Friday 21 May 2010

Viajante – London

Earlier this week, as part of her ‘posh lunch’ project, Niamh of 'eat like a girl' invited me along to lunch with her at the newly opened Viajante, housed in the former Bethnal Green town hall. Nuno Mendes, the respected El Bulli and Jean Georges trained Chef is doing the cooking, and to be honest, it’s all very exciting, the food and the menus having evolved from Nuno’s acclaimed ‘The Loft’ project, a rather exclusive East London supper club.

Arriving late, and slightly flustered (Tube delays, and suprisingly hot weather - for Britain, at least), I found Niamh waiting for me in the bar. The Restaurant itself couldn’t be in a grander building. We were greeted by Nuno himself, and ushered into the dining room, past the obviously busy, but eerily quiet open kitchen where, immaculately turned out chefs were meticulously assembling extremely complicated looking dishes; I knew we were going to be in for a treat.

The dining room itself is decorated in a pleasant, contemporary style and feels fairly relaxed, we both decided to opt for the 3-course lunch menu at £25, and went for the added matched drinks option at £15. Can I just say right now, before I even begin describing what we ate. What a complete and utter bargain! 25 quid?!! Jaw droppingly good value. I couldn’t have been more impressed, and here’s why….

First up, a beautiful looking amuse consisting of a crostini dotted elaborately with dabs of romesco, gordal olives, almonds and Jerez. I’m not entirely sure what culinary trickery was used to produce the flavours. But it was almost as interesting to look at, as it was to eat, really quite delicious.

Next, another nicely assembled amuse of smokey aubergine with soy milk, this came with a filo strip containing aubergine puree balanced on the glass. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure about this dish. It looked a hell of a lot better than it tasted. I liked the filo strip component, but found the soy milk and aubergine jelly/custard a bit murky in flavour.

No sooner had we finished this than another amuse arrived, the rather oddly named ‘Thai explosion II’, consisting of (I believe) chicken confit, crispy chicken skin and a quails egg, this was fresh, light and delightful to eat filling the mouth with classic Thai flavours, such as coriander and perhaps a hint of lemongrass.

Very nicely cooked baguettes appeared next, with a mound of brown bread butter,sprinkled with chicken skin pieces and dusted with purple powder (no idea what this was, to be honest I found it quiet hard to keep track of exactly what we were eating as there were so many ingredients). Nevertheless It looked amazing, and tasted very good. The brown bread flavoured butter tasting somewhat surprisingly, of caramel and the actual bread itself being excellent.

At this point our first matched ‘wine’ was poured, and it in keeping with the whole vibe of the fantastical menu, it was a Beer. Rodenbach from Belgium, which I must say was really nice, dark in colour, but fruity, light and alarmingly easy to drink.
This was matched with a yet another beautiful looking plate, our starter of ‘Textures of beetroot’ consisting of Beetroot cooked three ways (Jellied, Pickled and in a errr …Ribbon, so raw? perhaps blanched?). This came with tiny heaps of green apple mousse, whipped goats curd and delicate flakes of crab. I loved it. Really subtle, fresh, flavours. It was a joy to eat.

Plates cleared, our next matched plonk was a glass of Champagne. Duvel Leroy, 1999 Blanc de Chardonnay. Which was bloody good actually, really crisp.
This was matched with Lemon Sole, on brioche, with mustard gnocchi and a yeasty cauliflower foam. Nuno Mendes came to our table and explained that this dish had been created around the champagne, and complimented it perfectly. Pouring a slick of the fish cooking juices around the plate, he made his was back to the kitchen and we tucked in. He’d nailed it. The Champagne worked perfectly with the food, beautifully paired. The food itself was superb, showing a real delicate hand with the flavours – really impressive. Thoughtfully, a spoon was provided to lap up the leftover subtle, buttery fish juices.

Next, came an extremely refreshing Thai Basil and Lemon flavoured palate cleanser. This was seriously lovely, Thai Basil being a flavour I’ve never really enjoyed in the past to be honest, but here it was used with subtlety.

Our final matched glass was a nice but strongly flavoured sweet dessert wine, which sadly, I didn’t catch the name of.
This was paired with ‘Dark Chocolate and Water’. Another artistically arranged plate of chocolate in various forms, dust, jellied and mousse, served with a splash of coconut-flavoured granita representing the ‘water’ element. This was a masterstroke. The chocolate by itself would be too cloying and dry, but the addition of the granita lightened it, and the texture of the cold ice against the warmth of the various chocolates was a revelation. This dish really worked for me.

Finally, to finish off – we were given a small of bowl of crème catalana, and some beautiful petit fours, delicately flavoured Vanilla Pates de fruits, which were ok…and some scene stealing chocolate truffles, containing a white chocolate mushroom flavoured ganache. These were bloody delicious, and despite sounding a bit odd perhaps, the combination really worked well.

Some nice coffee, served unusually with liquid sugar (new to me), and we collected the bill.

All of that lot, food, plonk, tip….. £45 each!!!

At that price, it has to be one of the best fine dining lunch bargains in London. The food itself was wondrous; admittedly not everything works, (aubergine with soy milk I’m looking at you). But then this is really unusual, almost experimental cooking, pushing cuisine to another level, and for that you sometimes have to take the smooth with a smidgen of rough. For all that, the food is very accessible, delicate and light with some incredibly interesting ideas and flavour combinations going on, and for that reason I cannot recommend lunch at Viajante enough.
Total Bargain.


Patriot Square
Bethnal Green
London E2 9NF

Telephone: 020 7871 0461


Anonymous said...

I've heard foodies murmuring about this place for a few weeks now, so was impatient to see a review. Experimental culinary acrobatics are a rare treat in London, for some reason, particularly at such incredible value. I'll be certain to make a booking now, on the strength of this review, before they hike up the prices!

tehbus said...

I thoroughly agree with the great value (and the dodgy aubergine dish). Great to see that the dishes were different from the previous week. Pushes me in the right direction to return!

The Grubworm said...

This is interesting - i have a read a number of reviews ranging from gushing to luke warm. The impression I am getting of Viajante is that this lunch is a bargain, but the more expensive evening (£90 for food) menus are to be avoided.

That said, all the food here sounds very good indeed, and I like the fact you got beer and champagne as part of your matched drinks. Shows a breadth of thinking you don't often get at restaurants.

Tom said...

The more I read about the lunch there the more I wish I had done that. You get to try everything that works so well at the dinner (the brilliance of the vegetables and fish, the interesting textures, the use of colour and plating) without any of the problems... And the price. Awesome

Glad you had such a good trip.

Lost in the Larder said...

cracking photos as usual. I will reiterate that it seems such amzing value for money. Viajante duly noted.

Unknown said...

Sounds like lunch is the way to go as people seem less forgiving of Viajante's faults when paying full whack at dinner but your meal sounds excellent value for money

Dan said...

Laura - Agree, the 3 course lunch is a complete bargain for this standard of cooking.

Tehbus - Yeah, really didn't 'get' the aubergine dish, but everything else was superb. I've had a look back at other reviews and seems the menu is constantly evolving.

Grubworm - Agree, hard to argue with all that for £25, and beer and champagne matches a real surprise, the whole thing certainly keeps the diner on their toes.

Tom - Really interesting to compare your review of the full menu to the lunch menu, pity that it didn't stand up so well and cost so much more.

Lost in the Larder - Thanks very much mate, and yep total bargain, you have to give it a try.

Gourmet Chick - Agree, I'd be much more critical if I was paying £90 for the privilege. But at that price, it's really something worth experiencing.

Unknown said...

I love the review but what I love most are the amazing photo's... do you get stares when you get the camera out? what do people say?

just new to the blog world and it's so fascinating to see how other people do it...

check out the blog

Dan said...

Dominic - Thanks very much for your kind comments.

The camera, well - I try and be as discrete as possible. I try not to use the flash, and I never take photos of fellow diners. I normally keep the camera on my lap, and snap some shots of each course and then put it away again.

People rarely say anything, sometimes a Manager or front of house will notice the camera and ask if I'm a journalist or food writer, and if so - did I enjoy the meal? but no ones ever been funny about it.

Good Luck with food blogging!

Douglas Blyde said...

Glad you enjoyed it! Loved your comment on my blog recently BTW.

Jonathan said...

Tremendous photos. Looks like a thrilling evening.

Dan said...

Douglas - Thanks very much, I really enjoyed reading your very funny critique of that restauarant.

Jonathan - Cheers dude.

Mini said...

What lovely photographs - I've booked at table for next week and its a real treat to see what kind of thing we might be getting! Very excited now.

Dan said...

Mini - Thanks very much, I hope you enjoy lunch at Viajante as much as I did! - if you remember, drop me a comment on here and let me know what you thought.

Mini said...

It was amazing! So glad we moved to a kitchen view table - watching the precision with which they plated up the dishes was just fantastic, and Nuno Mendes was so passionate about every tiny detail. Will definitely go again.

PS - I just about caught what he said about the brown bread butter - the purple bits were Iberico ham.

Sofia said...

Dan i'm going to Viajante next week and I couldn't look much forward to it, even more after reading (and seeing the pics obviously) your post! Really nice!
Can you just confirm me this unbelievable thing? The 3-course menu of 25£ gives you 9 amazing different things like this??

Dan said...

Sofia - Since my review, 2 years ago, Viajante recieved a Michelin star. As a result, right now, the 3 course lunch menu is a little bit pricier, at £35. I believe you still get all the extra courses. Have a fantastic meal and let me know how it goes.

Sofia said...

Thanks Dan!
Yes I noticed that change but for all the amazing reviews i've heard so far it's still a very nice price!