Restaurants like Viajante don’t come around everyday. Meaning ‘traveller’ in Portuguese (and pronounced Vee-ya-jahn-tay, not Vee-ya-han-tay as I originally thought), chef Nuno Mendes’ latest restaurant is an absolute dream. If you read any London food blogs, you’ve probably already heard a lot of praise for Viajante. It felt like everyone in the city ate there within days of opening. The buzz was tantamount to a Metallica gig. So fast forward half a year, and I finally make it there for the three-course £25 lunch and £15 wine pairings with the lovely Jaz. We took the day off just for posh lunch – pretending it’s just the sort of thing we would just normally do on a cold November Wednesday.
After being seated, we were served the Thai Explosion II as our amuse:
Exactly what it says on the tin, this little morsel did sort of explode in your mouth. The ‘explosion’ consisted of chicken and a quail egg mousse which was sandwiched between a coconut tuile and crispy chicken skin. All together, a really nice contrast of textures and flavours.
Bread and butter came next, but was unlike anything I’ve had before. Just saying ‘bread and butter’ doesn’t do it justice. The butter was almost tan and dusted with potato powder and bits of crispy pancetta and chicken skin. Vegetarians beware, this was a meat-lovers’ butter.
The starter was Charred Leeks, Hazlenuts and Milk Skin with Lobster:
Another perfect execution of texture and contrasting flavours, the poached lobster was rich, but not in that seafood restaurant buttery sort of way. It was delicate and light. The dish was served over a cream sauce that reminded me of squid ink, just more subtle.
Next up was the Duck with Mushroom Caramel, Blackberries and Girelles:
I must admit, I was a little nervous when this came out as it was so heavily reliant on mushrooms, and I’m not the hugest fan of fungi, but I needn’t have worried – it was marvelous. The duck was cooked to perfection, rare/medium rare with the sort of crispy skin that take ages to master. The girelles were mild and the mushroom caramel sauce was divine.
We were then served our pre-dessert and palette cleanser, Sea Buckthorn and Burnt Meringue:
Sea Buckthorn berries are normally quite tart, but mixed with a lot of sugar and frozen – not so much. If I had to pinpoint it, I’d say it’s probably closest to a tangerine sorbet. But what really made this was the burnt meringue. Fluffy marshmallow gooey goodness with just the slightest caramelised crunch. A taste of both the sorbet and the meringue together made this dish pretty much the best orange creamsicle I’ve ever had.
In fact, I liked it better than the actual dessert – Frozen Maple, Toasted Oats and Apple with Panna Cotta Ice Cream:
It was the only dish of the day that fell a bit flat for me. The apples were just a bit too tart and the oats just a bit too bland. They chose a green-apple accented wine to go along with it that I found too overwhelming. The panna cotta ice cream, however, was excellent.
The lunch concluded with some tea and petit fours, which included Creme Catalane and white chocolate truffles that were, in a trite and overused phrase, ‘to die for’.
The meal, with the exception of my dessert, was flawless. I loved the open kitchen plan, the service, the china – everything. All in all, we paid about £50 a head with the 3-course meal (which is really 6 if you count the extras), wine, water (just £1 for all the sparkling or still you can drink!), tea, etc. It’s still not the cheapest in the world, but for a special occasion lunch in the most unlikely of places in East London, it’s perfect. One of the best meals of the year.