I thought that by waiting a couple of months to eat at Viajante that my blog post wouldn’t seem horribly redundant, but it turns out I’m not the only blogger who waited until the opening hype died down. During the last two weeks, Gourmet Traveller and London Eater have also sampled chef Nuno Mendes‘s goodies, so I encourage you to click on those links above for stunning photos and a detailed rundown of the food.
In light of both those recent and excellent posts, I’ll keep mine light on the food descriptions and instead leave you with captioned photos and a few general thoughts.
As is the case at superb restaurants like L’Astrance (Paris), there’s no menu at Viajante. The only choices you make are: (a) the number of courses and (b) wines. (A brief aside while we’re on the topic of beverages — Viajante immediately got on my good side for charging a modest flat rate for unlimited sparkling and still water. London restaurants, I hope you all follow suit!)
Having made our choice (the 9-course tasting menu for £75), off we went.
We were served a parade of amuses, which we enjoyed, but what Jon and I still think about are Viajante’s warm baguettes. For a minute, I thought I was eating at Jean-Georges, where Mendes trained — that’s how good this bread was. The caramel-sweet butter and crunchy chicken skin were worthy accompaniments.
The skate wing was a stellar course, so I feel compelled to say a bit more here. The yeast crust was crispy and sweet, acting as the best breadcrumbs in the world, really. Jon and I appreciated Mendes’s insistence that we try the course with a yeasty champagne, which he said was the inspiration for the dish. In fact, he felt so strongly about the pairing that two glasses were poured for us, gratis. And, as you’d expect when a dish is built around a wine, the pairing was a treat.
Overall, here’s what I liked about Viajante:
- Watching the precision and intensity in the kitchen. Nothing makes you appreciate the visual gorgeousness of your course like the sight of four cooks putting a dish together with tweezers.
- The number of times Nuno Mendes himself arrives at your table to finish the dish, explain what it is, and suggest how to eat it. It’s personal, it’s helpful, and you get the feeling Mendes is a nice guy, which is, you know . . . nice.
- The food’s creativity and mix of textures and flavors. For sure, this is high-end cooking with moments of genius (yeast-crusted skate wing, I’m talking to you).
- The restaurant’s informality and cool vibe. It’s Bethnal Green, after all.
Here’s what I’d change about Viajante:
- Superficial as it sounds, I would’ve liked to have seen a few more high-end ingredients among the nine courses (and multiple amuses). I know that the passion and precision it takes to create all those courses is significant, and I also know that at high-end restaurants, you’re paying for much more than costly ingredients. That said, I can’t help feeling that £75 was a bit high for a few scraps of razor clam and a slice of sirloin, with lots of celeriac, beetroot and tapioca thrown in.
As Jon and I were leaving during what appeared to be the height of a Friday evening dinner service, Mendes made a point of saying thank you and goodbye. I’ll admit I was super charmed. When was the last time that happened to you at a temple of haute cuisine? I really like this idea of haute cuisine-level food served with neighborhood-joint warmth, so I’d go back, but next time, I’ll stick with the 6-course £60 menu and see if the value calculation swings more in my favor.
6/9/12 course tasting menu for £60/£75/£85 with wine pairings for £30/£45/£60.
Viajante, Patriot Square, E2 9NF; 0207 871 0461; closest tube station: Bethnal Green