Whether you like this style of food or not, to have a restaurant of this calibre in Bethnal Green can only be described as very fortunate. Housed within a hotel redevelopment you could walk right by it without even knowing it was there.
Nuno Mendes, chef patron is fairly well known to foodies in East London. He previously ran Bacchus in Hoxton market then a supper club called The Loft Project in his Hackney flat, which still operates by means of guest chefs. Many of the dishes Nuno prepared and served at The Loft Project were experiments and prototypes for what is now on the menu at Viajante.
Personally, I’ve been wanting to get to Viajante as soon as it opened in early/mid 2010. When Viajante first opened I was a little surprised by the amount of mixed reviews in the press. Saying that I knew there would be a few. However, saw this as a reflextion of food journalists in the UK rather than Nuno’s food.
Anyway after all this time, mixed reviews or not, I was ready. I grabbed a friend, M for a 6 course weekend lunch. They do 3 (£25) or 6 (£45) courses for lunch and there are no menus, all dishes are served ‘blind’ (you don’t know what you’re getting). Matching wines are also available £30 for the 6 course.
The restaurant is modern and minimal. Pale, light colours fill the room and large ornamental lamp shades feature from the walls and ceiling. There are also no tablecloths. I like seeing restaurants that don’t use tablecloths for two reasons. It is far more environmentally friendly not to use them and the cost of using them is ultimately seen on the bill. I prefer the money I spend to go to the food.
The first amuse bouche, called Thai Explosion II, was a quail egg surrounded by a thick paste housed together by a crispy skin. Yes, it was awesome. Strong aromatic Thai flavours rounded off with a delicate quail egg.
I wasn’t paying proper attention when the second amuse bouche came, too much wine I think. Quite unsurprisingly it was called Bread and Butter. For me what stood out was the crispy pieces (bacon maybe) that worked really well with the creaminess of the butter.
The first course proper was scallops, butternut squash and mustard. This was served with the Pewsey Vale ‘Contours’ Riesling 2004 from Eden Valley, Australia. The flavours complimented and contrasted really well. The raw (almost?) scallops with the herb broth and mustard was one of my favourite combinations. The Pewsey Vale is one of my favourite Rieslings however found it slightly too strong for this dish. Riesling can show petrol on the nose which can sometimes overpower suttle flavours.
The second course was charred leeks, lobster, hazelnuts and milk skin paired with a Birgit Eichinger “Strasse Hassel Gruner Veltliner 2009. I love leeks and they worked very well with the lobster flavour. The milk skin was almost like a cleanser. The wine worked well with the dish as it was light and delicate however if you had it against the Pewsey Vale it was a bit too light.
Braised salmon skin and fried aubergine with a Lopez de Heredia “Vina Tondonia” Rosado 2000, Rioja. This was my favourite, rich salmon flavours sour umeboshi fruit with the meaty earthyness of the fried aubergine.
Sea bass toast, garlic kale and S. Jorge served with a G. Puiatti “Ruttars” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Collio. At the time I wasn’t so impressed with this dish. I think this is because there were so many other flavour combinations going on around it, or I’d had too much wine. Thinking about the dish afterwards I realised I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. The concept of (bass) toast with cheese, mixed with the garlic kale was both fun and delicious.
Duck, mushroom caramel, blackberries and girolles served with a Domaine Casse Masonneuve “Abstemes’s Abstenir” 2008, France. I really liked the presentation of this dish, the organised scattering of ingredients is for me, quintessential Nuno Mendes.
Sea buckthorn with burnt meringue came was a great palette cleanser even though I had no idea what sea buckthorn was. It’s a plant that grows wild throughout Europe and most parts of China and has edible orange berries which are apparently unpleasant to eat raw.
Chocolate with hazelnut and soil with a Shan Lin Shi tea. Difficult to go wrong with this combination really. I was surprised how well the tea went with the sweet nature of the dessert. I would expect a sweet wine of some sort but the crisp freshness of the tea worked quite well.
Its obvious I’m a big fan of this style of food. Not only do your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure from the flavour sensations, you are left discussing and analysing what you have consumed as a result of its uniqueness and complexity.
While I thought the wines generally matched the dishes they were paired with I felt they didn’t follow a consistent order. To go from a new world Riesling to a light Sauvignon Blanc didn’t quite work for me.
Overall I loved it, and can’t wait to go back for the 12 course dinner.
Vıajante, Patriot Square, London E2 9NF
Reservations: +44 (0) 20 7871 0461 firstname.lastname@example.org