Viajante was one of my favourite meals of 2010. Off the wall in places, but comprised of some great dishes in a casual dining room. Getting the chefs to deliver the dishes they had just so carefully tweezered into place straight to your table, and to chat through some of the components was interesting and interactive. It was definitely fiddly food (see previous comment about tweezers) but good food. I meant to go back at some stage and give the full tasting menu a go, but with so many great new places opening every month, never had the pennies saved up to warrant another visit. Two years later, I returned to the Town Hall hotel, not to eat at Viiajante, but to give it's little sister a go. The Corner Room is hidden away in a corner of the hotel, once you've found the carpeted moose head, you know you're there. The whole place is smaller but equally beautiful. Understated, quirky and functional.
Make no mistake, this is not Viajante. The dishes have the unmistakeable Nuno Mendez touch, but the small a la carte menu is less fussy and the lunch menu offers some of the best value in London. At a mere £19, you get three excellent courses, with minor supplements for some of their signature dishes. I'm normally wholly against supplements, but when they are asking a mere £2 extra to get their Iberico pork dish, you're not going to find me kicking up a fuss.
I started with squid, romesco and leeks which came across as a very Iberian combination, unsurprising maybe as Nuno Mendes' Portuguese roots are evident throughout the menu. Although the squid was marginally overcooked and consequently slightly springy, the whole dish was light and delicious. The chorizo crumb was the ingredient which really swung it into the "excellent" territory as it added crunch and seasoning.
My main of Iberico pork (with that paltry £2 supplement) was also a tad overcooked, but the sheer flavour of the sweet Iberico can help you forgive all sins. The Portuguese bread salad was a great accompaniment, fused with paprika and lightly fried. A little too much for the meat, but another dish packed full of punch.
After those two courses, I wasn't sure if we could hit a home run with the third, but what came was probably the most intriguing, and for me, most enjoyable course of them all. I wasn't overwhelmed as it arrived at the table as the whole thing looked a mess, but slowly peeling back the mounds of frozen pannacotta (essentially a slightly more solid creamy layer), all manner of secrets were revealed. The real focus was apple served in 4 ways, arriving in dried slices, roasted chunks, cubes of jelly and a little puree, with each variation adding a different texture and clarity of flavour. A little hazelnut smear rounded off a memorable dessert.
I have said this already, and I will say it again, you are not going to get a cheaper, better value for money meal in London. After a three course menu, service charge, a glass of wine and that supplement, the whole bill still came to less than £30, a frankly astonishing total. Slight overcooking aside, I enjoyed everything I ate and it's not very often I can actually say that about a place. The main thing that astounded me was how easy it was to get a table. Compared to places such as 10 Greek Street and Duck Soup (which are as close as a comparison as I can get) where it can be tricky to get in, everyone should spend their money on a cab fare, head east and eat at the Corner Room instead.
Addendum, it appears the three course lunch is now a princely sum of £21. Still awesome value.
The Corner Room - Town hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green E2 9NF