu for some time to make sense of the 10-course menu with my partner. Then we had to decide whether to add the wine pairing to the experience.
Breaking off from our debate, I turned to Bernadette and offered: “Er yes”. Colin, also seated on the next table, said “I’m jealous. You are in for two hours of oohs and aahs, the kind you get the first time you experience something amazing”.
This was their third visit. They knew the drill and had just finished their two-hour session and moved onto the grappa. Smiling eyes looked back at me, and now I was excited.
Angelina has two young owners. Ex-footballer Joshua Owens-Baigler and Amar Takhar, both locals, who had been friends since they were toddlers. Josh recounted tales of being taken out for dinner regularly by his dad to mainly Japanese and Italian restaurants. Their head chef Usman Heyden was poached from Ottolenghi.
Yet, I couldn’t help wondering, how exactly do you fuse Japanese with Italian cuisine?
When I walked in it was not immediately clear how to feel – a restaurant and a cafe engage different states of mind.
I soon settled on the idea that this is a restaurant with a sense of cafe-esque casual. A stylish black facade leads to a black and white interior, simple tables and chairs almost minimalist decor save Japanese style paper lanterns with Japanese letters.
It’s friendly, easygoing yet stylish and streamlined.
Food & Drink
There are a couple of menus, but we chose the longest, the 10-course menu comprising little plates with wine pairing.
First came a flute of Franciacarta Coupe Non Dosato, otherwise known as Italys answer to Champagne. This playful nectar from the Lombardy region comprises Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
It whets our palate for the deep-fried artichokes – a morish mouthful that offered crispiness of the batter yet soft and delicious on the inside. Two styles of bread turned up: one topped with soft ricotta and a brioche topped with tuna Nduja – a paste of pork meat and hot chilli pepper.
It worked so well with the Chawanmushi. This is a Japanese steamed egg custard, similar to a creme brulee but without the sugar and made savoury with sausage, tarragon oil and ikura – Japanese salmon roe. I raised an eyebrow at the cleverness of this concoction of luxurious fusion.
A glass of Asterias Tempa Di Zoe, Fiana, Capania, 2019, a light, dry white heralded the arrival of the sea bream in marrow fat pea foam, served with wakame (seaweed). This was the highlight of the feast. It just kept on giving with waves of flavour ending with an unexpected wasabi heat.
Two Cornish Rock oysters turned up chilled with yuzu granita and cooked in tropea onion. Though these slid down easily, the flavours and length hung around.
The ravioli, asparagus and truffle dish comes with a secret ingredient, egg yolk, hidden in the pouch of the ravioli. About this dish, Josh says, “nothing is more Italian than Fresh pasta, and nothing more Japanese than using Dashi stock as base flavouring”. The yoke is cured in soya sauce for around an hour.
The Pea Wasabi and the spiced panko tongue were paired with the fruity and zesty Zero Infinito, a wine from the Solaris grape from the mountainous region of Trentino. It’s an unfiltered cloudy wine whose straw-yellow colour comes from the sediment.
The heaviest dish, pork belly and scallops, is an inventive surf and turf in a delicate sauce. This is paired with a red wine Del Kiel Manincor from Alto Adige made from the juicy Shiava grape. This fruity strawberry hued wine was served chilled.
A wobbly pannacotta was dessert – made with egg white, milk, cream, sugar and gelatine – and served with a shiso sorbet. Quaintly, the shiso – a Japanese herb from the mint family – is supplied by Josh’s mum, who grows them on her rooftop. These leaves retail at £4 each, in footy terms, that’s surely a back of the net victory.
If you can convey the excellence of a meal in oohs and aahs, then this was truly two hours worth with some whoa’s thrown in. A superbly fun evening and no doubt we will be bumping into Bernadette and Colin again there.
Download Angelina’s menu here