Don’t be distracted by Kingly Court’s nu-Soho sheen. Scale this panopticon of a food court and you’ll discover a solid stack of proper restaurants (namely Imad’s Syrian Kitchen and Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express) and now, the instant hit that is Donia.
A small ‘modern Filipino’ restaurant, it promises to recreate the sweet and sour flavours of the Philippines using the best British produce, and very much delivers. Donia – the Tagalog word used to (nicely) address someone as ‘madam’ – comes from the same group behind Kentish Town’s culty Panadera Bakery (they of the perfect pandesal loaf sandos with stratas like a geologist’s daydream), Bintang and Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream. Mamason’s Chinatown parlour aside, Donia marks their first central London dip into finer dining, and sits on the very top floor of Kingly Court in a space reminiscent of an upmarket country pub, complete with putty-coloured walls, high-beamed ceilings and impressive paper artwork that must be a nightmare to dust.
A cyclopsian eyeball of sauce gazed up at us from its crispy, sugared shell, well aware of its fate; total, unapologetic demolishment
The menu is brief, but masterful. Chicken offal skewers, at £3.50 each, offered not just serious value for money – a string of six earthy hearts scattered with peanut dust and doused in lime – but opened the gateway to an evening of rousing gastronomy.
Next, a trio of prawn and pork dumplings with white crab, bobbing in a decadent brown butter and lime sauce, then thick-cut sea bream kinilaw – essentially ceviche for wrestlers who need to bulk up before a bout – throbbing with the kind of oomph only humongous slices of red chilli can deliver.
But the mains were when the hardcore flavours came out to play. A sharing plate of lobster ginataan was almost too large for its dish, whiskers draping lugubriously across the table while creamy coconut and pumpkin sauce lapped at its shell. A buxom lamb shoulder caldereta pie was equally oozy, its thick gravy emboldened by tomatoes and chicken livers. Jasmine rice was put to work on both, mopping up a rainbow of orange, ochre and terracotta juices, all of it coating your teeth and spilling on your jeans in an entirely forgivable fashion.
To finish, a monumental choux bun filled with purple, sweet yam ube ice cream. A cyclopsian eyeball of sauce gazed up at us from its crispy, sugared shell, well aware of its fate; total, unapologetic demolishment.
If anything was off-message (the message being; ‘pow! taste this!’), it was a helping of oysters with guava granita. Though visually gorgeous, all Barbie-sur-la-mer, the mountains of pink ice overwhelmed the poor bivalves and, crucially, it was all simply too cold.
Donia isn’t the place for a light bite. It’s a place to be smacked senseless by thick, fulsome flavour and leave with a stain on your trousers.
The vibe Intimate, clever dining in a classy room in a Soho food court.
The food Big old flavours and Filipino sharing plates.
The drink Fabulously fruity cocktails, with an umeshu plum and mezcal style negroni and creamy pipino (cucumber) with sesame, coconut and gin.
Time Out tip It's cool now to shun a sharing plate, but honestly, you'll want to try a bit of everything, so make sure you're with a sharing-is-caring companion. And get the damn pie.