Hot Plates: Dining at Donia

Selection of Filipino cooking on table with wine

Welcome to our new series where we reveal the restaurants where foodies are flocking to in London. First up, a Filipino fine-dining spot hidden in the heart of Carnaby.

You wouldn’t expect Kingly Court to be a gastronomic hotspot. Squeezed into an indoor/outdoor square just off Carnaby, its ground floor is all backpack-wearing tourists and bottomless tacos – hardly what you imagine when you think ‘fine dining.’

That’s until you head upstairs and the calibre of cooking improves dramatically. Because up here are places your foodie friends have definitely talked about – like the hearty, home-style dishes at Darjeeling Express, or the modern Middle Eastern menu at Imrad’s Syrian Kitchen. Or, as of a few weeks ago, the excellent Filipino food at Donia – the current darling of London’s restaurant scene.

Donia, meaning ‘madam’ in Tagalog, is the first foray into fine(r) dining from the team behind Mamason’s – Europe’s first Filipino ice cream parlour. On paper, it appears to draw heavily from current restaurant clichés: dishes inspired by street food (check), a far-flung cuisine using British produce (double check), and a sharing plates concept (check, check, check).

But the wonderful thing about Donia is that these are the only clichéd things about it.

Lamb pie with glass of red wine

“We’re bringing to life a menu that’s both comforting and adventurous, an homage to tradition but with a dash of the unexpected,” says co-founder Mae Maglanoc. “It’s about crafting a menu that’s familiar yet surprising, and above all, delicious.”

And after seeing Donia’s lamb pie and sea bream kinilaw on more than one Instagram story, we decided to get down there and try it for ourselves.
The restaurant has spruced up the third-floor space where Imrad’s used to be (before moving to a larger unit a few doors down). It’s got dark wood tables, white walls with a few sage accents, and huge, coral-like lights suspended from the ceiling; it’s a bit moody, a bit NYC. Somewhere you’d line up outside to secure a seat at – which is what happens when we arrive for an early Saturday dinner.

The staff greet us like old friends we’ve just run into at a bar, asking after our weekends in the same breath as recommending a Red Horse over an Asahi, ‘because it’s a Filipino beer and we’re a Filipino restaurant, in case you didn’t know?’

We most definitely did. The Filipino flag flies across every element of the compact menu – from the mango and ube-spiked cocktails to dishes that require only the smallest understanding of Filipino cuisine to appreciate.

First, there is kinilaw – a kind of Filipino ceviche where raw fish is prepared in vinegar and spices. Donia’s arrives as slithers of sea bream swimming in a neon green sauce, dotted with cod’s roe and a hollandaise-like cream. It feels familiar yet distinctive – like a Filipino take on a smoked salmon blini.

Plate of seabream in green sauce

Then, there are dumplings – lotus-like pockets stuffed with prawn and pork, bathed in a lime-spiked butter emulsion and topped with a cloud of crab mayo. They are designed to dip and be dispatched in one bite, the after-effect being an uncontrollable urge to order at least two more portions.

In fact, the entire menu is like that. Everything we eat has several layers of rich, unexpected flavour that makes even the simplest of dishes into a talking point – as well as a compelling reason to return. Case in point: the famed lamb shoulder pie, a globular football of pastry that you’ve no doubt seen on Instagram. It could have very easily been soggy or stodgy or plain, but we’re at Donia, so it is crisp and tender and light, filled with chilli-flecked lamb and lying in a lake of spicy, buttery sauce that you – almost – want to drink from the plate.

The entire vibe is trendy. Cool. Relaxed and yet totally refined. But the most impressive thing about Donia is that it has achieved something not before seen in London’s food scene: a Filipino restaurant is currently the capital’s culinary hotspot. Kingly Court certainly has a new queen.

Plate of oysters with glass of white wine

Keep an eye out for our next blog post to stay up to date on the best of London’s restaurant scene.