Viajante is Nuno Mendes’s East London rendition of the elBulli experience
It is no surprise to hear that chef-patron Nuno Mendes has trained at elBulli: the whole experience at Viajante resembled Adrià’s concept, just in a smaller and more informal east-London scale.
Let’s start from the numbers: we opted for the nine-course blind menu (yes, every course is a surprise) and went through 16 dishes. I had prolonged experiences in my culinary adventures, but I have never faced so many different platters in one session.
The meal began with a very appealing quartet: Thai Explosion, Amaranth with Sorrel, Squid with Ink and Apple, Young Potato with Yeast and Olive. The bread and butter, unexpectedly, was quite uninspiring.
The Thai explosion was really intense; the amaranth gave a crunchy/sandy sensation on the palate; the squid was very sophisticated; and the baby potato with bacon simply delicious. A very promising start.
The “real deal” began with Pea Custard with Morels and Onion and Crab with Egg Yolk and Rhubarb. Both were balanced and delicate; flavours were natural but not particularly distinctive. The pea custard itself was memorable though; it felt like eating a solid version of a very thick pea veloutée.
Next on the table were Bream with Dill-Chicory and Fennel Caramel and Turbot with Spring Vegetables and Mussels. Possibly the highlight of our meal, the bream was incredibly tasty and its texture was counterbalanced by the crunchiness of the crumbs. The turbot was all about finesse: ethereal in the foam and grounded with the vegetables. One of those dishes that prompt you to say: “Can I have another one please?”
After these two light courses, it was time for something heavier: Cod Tripe with Onion and Potatoes and Ibherica Pluma with Bay Leaf Yoghurt and Sweet Cornbread.
The cod tripe was delicious; on the other hand the pork pluma was paired with very debatable elements: yoghurt and sweetbread – possibly the weakest serving of the evening.
Last of the main courses was Dehesa Lamb with Goat’s Curd and Black Quinoa, followed by the pre-dessert cleanser in the shape of Pickled and Raw Cucumber with Reduced Milk Sorbet.
The lamb, which is generally not my first choice, was just six-week old, thus very smooth and graceful. While the palate cleanser did its job, it was far too large considering we were already at course number 13.
Dessert time. Disclaimer: if a chef is good, it does not follow that he knows how to prepare desserts. Cooking techniques for savoury food are not the same applied to sweet courses and it often happens that the result is disappointing. As a consequence of that, I always lower my expectations.
We tried Frozen Pear with Cider and Pecans and Jerusalem Artichokes, Chocolate Soil and Blood Orange.
The frozen pear was tasty, but very filling (which is not what you need at the 14th course) and the Jerusalem artichokes lay on a huge portion of rosemary ice cream. As I said, desserts are a world apart and should be treated as such.
A delightful petit four of chocolate and porcini mushroom was hard to appreciate at that stage, but it was certainly interesting.
At the end of the day, we realised that we had eaten a bit too much and, perhaps, the service should have been more focused on the food than the rest of the experience.
Chef Mendes knows very well how to bring out talent in the kitchen: he showed it at the Loft Project and it shone through all the dishes served on our table. His approach is to serve top-quality, fine-dining food in a cool and easygoing way. However, Mendes offers a meal where – although you don’t know exactly when – there is definitely a moment when you (or, actually, he) should stop.
Shifting between perfect courses and unnecessary pairings and contaminations, the potential is great, but boundaries need to be defined: this is a restaurant, not a test kitchen.
In terms of wine offering the selection was smart, with a wide range of independent Champagne-makers. The suggested pairings were appealing but there was no sommelier in the room to help with à la carte choices.
Viajante is a very intruiguing restaurant to visit; it shows off the chef’s great care for aesthetics and contemporary food trends. The importance given to the overall experience, rather than the actual meal, makes it perfect for gourmands – it’s still, though, a must-try for any diner.
Filippo L’Astorina, The Editor
To book a table at Viajante, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF, call 020 7871 0461 or enquire here.