16 January 2011

Viajante - a gastronomic adventure

This week Joel Robuchon, aka king of the Michelin stars declared London the food capital of the world, a proclamation that most would find difficult to disagree with including yours truly.  Like Monsieur Robuchon, what I love most about eating out in London is the  sheer choice available- you can pretty much eat something from every continent in the world without leaving the M25.


There are places springing up all the time, and despite my eyes widening when I read about a new restaurant or bar opening, time is often an obstacle for me trying somewhere new.  I've been dying to visit Viajante since it opened in early 2010, but it wasn't until the end of the year that I finally made it down to Bethnal Green.  And I wish I'd made the trek sooner - Viajante is one of the most exciting dining experiences I've had in London for a while.

The restaurant is set in an intimate space seating no more than 40 covers, and overlooked by an equally small open kitchen.   There is no menu to choose from.  The only decision you need to make is  whether you'd like to eat from the six, nine or 12 course tasting menus(£60/£75/£85), and to divulge any allergies.  What you eat is a surprise, and the menu is not given to you until after you finish your meal    There are also wine flights available to match each of the courses (£40/£55/£70) - all chosen by Lorenzo - one of the most delightful sommeliers in London.


We opted for the 9 course tasting menu (£75).  The meal kicked off with an amuse bouche called Thai explosion II, a bite sized sandwich of coconut chicken mousse with quail's egg  encased in crispy chicken skin. Delicious, the bite size snack  certainly tickled our taste buds, and after our plates were taken away we couldn't take our eyes off the open kitchen, eagerly awaited the next gastronomic delight to be brought to our table.


And so followed the bread and butter; a serving of warm bread and creamy butter topped with specks of Iberico ham and chicken skins.  It was incredibly rich.  The flavour was unlike anything we'd eaten before.
 

So on to the first course: scallops, butternut squash and mustard Taking influence again from Asia, the Japanese inspired scallops and butternut squash both served raw in butternut consomme was light and fresh.


The charred leeks, hazelnut and milk skin was not something I or the AB would have selected given the option, but it was actually quite good.  There is something quite satisfying about charred flavoured vegetables, and I loved how this contrasted with the sweet milk skin.
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The braised salmon skin and fried aubergine was perfectly cooked, but the soy was too salty for my liking.  That may just be my tastebuds, but I would have liked an additional element to balance the flavours.


The lobster, potato, confit egg yolk and saffron was a joy to eat and reminded me of the Arzak signature dish Del huevo a la galina.  I enjoyed it but  thought the texture of the potato  jarred with the softness of the other elements on the plate.


The sea bass toast, garlic kale and Sao Jorge was one of my favourite dishes of the meal for its simplicity.  The fish was beautifully cooked and I really loved the satisfying toast-like skin - the fishy equivalent of crackling.


This was followed by venison and raw mushrooms with smoked yogurt; slices of venison and a delicate forage of greens, that after one mouthful made me wish I hadn't indulged so much of the start of the meal.


The sixth course squab beetroot yogurt and pistachio praline looked stunning, but I'm not a big fan of pigeon and to be honest by this point I was finding it difficult to put anything in my mouth because  I was fit to burst. It was at this point the AB and I admitted defeat.  We could not physically eat the next three courses independently, so elected to share the menage of fruity and chocolaty desserts that we had to force feed ourselves to try.


These included sea buckthorne and meringue.  A refreshing palate cleansing addition to the following onslaught of frozen maple and toasted oats with green apple and sweet mayonnaise...


...and chocolate with hazlenut and soil.  Two dishes that I can't really fairly critique as I only managed tiny mouthfuls of each.


Verdict:  Viajante means traveller is Portuguese, and this is exactly what a meal here takes you on.  Not all of the dishes will be to all tastes, but the creativity, skill and care taken to create each dish will mean that you'll leave feeling like you've experienced something new and innovative.  Take it from me this is one of the most exciting places to eat in London.
However, the highlight of the meal was definitely meeting the man behind Viajante - Nuno Mendes.  Not only did he thank us for our meal, he also personally printed off our menus. I can't wait to go back.

Viajante on Urbanspoon

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