If I gave stars, being asked at the end of a meal how we had enjoyed our “journey” would surely knock a couple off.
But as it turns out, I don’t dish out stars and nor can I say that the question really detracted from the joys of Angelina, as much as it may have made me cringe.
If you too are willing to forgive a faint flirtation with pretentiousness, likely the product of newly-opened nerves and an ambitious vision, the Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant on Dalston Lane is well worth a visit.
Japanese and Italian? A combination as curious as the many passers-by who peer in as we eat, taken in by the candles and little plants on the window sills mirrored by hanging Japanese lanterns and two large trees in the main dining space.
Angelina appears an oasis, though the intermittent flashing from a speed camera on the busy road outside is a reminder that we are in Dalston rather than the backstreets of Tuscany, despite the fine Italian marble table tops.
The menu is small, considered and mysterious. There is a good value daily plate for £9 if you’re in a hurry, or the five plate tasting menu for £38 and an additional £35 with the wine pairing.
There is little knowing what will arrive from the kitchen – the first plate is simply “fritto misto” – but this is part of the intrigue and teasing subtlety of the fusion concept.
The fritto misto, it transpires, consists of crispy eel croquettes with a zingy salsa verde and a stack of tempura leaves with a soy-like sauce.
There are also olive and sausage arancini, meaty and rich and accompanied by a Japanese twist on Worcestershire sauce – deliciously sticky with a hint of umami that’s somewhere between brown sauce and BBQ sauce.
At the same time, the raw course arrives. The blood orange carpaccio is the stand-out here, inventively paired with sea salt and a red onion relish it is juicy and refreshing after all the fried batter.
We’re also treated to sea urchins, known as ‘uni’ in Japan.
Served in its hedgehog-like shell on ice, it is fresh and salty like an oyster but with earthier undertones. Then there is tagliolini with Cornish crab, wasabi and ginger.
In what is the clearest example of fusion, what seems to be classic creamy Italian pasta is cunningly transformed into a noodle dish through clever Japanese inflections. The grated ginger even looks like parmesan.
The fourth course of monkfish, Hibachi pork and spring green vignarola is similarly playful, if a little salty when combined with the soy sauce.
We move to sit overlooking the open kitchen for pudding and watch the chefs meticulously assemble the dishes.
Dessert is another Italian classic, creamy frangipane tart, with a little nod eastwards through the inclusion of Nashi pear.
Washed down with a glass of red fortified with brandy, I was ready to politely gush about how much we’d enjoyed our “journey”.