Restaurant Review: Da Terra, Bethnal Green

By Tessa Dunthorne

2 weeks ago

Two starred Michelin joy

Da Terra is a restaurant that asks diners to head east for their fine dining. They’ll be glad they did – the space might not be flashy, but the food here is. Tessa Dunthorne visits the two-starred restaurant and is blown away. 

Review: Da Terra By Chef Rafael Cagali

Two starred Da Terra resides in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel. It’s sort of an odd mix: Bethnal Green is a good time for a night out (the Working Men’s Club is only a short stumble from here), and the Town Hall is all marble and dark-stained wood – opulence on steroids. 

Whereas Da Terra is unassuming. It’s veiled behind a black curtain that, drawn, reveals a calm space that’s casually dressed. Bright and clean, you look right into an oasis: the open-plan kitchen has a calm team led by head chef Rafael Cagali working away, a smatter of big, round tables are cloaked in white linens, and it’s all very gentle on the senses. Decor is minimal – pocket-sized wooden animals from Brazil (Rafael’s origin) dot surfaces, and price cards sit enveloped against rolled napkins. There’s no menu. The Eurythmics play overhead. 

But where Da Terra is unassuming in appearance, the food certainly isn’t. 

Chef Rafael opened Da Terra a few years ago after cutting his teeth at a number of three starred restaurants (including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck). He’s got skill: within eight months, he’d bagged his first star; the second followed in 2021. 

As far as the actual categorisation of the food, it’s hard to pin down. His Brazilian heritage plays a big part in the cuisine he prepares here, but the tasting menu (it’s only tasting menus here) is not necessarily dominated by South American flavours. He has lived all over the world – there’s a whisper of everywhere here. 

How you can categorise the food, though, is with words like ‘exploratory’ and ‘creative’. I chat with the team, and they tell me the kitchen runs playful competition to use up off-cuts. Some dishes make the menu. Some don’t. But it’s a brilliant way to think about food in a less obvious sense, and a reliable way to reduce food waste. 

Caviar dessert at Da Terra

Caviar on a dessert? Loved it

So it’s with great excitement as the food comes out. What did I eat? It sounds topsy turvy written out, but there’s a semblance of sense at the end of each sentence that proves each plates has real ingenuity. Langoustine heads and shells – boiled into a broth and turned to a bread to accompany the bodies, deliciously fried. Anti-waste, tick-tick. Caviar – on a rum baba. And delicious at that, the salt of the fish eggs melting into the pudding and cutting through, like a twist on salted caramel, but with more rum and more fish. And less caramel.  

Fish stew at Da Terra

The fish stew

There are more conventional, but no less creatively pulled off, dishes on the menu. A duck caesar salad presented as a bouquet, duck wrapped around the leaves. Gelatinous aged creamed porcini mushrooms in a scalloped cup that’s so umami I basically have to steady myself in my chair it knocks me back so much. A bread course which uses whipped bone marrow as one of the butters, a novel spin on the best course in a tasting menu. A turbot stew with Brazil nuts and plantain, one nod to Brazil, is presented in a big copper pot. It’s a brief appearance, so you get the idea of home, before it’s taken back to the kitchen to be made a little less homely and more Michelin-y. But then it’s served up with Swiss cider. All clever thoughtful twisting of convention. 

It’s hard not to be impressed by Da Terra. Its two stars feel well earned. The food is creative, careful and made within the spirit of play. The chef, who is very present in the kitchen, comes out to present the first course, is also impossibly likeable. His name is stitched in comic sans on his chef whites alongside the little red stars. I’m told his dog (Rolo) is normally around, too, albeit missing today. The atmosphere, calm and non-pretentious, is a reprieve against a busy high street outside, and presents a confident restaurant that knows the fine fare it serves doesn’t need shrouding in noise. Unless that noise is the Eurhythmics, in which case that’s completely covered. 

Final Word

Make Bethnal Green your next dining destination and head to Rafael Cagali’s Da Terra for playful fine-dining that deserves both its stars.