Monday, May 24, 2010


As the little opinionated madam I sometimes am, it's natural for me to scrutinise the hype around some overly talked about restaurant in trendy Hackney. Viajante, the restaurant of much acclaimed Nuno Mendes, has been lavished with praise. Ex-El Bulli, founder of The Loft, an uber chi-chi supper club, his food is art on a plate. I love artistic pretty food, but I need substance as well. No matter how cute, how many micro sprouts, how many flamboyant swishes, I demand taste and filling portions. So I set out with a fine tooth comb on this menu. Sadly we missed reserving a spot for dinner, but had cocktails and the tapas menu...

Set in an ex-Town Hall, a conventional outside belies the contemporary interior. The decor is so considered. Gorgeous textured balls on string form a feature above the bar. The barman immediately springs to our service and demands what we want. Apparently we're taking too long to decide. Ok then Mr, make me something sour and with rum. And he does. Obviously someone who loves the challenge and confident enough to take on the order. I've been to many a bar that claim they can customise drinks to suit, but only this one actually delivered and was gracious enough to check if I genuinely liked it.

White Bean Crostini: Extremely delicate, the mini dollops of white and green sauces were bean purees. While the flavours were very fresh, I'm a girl with a man's appetite. 

Beetroot Puree: Lovely garlic infused beetroot. Light crunchy crostini to mop up that delicious blood red sweet vegetable.

Scallop, Shitake Mushroom and Goat's Cheese Pizza: Now we're talking. Served on a non-traditional crust, it's more like a cracker. We wonder and marvel over how the cheese melts without the bottom burning. The shitake mushroom is so succulent and earthy, it's as if it was dried and rehydrated though unlike any Chinese dried mushroom I've had. Topped with fresh slivers of scallop, it is a successful and original European take on Chinese ingredients.

Salmon, Cream Cheese, Dill and Caviar Pizza: Though not as original as the shitake pizza it was still very good and big on flavour. A massive blini of the classic canape! 

Mini Beef Burger with Beetroot and Parsnip Crisps: True and instant L.O.V.E. at first bite. This mini patty has a layer of blue cheese and red onion chutney that simply melted over the top. The patty itself had a savoury intensity that could have only come from maybe grated cheese mixed in with the mince itself. Divine! My favourite tapas of the night, and proof that Nuno can do both naughty favourites as well as good-looking nibbles.

White Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis: Uh-Mazing. Never the biggest white chocolate fan, this was a revelation. White chocolate need not be sickening! The "shell" of the cake cracked open to reveal a softer ganache, and paired with the sharp coulis, it was almost like a well defined and shaped mousse.

Chocolate and Green Tea Cigar: Isn't this a picture? I fell in love with the bitter dark chocolate that was excellently complimented by the sweet caramel sauce and "sand" on the side. The ganache was again countered by that bark-y green tea element. A superb mixture of textures.

For what I initially thought was clever food marketing, I was truly floored and silenced. The food was beautiful and abundantly flavoured, the service was genuinely warm and attentive. Viajante is the Portuguese word for traveller, and the blurb on the site eludes to the experiences that Nuno has had in the street markets and restaurants he's visited. Probably the first well executed interpretation of world cuisine, it's safe and not untrue to call this Fusion. There were four giggly girls at the end of the night, at £36 a head for shared tapas, a cocktail and a glass of wine. Restaurant? Here I come!

Viajante on Urbanspoon

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