Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Viajante: The Tasting Menu

I would put money on the fact that Viajante has been the most blogged about, most celebrated and most photographed restaurant this year. Is there anyone out there who hasn't raved on about this Bethnal Green shrine? For those that follow Marina O'Laughlin, food giant of London's The Metro paper, you will know this is the only full 5 star review she's done all year. The verdict? It's on the supernatural gastro-stratosphere.

So what can I add that hasn't already been said? I tell you what. I give you full-on, visually seductive and lavishly produced food porn that will extend the indulgent journey already being travelled by Viajante.

Having visited previously, it was one of those "Oh when are we going back?" occasions. Viajante is the Portugese word for "traveller", and one doesn't just travel through flavours, one is catapulted through smells, textures and new cooking concepts. Make way for the 9 course tasting menu....

I'm immediately drawn to the beautiful collages on the lamps and wall. It's a haze of colour, semi-Japanese, semi-Gustav Klimt. Chefs work swiftly but so silently over plate after plate of edible art.

Where would 21st century dining be without these palate teasers? Simply named Thai explosion II, it was the finest pork mince laced with lemongrass, coriander, chilli, sandwiched between two wafer thin layers of chicken crackling.

Bread and Butter: Would you really believe it was this simple a name? These exquisite quinelles were brown butter so whipped up they were like moussy clouds. Topped with more chicken crackling, this was my bread and butter.

Scallops, butternut squash and mustard snow, with a trickling of watercress broth: I'm never one to turn down scallop sashimi, and I loved the pungent mustard snow which lifted the seafood. Funnily, those butternut slivers are a trompe l'oeil: don't they make you think of pasta shapes?! They added a rather raw crunch to this springtime dish.

Charred leeks, hazelnuts and milk skin: Gorgeous textures from the nuts, and silky milk skin. For the Chinese folk in the crowd, this makes you think of bean curd skin, and perhaps that's what it was. I loved the charred leek taste and sprinkling of black ash which contrasted with the smoothness.

Braised salmon skin and fried aubergine: If one could succintly place all of Japanese cuisine on a plate, this would be it. Immediately you recognise the miso paste, and the smoky aubergine flavours. Dip into the broth beneath at it's pure agedashi in liquid form. The salmon sashimi is delicate, soft and perfectly punctuated with the skin, spring onion and giant caviar.

Lobster, potato, confit egg yolk and saffron: Now if there was the odd dish out for me, I sheepishly say this was it. The mini egg yolk, probably from a quail's egg, was rich, thick and creamy. Lobster was springy like how seafood is meant to be and bathed in a light fish broth. There was a saffron skin that layered the dish, and could have only been placed by accomplished, and stealthy fingers, but it was as if each component was a little songstress, and not a choir singing from the same sheet. Ah well, onto the next act!

Sea bass toast, garlic kale and S. Jorge: Was that a mis-focussed picture or was that a mis-focussed picture?! Apologies folks, but imagine a splendidly cooked fillet of sea bass, it was named a "toast" as the skin was quite simply that. No oily glaze, making me think this was done by blow-torch? It lay on top of a swoosh of dark green garlic kale puree, with a sliver of semi-hard, Portugese Sao Jorge cheese. What would the Italians say about the food-rule-defying fish-cheese pairing. I think they could make an exception.

Venison and raw mushrooms with smoked yoghurt: I call this "The Forest Floor". Undoubtedly the most beautifully plated dish of the night, I could have stared at this endlessly. My tummy could have welcomed it endlessly. Tender venison slices folded amongst blackberries, wild mushrooms with crumbs of roasted nuts in between was a natural pairing of foods. The smoked yoghurt oh-so-subtlely laced the dish.

Squab (a variety of pigeon), beetroot yoghurt and pistachio praline: My favourite. This was like a spring awakening, off the back of the previous autumnal dish. I could never have enough of gamey pigeon, dribbled with its salty jus, complimented with sharp beetroot and berries and rounded off with an intense pistachio cream. I was like Maria in the opening sequence of The Sound of Music!

Sea buckthorn and burnt meringue: What is buckthorn you ask? I'm told by a reliable web source it is a wintery, ferny plant that produces little berries which I can only guess is the flavour behind the sweet, orange coloured sorbet. The reptilian tail that snaked into it was either passion-fruit or lemon flavoured. The hit of sour and sweet and in contrasting temperatures was divine.

Frozen maple and toasted oats with green maple and sweet mayonnaise: This course screamed Canadian Winter. I couldn't quite tell the flavours apart but I got vanilla, nuts and of course a honeyed maple. Oats were a great gravel to the white snowy tips.

Chocolate with hazelnut and soil: I imagine this is what Fred Flintstone would order if he was a foodie and wanted a dessert. The cracker thin chocolate casing held a chocolate ganache, creating another layer of cocoa svelteness amidst the soil. Hazelnut foam was fluffy and helped lap up the tiny granules!

Petit Fours: Crema Catalana, Cep Truffle and Shortbread. And just when I thought the journey had ended, my personal highlight of the adventure arrived in the form of a cep truffle. Again, this amazingly light chocolate shell encased a ganache, this time infused with a wondrous mushroomy flavour from the cep. Crowned with a single grain of salt, this was the chocolate truffle of my life. Wow, what a statement! Not meaning to underplay the crema catalana and the shortbread, but these did quite literally pale in comparison!

Pack your bags and go on this experimental journey. Whether this is to your tastes, I guarantee you will feel enlivened and your taste buds forced to question and comprehend new flavours. The 9 course tasting menu is £75 a head without wine, and worthy of a very special occasion. Mine was sharing it with great friends in London.


Brigadeiro said...

Ooh! This degustation does indeed sound divine! And such a journey of flavours!

Su-Lin said...

Now very tempted by the tasting menu! My list of places in London to visit and to re-visit is growing insane!

Hungry Female said...

The tasting menu was quite an experience! I am however going to post very soon about somewhere which potentially rivals Viajante (gasp!)!