Helio’s Cantina in London Fields showcases Nigella’s ‘favourite chef’
PUBLISHED: 19:02 25 October 2016 | UPDATED: 15:38 26 October 2016
Emma Bartholomew attends the launch of Helio’s Cantina, set in a London Fields railway arch alongside a 54-seater cinema
When ‘Nigella’s favourite chef, Helio Fenerich was asked to provide the food offering at the Institute of Light he jumped at the chance.
He was “fascinated” by the project set in the Institute of Light in Helmsley Place, off London Fields set set under a railway arch.
There’s a bookshop run by Pages of Hackney inside the restaurant, and a Barely Breaking Even vinyl store out the back – in the 54-seat cinema whose programme is curated by former Secret Cinema co-producer Harry Ross.
Helio’s Cantina launched last week and completes the vision.
Brazilian-born Helio has conjured up a menu reminiscent of rustic Mediterranean seasonal home cooking – but with a delicate twist. He met Nigella 16 years ago when he was commissioned to cook dinner for her and her late husband John Diamond’s on their wedding anniversary. He had gone into dinner parties after working at the prestigious River Café.
Nigella has included his recipes in her cookbooks, and she’s planning a visit Helio tells me.
It was Nigella who urged him to put chicken on the menu, and the Moorish-inspired slow-cooked dish is now one of his most popular. Hours spent stewing in prunes and capers lends the chicken a unique, wholesome and pure flavour.
The spinach and chick pea accompaniment has a complimentary crunchy texture thanks to the almonds.
Another slow-cooked dish comes with beef and pancetta ragu and rigatoni pasta and beats spag bol hands down - rich and yet simple all at once.
A mushroom risotto must get its flavour from a perfectly boiled down stock, and the delicate thyme-infused pan-fried sea-bass has a crispy texture and is top notch. Dishes are served on white metal blue-rimmed dishes, in keeping with the pared-back vibe.
Starters include my two favourite things - artichokes and burrata - doused in plenty of olive oil, and the grilled octopus is meaty, rich and smoky.
Brazilian-born Helio tells me the idea is to “interact with the local people”, and they source their bread from next door and fish from London Fields. Overall food is not over-complicated and fussy, but exquisite all the same.