The Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green has a glittering history when it comes to restaurants. It was previously home to Nuno Mendes’ Michelin-starred Viajante and Lee Westcott’s Typing Room. The dining room’s latest – and now two Michelin-starred – incarnation is the brainchild of Brazilian chef Rafael Cagali, who’s background includes Aulis, Fera, The Fat Duck, and time in Italy and Spain at the likes of Quique Dacosta and Martin Berasategui.
With such an all-round impressive pedigree comes high expectations, but Da Terra isn’t as high-falutin’ as you might expect. While the dining is undoubtedly fine, there are flashes of playfulness, too - witness the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that greet you as you enter (a reference to Rafael’s childhood nickname, ‘Turtle’).
What follows is precise, exquisitely crafted and delicious. First, snacks - a tiny bundle of leaves hides a single bite of duck Caesar salad; there’s a mushroom doughnut with the fruity tang of Taleggio; and an impossibly thin, crisp buckwheat cup, which carries delicious scallop crudo within.
The team can easily speed up or slow down proceedings as you like, and we found the pacing of the meal absolutely spot on. Every dish hides something surprising and delightful, whether it’s tiny parcels of Carabinero prawn and fermented datterini hiding under a foamy vodka tomato sauce, or a superb pre-dessert cheesecake that cleverly skips between goat’s cheese and the gentle funk of guava.
There’s still time for a visit to Brazil with a course that distils moqueca - a traditional Brazilian fish stew - into an elegant bowl of turbot, farofa and rich sauce. Another star of the show is ‘The Humble Chicken’, which uses everything from feet to wings, and ushers in a bit of luxury with generous white truffle shavings and a confit egg yolk.
Menus are paired with intriguing wines from all over the world, and pairings also shift between the tried-and-tested and some more creative ideas, another example of Da Terra’s refreshing approach to high-end dining. Cosy, innovative and disarmingly fun, Da Terra takes fine dining and turns it on its head, delivering delicious, unique creations without any of the usual fluff and formality.