London is heaving with restaurants obsessed by trends and tradition. They sheepishly conform to Nocerella olives or solemnly commit to open-fire cooking. Donia doesn’t care about any of that stuff. Filipino in essence but as London as a packet of Buzz Sweets, the Soho restaurant is doing what many try and most fail at: its own thing.
You’ll find it where you never want to be: on the second floor of Kingly Court, above a hellish courtyard of tourists stomping in fresh Doc Martens. It’s an awful location, but Donia is a special restaurant. The gallery-ish space is comfortable, the pally servers wear Nike TNs, and everyone sits comfortably with Tirzah playing over the speakers. Sure, the napkins are paper but what stands out here is the food. It doesn’t just sing, it absolutely belts—and it does the most improbable of things. It makes you want to come back to Carnaby Street.
This restaurant is from the same people as Mamasons and Panadera in Kentish Town—where founders of the Maginhawa Group, Omar Shah and Florence Mae Maglanoc, also draw on their shared Filipino heritage and London roots. These restaurateurs don’t join the hype, they create their own. Donia is the pinnacle. Here, traditional caldereta is interpreted into a shimmering lamb shoulder pie, and cloud-like pandesal bread is served with glowing chive butter. Everyone in the minimalist room is taken away by an exhibition of maximalist flavour.
Of the hit-laden menu, that pie is most likely to make you rekindle ex-relationships for the sake of an extra stomach. Mind you, the ube choux isn’t far behind it. Years ago, this restaurant might have been called fusion. In a nightmarish past, Jamie Oliver would declare it ‘a remix’. It’s better off enjoying Donia for what it is: the best of London-Filipino cooking. Made in the Philippines, raised in Kentish Town and, now, making serious moves in Soho.
You can pick up this spongy milk loaf from Panadera, the bakery sibling of Donia. Only there it won’t come warm, sliced, and with a ridiculously creamy quenelle of chive butter. The combination of this traditional sugar-glazed Filipino bread with herby butter is sensational.
Chicken Offal Skewer
Given the chicken inasal on the menu, it’s nice to see the hearts of the bird used, but this skewer isn’t an afterthought. The offal is nicely cooked and the glaze has a salty, umami thing going on. With a little more caramelisation this would be a 10/10, but you should get at least one anyway.
Prawn & Pork Dumplings With White Crab
Deciding not to order these dumplings would make every mentor figure in your life express their sincere disappointment in you. The trio of dumplings are generously filled with a juicy pork and prawn mixture, topped with a creamy little crab salad, and sit in a pool of brown butter and lime sauce flecked with chilli oil. Scratch disappointment, you’ll be angry without these.
Aubergine & Tomato Ensalada, Pomme Anna
Channelling a savoury Colin the Caterpillar, this creation of crispy potato with thinly sliced courgette tastes decent enough but isn’t quite there. The aubergine and tomato purée and gels are a little MasterCheffy and overall it feels like it needs to go back to the drawing board.
Lamb Shoulder Caldereta
Traditionally, caldereta comes as stew. It’s a tomato-based sauce with layers of flavour thanks to things like liver paste and hot peppers. Now, imagine that stew with tender strands of lamb shoulder, housed in a kind of shimmering pastry palace. That’s what this pie is. It’s delicious, it’s artful, and it’s one of the best things you’ll eat all year.
Chicken is never a boring choice when it’s cooked well and this chicken is up there with the very best. It hits all the marks: charred and caramelised skin, juicy meat, and a sauce you’ll want beside your bed at night. Fizzing with vinegar and glowing orange thanks to annatto, it may well make you look at your rosemary-stuffed Sunday bird a little sadly.
Lechon With Liver Peppercorn Sauce
This sauce is based on Mang Tomas, a popular Filipino bottled liver condiment. Unfortunately we haven’t tried Mang Tomas but we do know that this sauce is one of the best we’ve had in London. It has the texture of silk and the flavour of a pig that’s been born into royalty. As for the pork itself, the crackling could be worn as armour but the meat shines with juiciness. Perfect plates of food are hard to come by but this is one of them.
Some meals peak at the starters, others at the mains, but here the peak goes on and on. This choux bun, with a satisfyingly crunchy outer shell, is excellent. Even better is this tennis ball-sized beauty’s filling: lilac ube ice cream. It’s creamy with a hint of coconut, and every spoonful demands one more.