188 Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 7JD
By Michael M Sandwick
I would rather not tell you anything about this restaurant except that it is unassuming, a bit out of the way and ridiculously inexpensive, then you would have no expectations…
And it’s the surprise of 2019!
Head Chef Joao Ferreira Pinto and Sommelier Carolina W. Seibel are a perfect team. They own it. And they OWN IT! Both are on the front line. Joao heads up the kitchen and Carolina runs the floor. I have rarely seen two people who care so much about what they are doing. The result is sheer delight.
When we walked in, Carolina greeted us like old friends. I attributed this to my good looks and charm, but then I saw she’s like that with everyone. Damn! Her service is flawless.
The room is rustic and cosy with absolutely no pretence. From the open kitchen to the front door, it just oozes good vibes.
The two owners offered to send a selection of food and wine. If you get the same offer, go for it. You won’t find better value. Apps run from £3 to £12, mains £14 to £17, desserts £6 to £7 and wines by the glass £5 to £10. The wines don’t quite match the level of the food, but at these prices, that simply isn’t possible. The quality is still very fine. I especially enjoyed a fruity French Malbec and a smooth Les Hautes Terres from Limoux.
Chef Joao’s food is inventive and unique but both his Portuguese and Michelin restaurant backgrounds are amply displayed. Algarve flavoured carrots are just lightly pickled so their natural sweetness shines through. Radicchio, smoked eel and pickled watermelon radish had a beautiful balance; the bitter leaves working wonders. Portuguese morcela with smoked plum was heavenly. The first time I have ever raved about blood sausage.
Chestnut, mushroom and coconut soup sounds a bit cloying. It is not! Velvety smooth, rich and full of autumn. Torched mackerel with grilled baby gem came with an inspired smoked eel beurre blanc. Red cabbage added a touch of sweetness. Only a hint of acid was missing. Heirloom tomatoes with cheese ice cream and raspberries were a divine twist on the traditional burrata appetizer.
The chef served our mains and dessert himself, explaining each in detail. That gesture impressed me more than anything and showed the care I had been tasting all evening. Spelt risotto with pumpkin, pecorino and cured egg yolk, grated at table, was creamy, complex and full of flavour. Duck breast was the highlight of the evening. Pink, a crust of spices and a golden beetroot puree that I will attempt to replicate.
Hay-flavored mousse was the final surprise. Light and delicate, with physalis (Cape gooseberry) apple and sorrel granita and a crunchy, not too sweet, charcoal meringue. My taste buds stood in ovation.
The best accolade I can pay a restaurant is to return with friends. I will, but I won’t say a word. It’ll be a lovely surprise!