I have been hesitant about Viajante, thanks to the polarised reviews from the pros. Between a few loyal supporters that sang praises and the odd cynics who thought the restaurant was pompous, the en masse conclusion was Viajante ‘had potential’ and ‘it could easily be great’. Well I have waited long enough for Nuno Mendes to iron out the creases. Afterall gaining its first Michelin star within a year of its opening is bound to mean something, no?
Nested in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, Viajante may convey haughtiness. Truthfully, it was anything but. The dining rooms wereinterconnected by two arched doors; décor was clean and tasteful with energy in the colours. Most importantly the ambience was comfortable and encouraged a leisurely meal. We were seated at the opposite end of the open kitchen, and regrettably couldn’t watch the team of chefs at work. After a smiley introduction, our server presented us a slightly battered book titled ‘Voyages to Paradise’, in which hid the brief wine list.
Thai Explosion II – amuse bouche
A blob chicken liver parfait sandwiched in chicken skin and sesame toast with lemongrass and coconut. That’s a lot of work and flavours to cramp into one bite, yet the flavours were expertly layered; familiar richness of the parfait was augmented by a faint hint of coconut and the uplifting lemongrass gave it a nice jolt.
Bread & Butter
The brown butter was sprinkled with Iberico ham, chicken skin and purple sweet potato powder. Its accompaniments aside, the butter itself was so airy it was soluble, more like whipped cream infused with meat essence. The other butter was imbued with black pudding. Again it was like a piggy mousse, markedly different to the other with a deeper and more powerful tang of lard.
Lobster, Potato, Confit Egg Yolk and Saffron
I was thrilled to find chunks of lobster under the blanket of golden emulsion. I mean, really? Really. The lobster was bursting with its natural juice, full of bounce and cooked to perfection. The runny egg yolk enhances sumptuousness and gelled the flavours together. Should cholesterol not kill us, I’d dip everything in egg yolk.
I wasn’t sure what the potato was doing there. Perhaps it added substance but it didn’t quite match with the light textures of the dish. The starchy veg didn’t spoil anything though, just somewhat out of place.
Lamb Loin and Belly with Wild Garlic and Cereals
Chef presented this dish himself, spooning the lamb jus at the table. I like the new haircut.
The lamb loin was stunning; its texture so delicate it resembled veal, yet powerful in flavour as if it had been dry-aged. The lamb belly wasn’t too streaky with fat, just a generous margin to fuel the piece with the unique weaning taste of lamb, but not too pungent to overshadow the rest of the dish.
The cereal cluster with oats and pearl barley complemented well, though I think it’d be even better if served warm than cold.
Frozen Maple with Apple and Shiso
The vibrant green of the pre-dessert in the egg-shaped bowl somehow reminded me of an unfertilised reptile/dinosaur egg. Anyway…
A stimulating combination – fresh, creative and palate cleansing
Parsnips and Milk
The cream dollops were bathed in coffee-soaked tapioca and sprinkled with olive powder. The dessert was orchestrated by an array of supposedly savoury flavours, and was amusingly enjoyable. Never had I imagined coffee and olive could balance each other, nor parsnip could make a better ice cream than sweet potato.
The food at Viajante is imaginative, quirky and unique. I couldn’t put a finger on which country each dish was inspired from, but isn’t that the point? The travelled chef has taken the essence and techniques from the places he visited, and re-arranges them to assemble the crème de la crème. I adored the works of culinary art by Nuno Mendes, so subtly daring and taste buds teasing. The entire experience was fuss-free, full of smiles and genuine.
Tel: 0207 871 0461