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Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel has been a prestigious food address for some time in London. First, Nuno Mendes put this wayward East London stop on the map with his superb restaurant Viajante. Then Lee Westcott took over, and equalled his achievements with The Typing Room. Both were recognised as Michelin star-worthy, but when Rafael Cagali opened Da Terra in the same spot, few would have predicted that he'd eclipse them both, achieving two Michelin stars in just a few years.
It's a doubly impressive achievement given that Cagali's start in food came relatively late, and out of necessity rather than anything else. Rafael grew up with a love of food cultivated by his mother's restaurant and jazz bar in Sao Paolo. He moved to the UK to learn English and study, but in need of cash, he took a job in a kitchen in Fulham. That, as they say, was that - after working in a few different London restaurants, he travelled to Spain to work with legendary chef Quique Dacosta, then worked with Stefano Baiocco at Villa Feltrinelli in Italy, before returning to work with Simon Rogan at Fera, Aulis and Roganic. 'I extracted good things from all of those and it made me what I am now. Da Terra is that, but with some twists from my background,' he explains in our interview.
Rafael's food at Da Terra combines his Brazilian and Italian heritage with a creative streak honed in some of the best kitchens in Europe. As a result, menus often feature lesser-known Brazilian and South American ingredients, and combine a range of cooking techniques from different parts of the world. He's passionate about his brand too. Rafael has never missed a service at Da Terra - if you visit, you're guaranteed to find him on the pass.
In 2022, Rafael opened a second restaurant in Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel called Elis. The second restaurant is more casual than Da Terra, serving more rustic dishes that draw on Brazilian and Italian food. 'We draw on everything from my favourite street food, to family meal celebration dishes that my grandma used to make,' Rafael explains.