Da Terra, London E2: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised? Critic Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and olive reader Pete Kendall compare notes on Bethnal Green’s latest opening
About Da Terra, London
Restaurants at Bethnal Green’s Grade-II-listed town hall have a remarkable legacy: first, it was Nuno Mendes’s Viajante, a seminal place in its time; then The Typing Room by Lee Westcott. Now, continuing in the same vein, Da Terra moves in, under the aegis of chefs Rafael Cagali and Paulo Airaudo. Defining its new offering as fine dining by way of Latin America and Italy, Da Terra – meaning ‘from the ground’ – offers guests two tasting menus, short or long, the contents of which are only revealed upon arrival.
There are also three wine-pairing options (short, long and premium), designed to complement each mystery dish. The only clues as to what’s on the menu are the chefs’ impressive CVs – featuring Arzak in San Sebastián, The Fat Duck in Bray (where Rafael and Paulo met) and Aulis in London – and their promise to grow the culture of gastronomy in the capital with food full of flavour of originality.
Expect a moody, shades-of-grey vibe inside and the option of bar snacks if you can’t do the whole caboodle – treats such as cod croquetas with chive mayo, chicken liver parfait on toasted brioche, octopus and aïoli, and lemon tart.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Chloe Scott-Moncrieff was food editor at Metro for seven years, and co-founded the Young British Foodie awards. @chloescottmoncrieff
The punter restaurant reviewer
Pete Kendall lives in Hertfordshire and eats out once a week. He loves Indian food and is partial to the steak and ale pie at The Game Bird.
Our pro's Da Terra, London restaurant review…
Swirling walls, bright paintings and quirky ceramics give Da Terra a fresh insouciance. But once seated, it’s staunchly fine dining – all dishes are introduced by the chefs, especially by Rafael, who is delightful.
We pick the shortest option, an eight-course menu. The sommelier, Eugenio Egorov, adeptly sniffs out a variety of small-batch and biodynamic wines for pairing. *I wasn’t recognised.
An immediate triumph is the first dish: al dente beetroot ribbons, yakitori-smoked mackerel, trout roe with sparks of herbs. The interplay of vegetal, sweet roe and smoky earthiness with a caress of gently tangy crème fraîche is exquisite.
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Next, a pile of pebbles appears – silken sweet scallop roe mousse in a pouch of grey skin. In the shell, fleshy scallop comes with flourishes of sea purslane and kombu seaweed in a tangy fennel jus with tongue-tingling emerald drops. Such playful belters continue like a classy jazz LP, hit after hit. Umami-smouldering chicken skin splits open into a blaze of orange egg yolk, with a shell of rich savoury chicken parfait.
Short rib with rows of shimeji mushrooms on top, next to fiery crimson little peppers from Brazil, a buttery farofa of banana, shallots, parsley and bacon is a favourite. So many components but all relevant. The succulent beefy meat slips down with a pat of nutty artichoke quenelle, the fifth element of this composition.
Finally, a donut filled with dulce de leche is dazzling, as is the enlivening caipirinha treat, and clout of citrus in a lemon tart for the petits fours.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We visited on a Friday lunchtime and were the only guests, so the space lacked buzz. But the menu was a brilliant orgy of South American originality. For £73 each, it seems fairly priced.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £194.50
Our punter's Da Terra, London restaurant review…
Entering the restaurant, the first thing you see is the open kitchen – the décor has a warm feel, but the highlight was the welcome from the enthusiastic and friendly front of house staff, who made us feel right at home.
We were a party of two, one who didn’t eat fish. Being a tasting menu I thought this would be an issue but, quite instantly, a non-fish menu was created just for us. A testament to the talent and creativity of the kitchen.
I don’t often pick tasting menus, because normally you’re there for hours, but this one was served in a timely fashion. You can pick eight or 12 courses with the additional option of wine pairings. We went for the former and a bottle of chianti to match.
One of the standout dishes of the night was mackerel with beetroot and crème fraîche, the mackerel crisp on top with light flesh underneath, which worked well with the earthy beetroot slivers.
Scallop, fennel and apple was by far the best presented, with crisp apple and fennel balancing the meaty scallop for a fresh flavour. The scallop came in a shell on a bed of salty seaweed with a little Lego diver hanging on the side. Not to feel left out, they made a special Lego creation for the non-fish eater, which was a thoughtful addition.
Tender beef held its shape and melted under the knife, and, when coupled with the crunch of chard, gave a great contrast of textures. The cheese selection was goat’s cheese cooked into a cheesecake-style texture with a sweet and salty balance, while a light and fluffy donut was the highlight of our petits fours.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Service was five star – the sommelier had an impeccable knowledge of the wine. The highlight was seeing how much the chef cared. He chatted to everyone and checked every dish prior to delivery.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £207
Da Terra Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 6
Chefs Paulo Airaudo and Rafael Cagali describe their new East London restaurant as ‘fine dining between Latin America and Italy’. What that doesn’t tell you is that the restaurant's tasting menus (generally a good way to reduce waste) are built on firm foundations of seasonality and many of the dishes are clearly described thus.
The seafood dishes, featuring a fine range of sustainable species like hand-dived Isle of Mull scallops and trout, are designed with seasonality in mind too. It’s good to see that while carbon intensive short-rib beef is a speciality, awareness of the benefit of nose to tail cooking means marrow bone also features. The kitchen has a no palm oil policy and for their tea and coffee they’ve carefully chosen suppliers with excellent direct trade credentials.
For those partial to stronger drink, if the wine isn’t organic or biodynamic it doesn’t make it onto the list. It’s early days still and we’re assured by Rafael that the kitchen team will be looking to set food waste reduction targets and implementing a plan to support local community organisation soon.
Photographs by Alex Stephen Teuscher