A Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant in Hackney, Angelina might well be punchy in combining such popular cuisines, but it’s shown that they’re not incompatible. I’d say it’s more Japanese than Italian, or at least the monthly changing menu was when I visited, and delicately executed by chefs Joshua Owens-Baigler – previously at The River Café – and Amar Takhar. In short, it was a lot of fun working through the menu and beautifully presented plates.
A short walk from Dalston Junction station, in the opposite direction from lively Kingsland Road, Angelina is found on a quiet stretch of Dalston Lane. From across the street it’s very inviting. From the black ceiling hang Japanese lanterns, warmly lighting the large room (and not in a tacky way). Skip to the end of the evening and, in more Japanese style than Italian, you leave without feeling stuffed and are looking at £39+ per person for an omakase (‘I’ll leave it up to the chef’) menu of four courses, or a ten-course kaiseki menu for £59.
The menu works on a five-week rotation, but the structure is always the same; A set menu with wine pairing for an additional £55, or an upgraded ‘Grandi Classici’ wine pairing for £95. Along with the food menu, the wine list also changes every five weeks.
Choosing the generous £55 wine pairing, the meal kicks off with a Franciacorta Coupe Brut, a Chardonnay/Pinot Nero blend from the Milan region of Lombardy with small bubbles ‘and notes of bread and pastries’, I’m informed by a very knowledgeable waiter. It’s a rather sweet Italian champagne. Sourdough focaccia with mentaiko – an Alaskan pollock (of the cod family) roe – and olive oil came first. Ten courses later, and this might well have been the best thing on the menu, with a kick to the tarama that just kept on giving. Or perhaps it was the miso butter that came with Hokkaido milk bread and apricot jam… Katsuobushi potato, fonduta and caviar will fulfil your crispy dreams – two bite-sized golden balls of beauty with a silky smooth melted cheese, of sorts, improved with milk, eggs and cream, topped with caviar.
Bursting with flavour, last (from this first round of plates) comes tofu, doteyaki and takuan. The doteyaki is a four-hour slow-simmered stew of beef tendon and miso served on soft tofu – traditionally it would be served with chawanmushi, a savoury, set, steamed egg custard. No Italian fusion here, except the obvious similarity of slow-cooked beef stew. The dish is finished beautifully with the addition of crunchy, tart pickled daikon (takuan) on top. The second wine was a natural organic, without the funk, and from the Dolomites where it’s cold and high altitude. With it is the crudo course – or sashimi, whichever cuisine you’re leaning into. There are four dishes: Courgette, burrata and ikura; scallop and nectarine; mackerel, yuzu and parmigiano; madai, currant and tamari.
The texture of the mackerel is hands down the best I’ve ever had. It’s very fishy, very Scandinavian (in case there wasn’t enough of a fusion going on). The yuzu (a citrus fruit) on the mackerel was a perfect accompaniment. It came with a proper French dressing that had a minute-long taste progression from tongue to roof of mouth to throat. The ‘madai’ sea bream was overpowered by blackberry compote but delicious by itself. Advised to eat the burrata first, followed by the scallop, the bream and then the mackerel, the multi-plate course closed out with the big-hitting fish dish. A pause…
The next course was fried, more tempura in style than fritto misto with the ingredients but paired with a Lambrusco, to work with these greasier plates. Take a sip and then bite into the tempura was the advice. Shiso fry king prawn with king prawn mayo, and sweetcorn kakiage – essentially a corn fritter – and lardo.
A wine with fruity notes to start and creamy to finish is served next – a skin contact Pinot Grigio. It pairs with triangoli, truffle, ceremonial matcha and pistachio. This is essentially a truffle pasta, which usually isn’t my thing, truffles being so often overpowering if not the real deal. But, alas, Angelina is the real deal, and it’s extremely good. You know when something works when it hits all of the senses.
Kakuni, hamaguri and mirabelle is braised pork belly with Japanese clams and plum, served with a simple Sicilian red. A dessert of genmaicha – Japanese green tea – purin is a sort of matcha creme caramel, with a white chocolate bottom and cherry sorbet, and is paired with a northern Italian dessert wine of tropical, sweet fruits.
The restaurant is very buzzy – it’s a Saturday and there are dates dining, groups and mingling staff. If I was coming back, which I would, I’d splash out and upgrade to the more expensive wine pairing. Whilst £55 for the more basic list is no small sum, the wines didn’t really hit the spot for me. Some fun, adventurous wines featured; Lambrusco, for example, was a cool idea to cut through the grease, and whilst I could appreciate the idea for pairing, I couldn’t really appreciate the sweet, sweet wine, especially for £115 a head.
6 Dalston Lane