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.
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.