Da Terra opened in early 2019 on the site that used to be Typing Room in the Bethnal Green Town Hall. Head chef Rafael Cagali runs the restaurant with his business partner Paulo Airaudo, who also runs a one Michelin star restaurant called Amelia in San Sebastián. Born to Brazilian and Italian parents, Mr Cagali has worked in Italy and in the UK at three star Michelin Martin Berasategui and Quique Dacosta in Spain. In the UK he worked at The Fat Duck, Yashin Ocean House and with Simon Rogan at Fera, Aulis in Soho and Roganic. Da Terra gained a Michelin start in 2020 and a second in the 2021 guide.
The dining room is in two sections, with one facing the open, and surprisingly small, kitchen. The lighting at the tables was unusually good, illuminating the tables so you could see the food, but without the overall effect being harsh. The menu format is a no-choice tasting menu, though there are two separate lengths to select from, at £130 for the shorter or the full version, which we opted for, at £155. For the wine list please see my previous review.
After a refreshing little Brazilian cocktail called caipirinha, the meal began with a series of canapes. Mackerel tartlet had pastry flavoured with stout, though that was hard to detect, along with peas and buckwheat seeds. The pastry was delicate and the balance of the elements was good (16/20). Nori tacos was filled with a 55 day-aged beef rib eye with anchovy. This was pleasant but lacked much in the way of seasoning, and the beef had less flavour than I was expecting (14/20). Cod head croquettes with sake and potato tapioca crisp with mayonnaise was nice but again was rather light on seasoning (15/20). The best nibble were oyster mushroom doughnuts that had plenty of mushroom flavour and good texture (16/20).
This was followed by Isle of Mull scallop tartare with barley, slices of apple, fennel broth, smoked dill oil and marigold snow. The scallop had excellent natural sweetness and went well with the fennel and the hint of dill (16/20). On the side was a little crisp pillow of scallop roe mousse, with crisp pastry container but nowhere near enough scallop roe, meaning that you mostly just tasted the pastry case. This did not add anything to the dish.
A take on the classic caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella here involved a soft burrito with excellent Datterini tomatoes from Sicily with a bread crisp flavoured with basil and tomato consommé. This was a pretty dish, and enjoyable if a tad salty (16/20). This was followed by a dish of several elements involving chicken. The best was onion purée with egg yolk, sliced truffle and pickled onions. The vinegar of the pickled onions cut nicely through the richness of the egg. Chicken liver parfait with onion caramel in puffed chicken feet lacked much in the way of chicken flavour. Chicken wing and heart on a skewer glazed with chicken sauce was cooked all right but the chicken itself lacked real depth of flavour. Finally, a mushroom brioche with mushroom broth glaze was a little dry (14/20 overall). Sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and had very good texture, served with roast bone marrow with sage powder and three different butters (16/20).
Moqeuca is a Brazilian fish stew involving coconut milk and okra, and was presented here before being taken back to the kitchen. This returned as a sauce served with wild halibut that had been barbecued with palm hearts and toasted cassava flour along with hen of the woods mushroom and Brazil nuts. A little dish of chillies was served on the side, so that you could add as much or as little spice as you wanted. This was an excellent dish, the fish carefully cooked and the sauce rich and full of flavour. The chillies were exactly what was needed to cut through the coconut milk in the fish stew (17/20).
Next was duck ravioli filled with duck leg ragu, along with watercress purée, duck skin crumb duck sauce, a garnish of watercress and rocket flowers and whey sauce reduced with cream. On the side was duck ham. This was another very successful dish, the ragu having deep flavour, with balance provided by the watercress (17/20).
Cornish lamb loin came with artichoke, asparagus, cassava terrine and a salad of sea kale, cavolo nero and rainbow chard, along with monk beard and lamb sweetbread. The dish was finished with lamb sauce with garlic and capers. The meat had quite good flavour but the fat needed to be rendered more, and lamb sweetbreads inevitable lack the silky subtlety of calf sweetbreads (15/20).
In place of a cheese plate was a goat cheese flan topped with guava and served with crackers. This worked well, the acidity of the fruit balancing the richness of the cheese (16/20). This was followed by a curious dish, a baba topped with Exmoor Beluski caviar. This was just weird, and the mushy Exmoor caviar is a distinctly disappointing choice to see in a restaurant of this level (12/20 is kind). Altogether better was English strawberry with sheep yoghurt ice cream and strawberry consommé with a little 40 aged balsamic vinegar. This dessert had nice flavour, with the touch of balsamic working well with the fruit (15/20).
Coffee was basic Nespresso, but there are apparently plans in hand to upgrade that. The staff were very good, being attentive and friendly. I was being treated by a friend tonight so did not see the final bill, but if you opted for the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be £180. Overall, this was a very enjoyable experience, with the dish presentation in particular being immaculate. There were still some little imperfections that could be ironed out, but this was certainly an interesting menu. However, this is not a cheap night out.
Further reviews: 06th Jun 2019