Editor's note: in early February 2014 it was announced that head chef Nuno Mendes was leaving Viajante to join a new venture called Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, opening 28th February. Viajante (and its sister Corner House) will close and be replaced by a new Jason Atherton venture with head chef Lee Westcott, formerly head chef of Tom Aikens.
Viajante is the latest venture from Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, who gained a reputation for innovation at Bacchus. His new venture is in the old Bethnal Green Town Hall, a few minutes’ walk from Bethnal Green tube down a distinctly down-market street. Inside the dining room is intimate, with an open kitchen, wooden floor and comfortable chairs with blue upholstery, and plenty of natural light. There are no tablecloths, nor is there a menu in the conventional sense: you choose 6, 9 or 12 courses. The six course menu is £60 in the evening, £45 at lunch.
The short wine list had well-chosen growers from around the world, though mark-ups were far from kind. Chateau Musar 2001 was listed at £58 for a wine you can buy in the shops for around £18, Mas La Plana 1989 £90 compared to a retail price of around £29, Tim Knappstein Rieslin an excessive £38 (plus service of course) compared to a retail price of around £7, and Kumeu River Mates 2006 Chardonnay £48 for a wine that will set you back around £18 to buy.
Crostini with Romesco sauce and gordal olives with almonds was a pleasant start to the meal, the olive tapenade nicely made and not too strong (comfortably 15/20). Next was the bread, and an odd idea for the butter. There was whipped brown butter with chicken skin and Iberico ham with a mini-baguette. The bread itself was OK if a little floury, but the brown butter did not work at all for me, just tasting of slightly burnt butter; surely just a simple butter would have been better (11/20).
A jelly of smoked aubergine was served with a smoked aubergine consommé and aubergine caviar; this was a pleasant dish, but suffered from being served far too cold, as if just taken out of a very cold fridge; this killed the flavours, even such a strong one as aubergine, which was a pity (13/20). Thai explosion was a little nibble in between a sandwich of crispbread, and was bizarrely lacking in seasoning. The intended flavour explosion was entirely defused (13/20).
Squid tartare and pickled radishes, samphire and frozen squid ink jus was a pretty dish that for me struggled due to the frozen squid ink, whose temperature numbed the palate and caused the flavours of rest of the dish to be hidden (13/20). Textures of beetroot and crab, green apple and whipped goat curd was another pretty looking dish and indeed showed an interesting mix of textures, though the beetroot used had surprisingly little flavour, the crab a little lost in the dish (14/20).
Roasted celeriac, tapioca and S. Jorge cheese had celeriac flavour which was a little subdued but was enjoyable enough, but the dish was spoilt by a onion sauce that was poured over at the table; unfortunately the onions had a burnt note which distracted from the rest of the dish (13/20). Sole with cauliflower and a yeast foam had fish was that was cooked properly but lemon sole is never the most exciting fish (originally this was to be skate on the menu) and in this case was a little watery, while the yeast foam did not seem to me to be a natural accompaniment (14/20).
Pig neck and Savoy cabbage was served with grated egg and fired capers. The pork was fine but the capers had been badly burnt, reduced to a charcoal taste that distracted from the rest of the dish; this was a surprising technical slip (12/20). Lemon and Thai basil sorbet was very pleasant, tasting primarily of Thai basil rather than lemon, and capably made (16/20). “Dark chocolate with water” had enjoyably rich chocolate ice cream with coconut water granite, which showed some contrasting textures (16/20).
Certain elements of the cooking are reminiscent of Noma: the pretty presentation, the chefs bringing you the dishes directly from the kitchen. Unfortunately there were several slips in this meal which I do not recall happening at Bacchus. Nuno had a day off today, which perhaps did not help, but even so the lunch here for the food alone is almost the same price as a lunch at Le Gavroche which not only would feature costlier ingredients, but includes wine. I like Nuno Mendes’ original style, and it was a pity to see his vision let down today by some inconsistent execution.