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Nuno Mendes's Viajante

Monday, 11 October 2010

It seems like most bloggers have reviewed this already so I’ll keep the introduction short. Suffice to say there was an explosion of Viajante reviews in the summer months.

Located in Bethnal Green, the converted town hall now houses Viajante in the ground floor – restaurant on the left, bar on the right upon entering. Nuno Mendes had an apprenticeship in El Bulli and the contrast between the streets of gritty Bethnal Green and the clean pastel interior could not be stronger.

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The menu is simple – three or six courses for lunch while dinner courses are six, nine or twelve. No ala carte to mess with although they do ask if there’s anything one doesn’t eat. We went for the six course lunch meal with a wine pairing to share between us two.

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The waitress described this as “House sashimi” and left us without mentioning the fish. We just assumed it was tuna due to the colour. After a bite though, “Why is my fish crunchy?!”. We later realised it was actually watermelon, but by then we had already finished enjoying the plate as the combination of the watermelon and soya sauce marinade, wasabi, sesame seeds and broadbeans (or edamame?) worked together very well.

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Grilled broad bean with St George Portugese sheep's cheese. Despite it being a sheep’s cheese, it was surprisingly tolerable for me (I hate strong smelling cheeses). The inside of the bean had a puree of cheese and bean which was pretty tasty.

Thai chicken explosion. One of the things we remembered that bloggers raved about, we were looking forward to this. It was a filling of mince chicken and egg sandwiched in a wafer-thingy – pretty tasty but for an “explosion”, I was expecting much stronger flavours.

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Baguette with brown butter topped with crispy chicken skin, bacon and purple potato. Surprisingly, we had a fourth amuse-bouche. The baguette was surprisingly light and the butter had a very strong buttery taste (normal for brown butter according to the PigPig) while being very light. I would have preferred more of the chicken skin and bacon as it felt a bit insignificant, although the idea here may be to enjoy the taste of bread and butter more. The purple potato crumbs look pretty but seemed utterly inconsequential.

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So after the four complimentay amuse-bouches, we finally start on the proper meal.

Tomato, mozzarella, strawberry granita in tomato water. First impressions – “What the hell?” A puny little icy tomato and some shaved tomatoes… were actually quite sweet, and the mozzarella added a slight meaty texture. The tomato water tasted far better than it sounded with surprisingly lots of tomato flavour. This light refreshing dish is presumably constructed for the diner to enjoy the taste of tomato without unnecessary interfering flavours.

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Beetroot, crab and goat’s cheese topped with leek ash. The combination of the firm sweet beetroot and salty briny crab actually worked really well while the goat’s cheese added another dimension of flavour. I did find that using too much of the cheese would overpower the beetroot+crab though. An excellent dish and the PigPig is slowly being won over by the power of the beet.

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Braised salmon skin, confit salmon in enoki dashi with aubergine purée. The skin was wonderfully soft and gooey but the main highlight really has to be the just-cooked salmon fillet. The aubergine puree added some consistency to the enoki dashi which was tasty but too salty for our tastes.

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Halibut with confit egg and salsa topped with courgette ribbons. The halibut itself was surprisingly juicy and soft, the layers peeling apart but otherwise it was salted and otherwise uninteresting. The egg yolk and salsa however worked really well together and made the dull halibut much more appealing.

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Pig neck, Scottish langoustine with artichoke. The last of the “mains” in these six courses is probably the weakest for me. While the pork and langoustines were pretty decent individually, I didn’t think they worked well together (unlike the PigPig). The best thing here is the lardo, virtually see-through strips of marinated fat.

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Green tea granita with purple shiso. Prior to dessert, the complimentary mouthwash was an interesting granita made from green tea and shiso which tasted much like mint. It was an interesting flavour combination but the granita wasn’t evenly mixed throughout and it was too grainy.

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Pannacotta ice cream, green apple, Thai basil. The pannacotta ice cream itself was pretty nice and the little cubes of green apple added a little tartness but the basil was inconspicuous.

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Crema catalanya, passionfruit marshmallow, white chocolate with ceps mushroom. The crema catalanya was pretty good and rich but strangely watery and the cup it was served made it difficult to get out the last bits. The marshmallow was loaded fully with passionfruit flavour while the white chocolate truffle had a mushroom surprise inside it which worked surprisingly well. The PigPig loved the mushroomy white chocolate so much she was tempted to (try to) buy a boxful home.

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Altogether, the bill came up to just under £70 per person for two six course tasting menus and wine tasting for one (not bad, but a couple of the whites were a bit too dry). Service throughout was reasonably prompt and efficient but it wasn’t too stretched for them with only 35 covers.

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The food is certainly experimental and far from the typical fare but most importantly for me, it actually tastes good and lots of the flavours are strong and prominent. Also, the textures weren’t forgotten about while the plate presentations were superb.

Best bit: the salmon course for me, while the PigPig waxed lyrical on the mushroom white truffle.
Worst bit: waiting so long till finally eating it.

Patriot Square
Bethnal Green
E2 9NF
Tel:+44(0) 20 7871 0461

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