How do I love Mãos, Nuno Mendes’ and James Brown’s 16-seater restaurant in Shoreditch? Let me count the ways. For a start, Mãos (pronounced “moush”, Portuguese for “hands”) isn’t really a restaurant. It’s more like a dinner party, where guests can wander from kitchen to dining room, with a glass of wine in hand, eating where they want, and generally getting in the way of the chefs.
Part of the Blue Mountain School, a six-storey house devoted to fashion, arts and crafts, Mãos has beautiful interiors too: weathered gypsum plaster walls, tactile ceramics and Windsor chairs charred to order by Christopher Howe.
The Japanese-inflected food is sensational: smoked eel and maitake mushrooms; a meadowsweet custard with aubergine caviar; a morsel of tender beef wrapped in shiso; cherry stone ice cream garnished with yarrow flowers.
But the highlight, for The Goblet, was the candlelit wine room, where wines from all over the world await guests on oak shelving and in iced silver punch bowls. “So often you see cellars tucked away or secondary to the evening’s activity,” says sommelier Alex Casey. “We wanted this room to be convivial, intimate, and for our guests to be able to engage with the sommelier and explore the wines we believe in.”
The drinks list is alternative, but not wilfully so – icons Salon, Château Latour and Sine Qua Non all make the cut. But we let our hosts take us off-piste, starting with delicious sparkling wines: a blanc de noirs pét-nat from Austrian rising star Claus Preisinger, and a Crémant de Limoux from Etienne Fort in the Languedoc.
The radical theme continued with a luminous Chenin from Swartland’s Eben Sadie, and a glass of astringent, amphora-aged Zibibbo secco from Pantelleria. To accompany silver bream and saffron, Casey chose Domaine de Chassorney, Saint Romain “Combe Bazin” 2016, an appetising white burgundy from natural winemaker Frédéric Cossard. For smoked lobster, Casey prescribed Rocky Mountain sake from the Tsuji Honten; and with grilled hogget, a soft, prune-y St Joseph from Martine & Christian Rouchier. We finished with warm almond cake and a Portuguese fortified wine from Bairrada that tasted of liquorice, cherries and ash.The spirits selection is good too: Mãos is among the first to list Destilado, a new series of ultra-limited mezcals sourced by the Sager + Wilde team.
It was a magical evening and we all knew it; not once in three hours did I see a mobile phone break the spell. Which is more than you can say for most dinner parties.