Tag Archives: eating out in London

Review: Three days, three dinners (part III)- Viajante

Portuguese chef Nuno Mendez earned his culinary stripes at Jean Georges in New York, the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, via a quick stint at Michelin starred El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, before opening his own restaurant Bacchus in Hoxton market which received much praise and plaudits. When this closed he started running his own innovative private secret supper club, The Loft Project, which Mendez used as a platform for experimentation before the opening of his new ‘official’ restaurant Viajante.

I admit that Viajante is the kind of place that is generally out of my price range and it certainly doesn’t serve the kind of food that I would usually cook or find myself eating. Tasting menus don’t usually hit the mark for me; they are as they sound, just a taste and If I like something I want more than a taste and if it’s not something I like then it’s a waste of money! However, since I was staying just five minutes’ walk away and Mendez’s culinary skills and style have intrigued me for a while, I decided to pay a visit and see what all the fuss was about.

Viajante is based in a unprepoposing part of East London, 2 minutes from Cambridge Heath station and five or ten minutes from Bethnal Green tube. I walked from my hotel past rough and ready looking shops and warehouses wondering where this amazing place might be. Suddenly, there it was, Patriot Square and the grand Town Hall where Viajante is located.

The two guys that greeted me at the door were as painfully hip as I expected. I’m not sure which one was the Maitre D but they were both really friendly, explaining in great detail the type of menu’s available (I opted for the six course blind tasting menu at a fairly hefty £65). I then had to wait almost 40 minutes for a table (amazing on a quiet Monday night, but testament to Viajante’s popularity) but in the meantime he was  happy to listen to me prattle on about supper clubs, food blogging and life in Wales (apparently he’d studied here) and he was very sensitive to the fact that I had to get up at 5am to get a train back to Wales.

Having directed me to the stunningly decorated bar (designed by award-winning architects Rare) and including installations from fashion and lighting designers and local up and coming East End artists, I settled down with a Tanqueray and tonic and soaked up the environment (I was particularly taken with the beautiful lamp shades, stunning and exquisite beading lining each one).

The Maitre D made a point of bringing me my first dish as I sat in the bar, to speed up the process and once ensconced in the restaurant my waiter continued to bring me the other courses at a steady consistent pace. At the end he claimed he’d never served a tasting menu so quickly, but I was still there for an hour and a half.

 

strange shaped bread with two butters, I can't remember what was in both but I know one had black pudding in it. It was rather nice

salsify in milk, with brown butter and truffle, this was one of my favourites

duck heart and tongue with celeriac and pine....my least favourite

Roasted squab with beetroot and pistachio

The six courses were supplemented with bread, entrée and petit fours and although a taste is all they were I didn’t leave hungry because many of the combinations were quite rich, all you really needed was a taste. I didn’t photograph everything as I got carried away with eating so I missed the squid and ink with radishes and sea lettuce which I quite liked and the entrée’s and petit fours.

 

My highlights though were the salsify in milk with brown butter and truffle (rich, meaty flavours from the beef jelly contrasted with the woody truffle and delicate salsify), the roasted squab with beetroot and pistachio (pistachio, beetroot…all my favourites combined with the tender roast squab, kind of sweet and rich but also a little sharpness from the beetroot reduction) and being such a lover of desserts and ice creams, the frozen maple with Shiso (a herb from the mint family) and green apple which arrived as a palate cleanser before the main dessert  was a beautiful combination of sweet (the frozen maple) and sour (the  crisp green apple). The meal concluded with petit fours and a tiny shot of what was I think Crema Catalana (although I’m not totally sure as there wasn’t obviously caramelised sugar on top).

 

Frozen maple with shizo and green apple

parsnips and milk...sounds weird but the milky ice cream with olive and the tapioca were nice...couldn't handle the parsnip cream though!

 

 

As much as I loved these dishes I can’t say everything worked for me. The langoustine and lardo I found rather slimy and it almost made me gag (texture as opposed to taste got the better of me), the duck heart and tongue with celeriac and pine was just too unusual a combination and I found the duck too rich, and the lobster and potato with confit egg yolk and saffron was rather sickly (plus I have a thing about runny egg yolk and try as I might I couldn’t suspend my usual aversion for the sake of a gastronomic experience). I did like the fact that the waiters were genuinely interested in what the diners thought and were happy to discuss our feelings about the dishes.

Was it worth the money? Well, yes and no. I’m still not sold on tasting menu’s because when I go out for dinner I like to eat! I’m a girl who likes a decent helping of food. There were some amazing taste and texture combinations, and ingredients I hadn’t tried before, or in the combination presented and as I said before I didn’t leave hungry.

Did I enjoy it? I think enjoy might be the wrong word. Again, it was a fantastic experience, a great chance to experiment with flavours, but at the same time I found some of the combinations quite a challenge. I know what I like and I have pretty eclectic tastes….so I don’t think I’m old fashioned or less open to new ideas, but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it all; so that said I’m not sure if I would go again, but at the same time I’m glad I tried it to come to that decision.

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Review: Three days, three dinners (Part II)-Hoxton Grill

the family

Sunday, and this time somewhere quite different; a stark contrast to the quiet intimacy of the previous nights meal at Oren, was the bustling, vibrant Hoxton Grill. My second birthday dinner of the weekend, this time shared with the parents and sister. The lovely surroundings were perfect for a big family dinner and although the parents baulked at the prices I assured them that they wouldn’t regret it. This lovely East End restaurant was busy, trendy, good value and our waiter was about as attentive as we could have hoped for; perhaps inspired by my camera and surreptitious note taking and he must of over-heard our conversations about my being a chef because at the end of the meal he asked “how was every thing and did it receive the chef’s approval?”


Whether that was the case or not, the service didn’t disappoint and neither did the food. By the time we got there we were starving. I had travelled from Wales that morning (having forgotten to put the clocks forward, it was a mad dash not to miss my train) and by 4pm was happily browsing the Nancy Spero exhibition at the Serpentine with my sister and step dad. We then hot footed it over to Hoxton to meet my Dad and step mum for dinner, before I headed down to my hotel on Hackney Road.

We skipped starters and went straight for the main course of which there was a good choice. The typical American grill style food appealed to the parents, while still offering a good range of dishes that made my mouth water and managing to tip a nod to seasonal produce (kale, beets, rhubarb for example). We ordered a couple of bottles of house white (which was very good for a house white; a crisp, fresh tasting Griffin Ridge) to keep us going and relaxed in our comfy banquette seats while I opened birthday pressies and we tucked in to fresh bread still warm from the oven (in fact our waiter refilled our basket for us as well).

Dad the traditionalist ordered a 10oz rump steak with fries and a Roquefort sauce, step mum was more adventurous and ordered salt beef with beets and horseradish. She ordered a side of creamy smooth mash to go with it which we shared. I ordered sea bream with brown shrimps and kale, which was perfectly cooked with a light crispy skin and delicate flesh, which contrasted nicely with the shrimp, kale and mash. The Kale had a lovely earthy flavour and was just lightly cooked so it retained its dark green colour perfectly.

smoked duck, chicory and radish salad

sea bream with brown shrimp and kale

Dad's chicken and bacon salad

salt beef with beets and horseradish

Step dad and sister ordered salads; the former blue cheese, avocado, chicken and bacon with a side order of corn on the cob and the latter, smoked duck, chicory and radish, with a side order of honey roast carrots.

Everyone was happy with their choices. My sister’s duck salad was light and delicate and she was pleasantly surprised at the amount of duck she got on the top.  My step-mums salt beef was tender and well-flavoured, the combination of beetroot and horseradish working really well with it.

The only minor criticisms were that my Dads steak was rare and not medium as he had ordered, but that didn’t detract from the flavour or the fantastic Roquefort sauce. Also my sister would have liked a side plate for her bread.

For dessert my sister ordered New York cheesecake with blood orange. She loved the creamy cheesecake which contrasted with the sharpness of the blood orange, but thought that the cheesecake was a little heavy. Step mum ordered rhubarb and ginger crumble with ice cream, which was lovely but she could barely taste any ginger in it and two of us ordered pecan tart with Jack Daniels ice cream. I’m a sucker for alcoholic ice cream or sorbet so that really hit the spot, but I would have liked a more substantial pecan tart. It was nice though.

cheesecake with blood orange

rhubarb and ginger crumble

Jack Daniels ice cream what more could a girl ask for on her birthday!!

All in all a very enjoyable family meal with few complaints: I will definitely go back again for more, next time i’m down that way!

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