Lisbon: that’s where this sharing-plates restaurant almost ended up. Its two managers, French natives Nico and Ali (the latter has run the wine shop next door with his wife for the past four years), considered starting a restaurant in the Portuguese capital – but in the end, they felt too settled in London to move. Let’s all be very, very grateful they stayed put.
I’m always a bit suspicious of menus that list dishes in solemn sequences of comma-broken ingredients, but this spot does the casual-yet-discerning micro-dining thing to an absolute T. Nico’s food tasted like the results of a meticulous series of experiments. A bowl of radishes wasn’t exactly sautéed but coaxed into life in butter and garnished with bonito flakes. A caponata was spiked with puffed-up raisins. The shaved spring onions in a moules marinière gave the dish a fragrant crunch. A buttermilk ice cream had the slightest sour kick.
The gorgeous food is perfectly suited to the small, cosy surrounds. There’s a big mess-style pine table in the centre, and countertops and stools run around its edges – a nice perch for a date. But perhaps the loveliest thing about this place is the passion of its owners, who so self-evidently love what they do. Ali even went so far as to name the artist who illustrated the label on a bottle of Greek red wine, then brought out a sack of bonito flakes imported from Japan. None of it was pretentious, none of it was for show. Just in case it needs spelling out: sorry, Lisbon. Your loss is Walthamstow’s gain.