“Have you heard of Viajante?” asked a colleague of mine last week; he had just read Marina O’Loughlin’s review in the Metro that morning. Yes, I had, but had not yet made the trip east to try one of their tasting menus. We quickly organised a small group from work and booked a lunch in – five of us, all going for the more affordable lunch set menu as mentioned in the review.
And so we trekked over to Bethnal Green to the restaurant, where Nuno Mendes (who cooked at El Bulli) heads the kitchen. I’ve been keen to try his cooking for a while but never got around to going to his previous restaurant Bacchus nor his private supper club The Loft – from what I understand (and what I experienced), he incorporates ingredients from all over the world, all inspired by his travels, in his cooking. The restaurant is located in a former town hall and was larger than I expected. The setting inside was quite light and bright, with Scandinavian furniture and an open kitchen and our table had a good view of all the goings on in the latter. I’m not usually one to go on about the facilities at restaurants but I feel it must be mentioned that the bathrooms were quite quirky with literary passages engraved onto plaques on the wall.
When we were seated, our table was presented with a single menu with a few set options – our lunch set turned out to be the three course tasting menu for £25. The six course option was £60. We all chose the three courses and we were given no hint as to what would appear.
What I didn’t expect was so many little extras to the three courses. First up was a Crostini de romesco and gordal olives, almonds and Jerez. Sliced olives, dabs of romesco and powdered garlic sat on top of a melba toast-like cracker; it was a little bite that set up the meal nicely.
Another amuse, the Charred broad beans, pea puree and Sao Jorge cheese, came on a slate and sat on cracker shards. The presentation was very pretty but it was as described – nothing mindblowing.
The final little amuse was the Thai Explosion II, a little canape sandwich of two flaky biscuits filled with a slice of quail egg and a Thai spiced chicken paste (what was Thai Explosion I like?). Watching everyone struggle around me when biting into the little morsel, I popped the entire thing in my mouth and was rewarded by a delicately spiced and very moreish mixture; this was the best of the three amuses.
Bread then arrived for our table – we each received one of these homemade long bread sticks and our own individual lump of whipped brown butter. The bread was gorgeous with just the right crust to soft innards ratio – the ends were wonderfully crunchy. The butter … wow. My little serving had swirls within that reminded me of a salted caramel, just less sweet. And on top were bits of pancetta, crackling, and the prettiest dusting of purple potato powder.
The first actual course of our three was the Textures of beetroot with crab, green apple and whipped goats curd – the waitress mentioned pickled, roasted and jellied. Oh god. If you know me, you know how much I dislike beetroot. I mean no disrespect to any of the chefs at Viajante but this wasn’t my bag (and if this course had been followed by say… Textures of celery… well then, I would have burst out crying). I enjoyed the crab and the smooth goats curd and the freshness of the apple but the beetroot – ack, it’s just not my favourite root vegetable but I did eat it all. I did expect the roasted beetroot to be sweeter though but this just tasted quite earthy and slightly sweet and well, you know, like beetroot. My colleagues did enjoy it though and it seemed to convert another beetroot disliker.
Luckily the next dish featured no celery. This was not large enough to be an actual course and we understood it to be another one of the extras. Tomato, mozzarella, olive oil and strawberry granita were served in a shallow bowl and the waiter poured tomato water on top. This was wonderfully refreshing and the granita worked with the classic tomato-mozzarella pairing.
Our main course was listed as Lemon sole, confit egg, asparagus and tapioca and it was Nuno Soares himself who came out to explain the dish to us and to personally spoon on the tapioca sauce at the table. On the plate was the panfried fillet of sole with a lovely mixture of grilled asparagus alongside and shaved asparagus on top and a glorious confit egg yolk. One of my colleagues just kept repeating, “That egg yolk is perfectly cooked!” over and over again, like a broken record – it certainly was testament to how amazing this yolk was. The tapioca sauce had some coconut milk and basil mixed in – an unlikely combination but one which worked. A smear of a lemon and pickled plum (I think it was umeboshi based on the colour) on the plate complimented everything nicely.
The arrival of a Lemon and Thai basil sorbet signified the end of the savoury dishes. I loved the aniseedy punch of the basil in this very smooth sorbet. The lemon though didn’t come through as strongly.
Our dessert was Dark chocolate and Water – again the whole textures thing was in play with the chocolate with a gelato, a soft creamy jelly, a crispy shaved chocolate mixture and pieces of cake. All quite pleasant but the “water” granita seemed entirely out of place among the chocolate bits. I reckon the dessert could do without it and also the slightly pretentious off-centre plating (this latter detracted from the quality of the components).
After all that food, coffee was required. Along with the espressos we ordered came the Petit Fours. First came tiny martini glasses filled with crema catalana, though a crema without the burnt layer on top. It was a little more lemony than other cremas I’ve had but still very delicious. Another slate was placed down in front of us with chocolate truffles and fruit jellies, both sitting on crumbs from a gingery biscuit (speculoos?). The jellies were citrusy, if I remember correctly, but what really stuck in our minds were the truffles – under the cocoa coating was a white chocolate and mushroom filling, giving it a very earthy flavour. Very surprising and again, very good.
When the menus were handed round at the end (with the names of the dishes we ate, as noted above), it was revealed that the tomato course had come as compliments of the kitchen and we greatly appreciated the gesture. At first we thought it may have been because two of us were taking photos of the meal but I’ve now come to the conclusion that it must have been because one of my colleagues wished me a happy birthday right by the entrance, overheard by the host!
With coffees and service and the water (only £1 a head for all the sparkling water you can drink), the total came to just over £30 a head. We all agreed it was a veritable bargain for all that we got. Service was very pleasant throughout and never felt stiff at any time. I would love to return again, especially when the courses have changed a bit (I discovered afterwards that the dishes we got were the same that Chris of Cheese and Biscuits received when he ate there a few weeks previously).
London E2 9NF