There’s something about the East end of London and I. We simply don’t get along. I’m not sure where this deep seeded hatred originated from but I sense it could be down to two things. Reason number one probably has something to do with the fact that I lived out East during my second year at university. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, but the fact that it was so far away from the action got on my nerves somewhat. Now that I live in Camberwell, it seems that the East has got a lot trendier and a fair few of my friends have decided to relocate in this vicinity. The second problem for me is another one of transport; south to east just doesn’t exist.
Until now, that is. All hail the new East London overground! Back with a slightly new name, some new signs and fancy new trains, this is essentially the old East London line but revamped and extended. At time of going to press, it is running a limited service but I managed to hop on to take me to my lunch date, a meal at Viajante with 5 other food lovers.
Viajante has been in the pipeline for quite some time. Nuno Mendes (head chef) has been testing out his style of cuisine on paying guests at the Loft Project for quite some time, but for those like me who were unable to make it, Viajante was my first chance to try out some of his much lauded food. Bringing in Iberian influences from his home and family, and combining it with his love of Asian ingredients, the end result was quite an experience.
Unfortunately, the first experience I had was not good. I ordered a Skye Julep on arrival, and although it sounded rather appealing on the menu, what I received was a cocktail which tasted of dettol. Dettol is a disinfectant. Disinfectant (or the flavour there of) does not belong in a drink.
Thankfully I was distracted from the horror of my beverage by a bevy of nibbles. Opting for the three course menu at a very affordable £25, we were not told what the dishes would be so we had no idea when the first course actually started amongst the flood of "amuse". First we were brought an "Iberian" crisp bread (not sure what its real name was, but it was covered in lovely things like olives, garlic dust and dots of romesco). Next up was a "jelly" of aubergine, although this was by far the most disappointing dish, tasting of nothing. Finally, my favourite of the trio, a mini sandwich of chicken and quails egg called a "Thai explosion". I popped it into my mouth and began to understand the nature of its name, wonderful flavours of lemongrass, coriander and Thai basil flooding your tastebuds.
With bread consumed and with my mouth now fully woken up, we moved onto our first course in earnest, a squid ceviche with a squid ink granita. Bloody hell this was nice. Beautifully presented but the power definitely lay in the flavours and texture. The squid was beautifully tender and dressed in a light dill oil, the granita adding a different depth in flavour and a nice contrast in temperature. This was a cold starter, but there were different levels of cold. The squid itself was sliced into a perfect checkerboard, high levels of attention to detail were evident in its presentation.
The main course was a variation of surf and turf. A few prawns and slices of tender fatty pork neck sat alongside strands of savoy cabbage on an anchovy puree. Now, I have a major angst when it comes to anchovies, but took a dab of the puree into my mouth and was pleased to find it creamy and not at all overpowering. It wasn't the largest portion I have ever seen, but all the "bites" presented to us earlier certainly add up and was just about enough.
Having worked our way through the myriad of savouries, we were presented with a palate cleanser, a green sorbet of Thai basil and lime. All 6 of us on the table took a mouthful almost simultaneously and pretty much exclaimed "Wow" in unison. The lime packed a punch but it was the Thai basil that really jumped out. The flavours from the sorbet were dancing about, having their own little party in my mouth. Each flavour was so clean and crisp; every mouthful was just as good as the next. I even started reducing the size of my spoonfuls to extend the longevity of this experience. But all good things come to an end, and looked at my empty glass longingly as it was whisked away.
The dessert proper was a very well executed chocolate fondant (especially considering its size) with hazelnut ice cream and a seriously tart blackcurrant sauce. I have omitted the silly chocolate dots as although this dish was erring on the side of "very naughty", the design of the plate is just silly. I mean, it's a big plate, but all the food is huddled into the corner, away from the dots. Stupid design, great flavours.
The journey didn't end there as we were presented with a crème Catalan (or orange cream) and some great if a little crazy petit fours (white chocolate and mushroom truffle anyone?). I was quite sad when I had eaten my lemon jelly. I knew it was the last morsel I was going to be devouring and that made me sad. To say I enjoyed Viajante is an understatement. Many places have such hype surrounding them, but few ever live up to it and I am glad to say that I believe Viajante really does.
Not only is the food excellent (if you ignore the ghastly aubergine abomination), but barring one incident involving lack of cutlery and missing plates, the staff were attentive and eager to tell you about the food. Nuno is highly visible and attentive in the open kitchen and uses the space more like you would have expected at his supper club at the loft. Even when the food is ready, he comes out and brings the dishes with his serving staff. At the end of the meal, we collared him and asked him a few questions about himself and Viajante. The ingredients of south eastern Asia were highly prominent in his food and when asked where this influence came from, I could see him almost start to gush with enthusiasm as he spoke of his love for the area and its ingredients. Viajante means "traveller" and not only was the meal the fruits of Nuno Mendes' travels, it certainly took me on my own journey. One that I would happily experience again and again.
Viajante - Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF
For a few more pics, please click here.