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Sunday, 2 May 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Viajante

Viajante (The Traveller)

Having had the most fantastic meal at The Loft supper club which I reviewed in 2009 (here), I was eagerly awaiting the opening of Nuno Mendes’ new restaurant “Viajante” in Bethnal Green’s imposing Town Hall building.

I was pleased to find that they offer a £25 lunch set menu which I tweeted about. It didn’t take more than a few minutes until a tweet up was organised with Uyen & Simon of Fernandez and Leluu, Jones (I couldn't possibly eat a whole one), Euwen (A rather unusual chinaman), and Joshua of Cooking the Books.

Set in the grand Town Hall building, the bar and restaurant areas are airy and light, boasting huge windows, parquet flooring, and some very elegant furnishings. I liked the clean, semi-minimalist feel of these rooms, with their light colours and the Scandinavian-styled furniture. It was also good to find a relatively intimate restaurant (a maximum of 40 covers at any one time) which overlooks an open plan kitchen so diners can watch the chefs in action.

We had a few cocktails at the bar before heading to the dining area (diners are only seated when the entire party is at the restaurant). We opted for the 3-couse set menu priced at £25. There are no descriptions of the dishes on the menu. Viajante also offers 6 courses @ £60, 9 courses @ £75 and 12 courses @ £85. Wine “flights” can also be purchased to match each course and these are priced @ £30, £45 and £60 respectively.


We kicked off proceedings with a dainty amuse bouche of paper thin toast topped with romesco sauce, tapenade, greens and gherkin slices in a beautiful checker-board pattern.

Our first starter was a glass of soya milk (similar to a panna cotta in texture), and tasted like good quality, creamy tofu I have eaten in Japan. This was topped with a delicious layer of jellied dashi flavoured with aubergines and a small sandwich of pureed aubergine in layers of filo pastry. I loved the combination of flavours of this dish, although some of my fellow diners disagreed, so I was lucky enough to finish off Uyen’s.

The second starter “Thai Explosion” was served next - shredded chicken in a lightly spiced, creamy sauce reminiscent of Thai green curry and sandwiched between two thin wafers. From Japan to Thailand, the flavours were again complex and tantalising – I love the Asian influences in Nuno’s cooking and am still to find a chef who can incorporate these in their repertoire as well as he does.

A platter of bread and butter was also served. The bread was obviously freshly baked on the premises and tasted good. I would struggle however to describe the “butter” – it was very light, similar to churned butter milk and flavoured with some unidentifiable ingredient. The purple coloured seasoning was also intriguing, and the overall taste of the butter was outstanding.

Three courses on, I feared that this was the end of our lunch. Luckily it wasn’t and we were soon served a fish course of sashimi squid, with squid ink granita, thin slivers of radish, samphire and other greens. In my opinion, this was the best dish of the day – the flavour combination of squid ink granita, squid, olive oil and samphire was heavenly, and everyone at the table loved it. The presentation was again fantastic and I savoured every little bit of that dish.

Our next main dish was a meat course of tender pork and prawns with deep fried capers and green cabbage juice. The meat was deliciously yielding and combined well with the prawns. I was pleasantly surprised with the salty flavour and texture of the deep fried capers which really lifted the dish.

As a palate cleanser, we had a lemon and holy basil sorbet. The flavour of basil was intense and magnificently refreshing. I am not a huge fan of sorbets but I loved this and cannot wait to try and replicate it at home some time soon.

For dessert, we had a chocolate fondant with pureed raspberries, hazelnut ice cream and ginger crumble. The raspberry juice was nicely tart and contrasted well with the rich chocolate. The ice cream had an intense nutty flavour and was the perfect accompaniment to the fondant. The spicy ginger crumble added another layer of complexity to this delightful and very satisfying dessert.

As petit fours, we had chocolate truffles with a citric aspic. The truffles were filled with white chocolate with intriguingly earthy overtones. Nuno explained that the white chocolate mixture had mushroom as one of the ingredients.

The wine list is carefully thought out but also overpriced in my opinion. There are only two choices below £30 (a white Pinot Grigio for £22, and a red Syrah priced at £24). We ordered a bottle of Syrah @ £24 which had slight peppery tones and nice, soft tannins. It was a great choice by Simon, and one I will make sure to order on my next visit.

It was nice to see Nuno Mendes again as he cooked and oversaw his team at Viajante. He came to our table and chatted with us for a while, and was as charming and unassuming as I remembered him to be when I first met him at his supper club, The Loft.


Cost: £251.44 in total or £42 per person including drinks and service (£25 for the 3-course tasting menu, a cocktail per person and a shared bottle of wine).

Likes: creative cooking, sophisticated and complex flavours to titillate and intrigue the most jaded palate, elegant setting and decor, good value £25 tasting menu, excellent martinis. Filtered water readily available and free of charge.

Dislikes: having our booking changed 2 hours prior to our allocated slot was a little worrying, few affordable wine choices, a menu devoid of description of the dishes.

Verdict: The much awaited Viajante has finally opened and Nuno Mendes is showcasing what he does best – excellent, creative cooking, combining intriguing and complex flavours to utter perfection. A great value tasting menu to be had in elegant surroundings. I cannot wait to return for the blow-out 12 course menu. Very highly recommended.

Viajante on Urbanspoon

22 comments:

  1. Looks stunning... really artistic, good to know the flavours matched the presentation.

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  2. Oh that looks brilliant - fantastic value too!

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  3. @ Kavey - I know, some of the dishes looked so pretty, and it was nice to be able to see the the chefs preparing them.

    @ Meemalee - I think that the £25 course menu (which is also available for dinner) is excellent value. I can't wait to go back and try the 12 course feast soon.

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  4. I can't help just staring at the open plan kitchen when there is one. I would imagine it to be much more difficult to run one compared to another housed within closed doors, isn't it?

    That with the Town Hall settings is the winning combination. Thanks for the post and have a fantastic Bank Hol.

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  5. Ah! The mystery ingredient in the butter is chicken skin :) I was there on a night that was supposed to be launch night, but sadly they had extended the soft launch so we weren't allowed photograph. It's been firmly on my radar for Posh Lunch Club though, and I hope to go there very soon.

    We had the 9 course menu when we went and it's interesting that a lot of the dishes are on the considerably cheaper lunch menu. We did the wine flight too which was very interesting and in general very good matches.

    Did you know there is a blogger in the kitchen?? Google: Aidan Brook, Trainee Chef :)

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  6. @ London Chow - the open plan kitchen definitely adds to the experience at Viajante, and it is amazing to note how efficient and quiet they are! I had a great bank holiday weekend, back to work tomorrow. Hope you had a good one too with loads of great food!

    @ Niamh - ha ha, so that is what it is! It tasted so good and very fatty and buttery so chicken skin makes perfect sense! I loved lunch there, can't wait to go back for the 12 course menu. It is the perfect place for a posh lunch too. I will check Aidan right now, thanks!

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  7. What a bargain lunch seems to be! I can't find any other info on their website - do you know if they offer it on weekends?

    And what happened with the booking change? Did they change YOUR time?

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  8. @ Su-lin - the £25 set menu is now offered at dinner too, and I am sure at weekends as well. I called +44 (0) 20 7871 0461 a few times about the booking and other stuff and the receptionist was very helpful.

    Regarding the booking, it is quite funny what happened - basically we were a party of 6, but a couple of days before the lunch someone asked me to join us, I didn't think too hard about it but when i called the restaurant to change the booking from a 6 to 7 ppl table, I was informed that they could only seat a maximum of 6 ppl. I asked them about it, Nuno came to the phone and after a couple of minutes and a pleasant chat, he reluctantly agreed to a table of 7. However, on the day of our lunch, 2 hours before we were meant to get there, they called me to say we would have to be in two different tables!

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  9. I was fascinated with the shapes of the tiny dainty baguettes!

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  10. That does look to be some serious food for £25 - am I right in understanding that the three courses was actually 2 small course for each person, or was there a choice?

    I'm always cautious about fusion food as it too often stands for 'bung something far eastern in without any though'. Here, there is obviously thought. I love the idea of using holy basil in the sorbet, it would be intense without being too herbaceous as Mediterranean basil can so often be. I'd love to do something similar with Vietnamese mint.

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  11. @ Taste of Beirut - hi Joumana, I know they were beautiful as everything else that we were served. Flavours were quite intriguing too, difficult to understand the explosion of flavours after each mouthful.

    @ Grubworm - At £25 I think the tasting menu is excellent value - there were 3 small starters, bread, a fish dish + a meat dish, a palate cleanser, dessert and chocolate truffles!

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  12. It was such an enjoyable lunch - one of those lunches that are real treats - that you take out the whole day for to enjoy.

    It was such a great experience - even though I thought the tofu/ aubergine thing made me a bit queezy (normally I love both. It did taste of -white- if white has a taste.

    £25 is great value for what we had but I must admit, I did come out of there rather peckish - yes - because I am greedy and like slightly bigger portions.

    The main course of 2 thin slices of pork and one prawn cut into 2 was rather like a canape on a big plate. But it was beautiful.

    My favourite was the squid with the black ink granita - that was amazing. Nuno Mendes is amazing!

    Really glad we got to go with you - in your day clothes and all : )

    LOVE LELUU

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  13. It sounds like great value for the standard of what was served. Were you given any choice in what you had other than the number of courses you ordered?

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  14. Oh my I am so so envious - really wished we'd been able to make it :-(

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  15. That £25 deal is brilliant value - your review has convinced me to go - very thorough and great pictures Luiz. Lovely to meet you the other night as well.

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  16. @ Fernandez and Leluu - really enjoy that lunch with you too, and I feel that the ceviche squid was the favourite dish by all. So glad you both came for lunch.

    @ Natasha - hi, thanks for stopping by and your comment. No, we were not given a choice at all, only the number of courses (3, 6, 9 or 12). This is a little odd but I think they want to have an element of surprise with their food. When I went to The Loft, we all asked for the menu but we were informed that we could have it after the meal!

    @ Gail - hun, we really missed you, but I hope you had a fruitful experience at Ikea, it is so difficult to get there and back, you might as well make the most of it.

    @ Gourmet Chick - Cara, at £25 this is brilliant value and I thoroughly recommend it. Looking fwd to seeing you again at Hashi Cooking.

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  17. Looks like a great deal for £25 - and lovely snaps too.

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  18. Nice concept they have there when all the diners can see the chefs in actions. Nice food though I thought it's a bit pricey but at the end, the cost is only 42 per person and that seem OK to me for the fine food they served.

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  19. @ Greedy Diva - thanks Carly, looking fwd to seeing you tomorrow for tea appreciation masterclass!

    @ Sophea - thanks for stopping by and posting a comment Sophea! Interesting site "Olma", I see you are in Brooklyn USA too, love the pictures of black caviar. If you come to London, I really recommend Viajante - the menu cost us £25, we paid £42 because we shared a bottle of wine and had an expensive cocktail each. We also paid 12.5% service so it all adds up but £42 for what we had was a very good deal. Don't be a stranger now!

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  20. It's interesting as having just been and written a far too long review I think the way to experience Viajante is for lunch. That way you get the interesting flavours, good value and you don't have to compare it to its competitors (the various haute cuisine hotel places) and just enjoy it for what it is.

    I should have skipped work and gone with you guys : )

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  21. @ Tom - maybe you should have. I'll have a look at your review as it sounds you have not enjoyed it which is odd as we had a very good experience there.

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  22. I am a little jealous. This seems like an incredible restaurant, and the attention to detail and the multiple courses for just 25 GBP ( about $40 ) is a steal!

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