Viajante: London's new avant-garde hotspot
There are a number of reasons why you might not like Viajante, currently London's hippest - and most controversial - restaurant. If you dislike not knowing what you're going to eat (there's no menu). If you rail against small plates and the lack of 'proper' helpings. If you worry if the chef is holding a pair of tweezers rather than a knife or a cleaver. Or if you baulk at the thought of trekking out to a less salubrious part of the East End of London. Even then it's worth putting aside your prejudices, for Viajante - which means traveller in the chef Nuno Mendes' native Portuguese - is terrific.
Mendes is one of a band of experimental European chefs who have been strongly influenced by Ferran Adria: a contemporary of Rene Redzepi of Noma for a while at El Bulli and a habitu of avant-garde chef conferences such as the recent Omnivore New York. After an uncertain start at Vivat Bacchus where his Adria-influenced brand of molecular gastronomy was not particularly well-received he launched a cutting edge supper club The Loft Project and has now opened his own restaurant in the ground floor of what used to be Bethnal Green town hall and is now an arty boutique hotel.
If you can, book a ringside seat at one of the tables nearest the open-plan kitchen where you can watch Mendes and his young colleagues, tweezing, drizzling and squirting away at plates of exquisitely beautiful food.
We opted for the short 3 course lunch menu (you can have six and up to twelve in the evening) but still had some extra 'amuses' sent out: a crostino of romesco, olives, almonds and dehydrated sherry, a soy milk jelly with smoked aubergine consomme and smoked aubergine caviar and 'Thai explosion II' - a crisp little feuillet sandwich filled with Thai spiced confit chicken.
These were followed by 'Textures of beetroot and crab, green apple and whipped goats curd' - a relatively straightforward dish that appeared and tasted much as it sounded, an extraordinary dish of lemon sole coated in roast yeast with mustard gnocchi and cauliflower pure which wasn't any easier to make sense of when I asked the waiter to repeat the description but tasted amazing and a stunning plate of chocolate desserts - a sorbet, a granita, a jelly and a dense chocolate sponge of a brownie-like consistency broken into Noma-esque crumbs. It went brilliantly well with a cup of Wuyi Dark Rock Tea, one of the intriguingly unorthodox 'beverage' pairings that you can order through the meal. (The beetroot was matched with Rodenbach Grand Cru and the sole with a lush 2007 Szepsy Furmint from Tokaj).
Service, performed by elegant thin young men in black is casual and friendly though I imagine might wobble in busier periods and the wine list which contains a number of natural and biodynamic wines, may not thrill oenophiles but Mendes is undoubtedly a star in the making. And at £25 a head for three courses, it's extraordinarily good value. Be sure to book ahead - there are only 40 seats.
Oh, and the easiest and cheapest way to get there is to take the Central Line to Bethnal Green and walk 6 minutes up the road.
Viajante is in the Town Hall Hotel and apartments, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF
+44 (0) 20 7871 0461
This review was first published on decanter.com
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