Viajante – London (Bethnal Green), UK
- Chef, Nuno Mendes, runs his stunning new restaurant like a finely tuned culinary theatrical performance, drawing on his famous schooling at El Buli and delivering a visual and taste experience that sits somewhere between Japan, Iberia and Stockholm.
- Having tried to nab a table for dinner throughout December without luck, Sunday lunch in February seemed the next best thing. And my goodness was it worth the wait.
- The welcome is warm, with genuinely friendly and passionate waiters, yet the setting is ice-cool, with contemporary ‘50s Scandi style furniture housed within a grand old Edwardian building that was once Bethnal Green’s Town Hall.
- The kitchen is neat and open, and a front seat is effectively the chef’s table, affording direct insight into every creation being meticulously, precisely and patiently crafted.
- The real surprise was that not only was Mendes on site, but he was pulling dishes together, wordlessly coaxing his tweezer-wielding expert team along and happily giving explanations to his diners as he served them.
- It’s a set menu and the only choice that needs to be made – apart from the wine – is whether to pick three or six courses, after which, it’s a question of sitting back as the curtain lifts and enjoying the dazzling performance.
- An amuse bouche which Mendes rightly calls a ‘thai explosion’ and potato bread with brown butter kicked off proceedings. Stand out dishes include an inventive creation of charred leaks, hazelnuts and milk skin (not as bizarre as it sounds), and seabass toast, garlic and Sao Jorge cheese. Before a delicious desert of burnt meringue and yoghurt sorbet, we were invited to cleanse our palettes with an explosion of frozen maple pannacotta and shiso granita with green apple. With coffee came a knock-out mandarin marshmallow, Clementine cream and something that sounds just plain weird but was incredibly clever and wonderfully memorable: a mushroom-flavoured bitter chocolate truffle topped with one, perfectly positioned, flake of sea salt.
- Foodies of all ages: some who may well have ventured over to Bethnal Green for the first time ever, others who probably lived around the corner, couples, friends, daughters treating their elderly but curious and excitable mothers.
- Lunch is so much easier to book than dinner (cheaper too!) and don’t be afraid to ask for a prime front-row position in the main dining room so you can watch the action.
- Viajante – Patriot Square (entrance on Cambridge Heath Road), Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF (t: +44 (0)207 871 0461 / www.viajante.co.uk).
THE FAT MOUSE VERDICT:
- The Good – What’s not to love? The vegetarian menu and the fact that all dietary requirements are catered for; strong wine list with some unusual offerings.
- The Bad – Can’t think of a single thing!
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