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.
London E2 9NF
Telephone: 020 7871 0461