Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Restaurant Review: Viajante

Finally after a long exam forced absence where I just about had time to eat, but certainly not to write, I'm back and I thought I'd kick-start my return with something special.  You may remember that some time ago I wrote about Nuno Mendes' supper-club The Loft.  I was taken there as a birthday present and to return the favour I took my girlfriend for dinner at his new venture Viajante for hers.  Thankfully it was very good.

Nuno Mendes started his London career at Baachus, where he got good but slightly mixed press.  This has changed, with him winning plaudits from a number of important reviewers.  The restaurant is located in the old Bethnal Green Town Hall, a large neo-classical building near Cambridge Heath.  The setting is impressive, but inside it isn't heavy.  The wood on the floors chairs and temple is light in colour, the seats simply upholstered in blue and the ceilings are high.  There's a good bar on one side, the rest is made up of the restaurant the main room of which looks onto an open kitchen, which luckily for us we were right in front of.

At The Loft Nuno had said that he wanted to keep the supper-club feel and the open kitchen is integral to that.  At Viajante they don't just stop here though, every third course or so was brought out by the head chef (not Nuno as this was a Sunday), who was extremely friendly.  The service in general was in fact excellent.  Though we opted out of the 12 glass wine pairing to go with our 12 course tasting menu and asked for three well picked glasses, we were in fact brought four because they wanted us to try one white they were particularly proud of.  Tasting menus are the thing here.  At lunch there is a three course option, at dinner it's six, nine, or twelve, the last of which takes 4 hours.

Squid Tartare, Pickled Radishes, Samphire, and Squid Ink Ice

Razor Clam with Smoked Yoghurt and Rosemary Dashi

After the sheer length of my Loft review I'm not going to go through each course, I still have the same opinion of Mendes' food; it's excellent and this is the best meal I've had in London since I last ate his cooking.  Its absolutely spectacular, inventive without being silly and never trying to replace the lynchpins of taste and texture with pointless frivolity.  Having said that I think the puddings could be better, the different plays on Chocolate with a water granita was good, but not spectacular and I didn't particularly care for the lemon polenta cake with strawberries.  I also thought the  amuse bouche could have been a bit more flavoursome - though the individual crisp like chicken skin that acted as the bread in a Thai-style chicken sandwich was delicious.  That left 10 or 11 fantastic courses.  The sourcing is fantastic, with the majority of the courses focussing on wonderful seafood, raw in the first three courses in which it featured.  Razor clams with smoked yoghurt and squid carpachio with squid ink granita were absolutely wonderful.  The standout dish for me was, however, a vegetarian one - white asparagus with melted butter and buttered hazel nuts came with an emulsion made with a leak that has been completely blackened through in the oven over the course of a week which added a wonderful smoky, umami note.  Most suprisingly was the milk skin that came on top, which added a lovely soft flavour and a pleasant not quite rubbery texture.   The green olive and yoghurt foam soup with pistachio also showed a fantastic touch, completely transforming simple ingredients into one of most flavourful dishes of the evening.

White Asparagus with Leek Ash, Buttered Hazelnuts and Milk Skin

Scallops with Dashi Ice, Salted Cucumber and Celery Sauce

This is cooking of the highest quality, delicate, a beautifully judged balance of complex flavours and textures mutually complementary to a point far beyond what most restaurants will ever manage, drawing on flavours from Mendes' training in Spain (at El Buli) and Japan.  The presentation of beautiful.  The whole experience was also incredibly fun.  I loved watching the kitchen, which is probably one of the calmest, most organised you'll ever see.  The service was friendly and efficient and completely unobtrusive given how much they needed to be involved over the course of over 12 courses and four hours.  This is highly recommended for any special occasion, and Nuno Mendes has made himself my favourite chef in town.

Olive Soup with Greek Yoghurt Foam and Pistachio Butter

King Crab with Rosemary and Chicken Jus

Octupus with Egg Yolk Foam and Chorizo Crumb

Iberian Pork Neck with Langoustine and Rye Foam

English Lamb with English Peas, Different Types of Radish and Burrata Cheese

Halibut, Asparagus, Slow Cooked Egg Yolk, Basil Tapioca and Japanese Plum

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