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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Viajante (London): inspiring

Great bread. And not only that. We normally hate no-choice menus, such as you get at Viajante. They seem to epitomise a chef's arrogance; they say to the customer: it's not about you - it's about me, me, me, the chef. See our experience at Roganic.

So we only came here on the recommendation of a (very) expert friend  whom we trust.

But it is indeed worth the trek even for those of you from more luxurious parts of London (not us) to this, let's say, more colourful one.

Nuno Mendes' cuisine is often referred to as avante-garde. It is in fact more complex than that, weaving an undoubtedly modern narrative that is deeply rooted in tradition.

Our lunch had it all (apart from choice): technique, balance, power, amusement, tradition, innovation, generosity. Not a single dish disappointed or wasn't interesting.

An unpretentiously presented butternut squash, milk skin and lardo was deceptively simple and the most intriguing dish of the day (as it s so hard to impress with a mainly vegetarian dish).

And a bread porridge with egg, sweetcorn and girolles, redolent of tradition, was a moving as well as well executed dish.

We went for the six course menu, which is a great bargain at £50 (EDIT FEB 2012: prices have now increased by 30% at lunch, so now this menu is £65, like at dinner - not so great value any longer), but the dishes are in fact many more, so much so that we won't go into details. Look at them, they  tasted as good as they looked, from the initial amouse bouches (crab croquette, 'Thai explosiion', Amaranth with sorrel), in which the incredibly clear and hyperdimensional flavours attest that this chef means business,

to the cod loin with a stew of tripe, parsley and potatoes, to the intense, ravishing Maldonado pork cheek with cereals and garlic

to a suavely refreshing and light pickled and raw cucumber with reduced milk sorbet

to a concluding Mandarin Dondurma. We neither, it's a Turkish ice-cream.

And it's impossible to forget the petit fours, notably the truly mushroom tasting 'chococolate porcini', a final piece of fun and taste.

Service staff and the hostess were young and sweet and took their jobs very seriously but with a smile.

We went to Viajante fearing gimmicks, and we found instead very solid cuisine with some flavours from the past, some flavours from around the world, some flavours from the sheer imaginative power of the chef, all of them impeccably layered and assembled. It's modern, it's complex, it's good, it's different: go!


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