I must start by saying this was the most exciting lunch we’ve had in London (not including The Cube which doesn’t count as it’s a pop-up restaurant). It was up there with the excitement we felt when we visited Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, only that meal cost £150 per person for food alone, lunch at Viajante cost £35 per person for three courses (£53 with beverage pairing).
Michelin starred Viajante is “set in the beautiful urban landscape of East London” (I’m not convinced you could call Bethnal Green beautiful) and is situated in the Bethnal Green town hall. Inside, the decor is simple and stylish with beautifully designed tables and chairs. There is an open kitchen area where the chefs calmly and stylishly plate up your food. Watching them work was like watching artists create masterpieces.
There’s no menu at this restaurant. For lunch you simply choose between three and six courses and let them know if you have any allergies. Our waitress informed us whilst we were choosing that we would have twenty minutes of appetisers. This sounded VERY intriguing.
Our first appetiser was their signature Thai Explosion served in a little Viajante wrapper. It was a chicken paste with a slice of soft boiled egg in between crispy chicken skin and a coconut crisp. It was slightly awkward to eat without a plate or a knife and fork but it tasted divine. It was the perfect way to start.
Next up was amaranth and sorrel. Amaranth is a seed like cereal that had been puffed up so had a crunchy texture which then disintegrated in your mouth. It had the perfect blend between sweet and saltiness. The sorrel puree was delicious and the perfect accompaniment.
Following on was squid wrapped in daikon (a giant Japanese radish) with squid ink topped with leek ash. This dish was so tasty my mouth and stomach couldn’t quite believe it. The squid was so delicate and cooked to absolute perfection I wanted to cry with joy. The ash tasted like it had just come from the bottom of a barbecue yet it didn’t overpower that beautiful squid.
Then we were served new potato with yeast paste, pancetta and black olive. The mini potato was the perfect tool to mop up the earthy yeast paste with the olives. These dishes were unusual and we were eating things we NEVER get on a cheap set lunch.
Bread arrived and was a course on it’s own. The potato baguette was served with brown butter topped with chicken skin and bacon. The walnut and pancetta bread was served with smoky butter topped with walnut and salt ash. Both breads and butters were delicious but our favourite was the walnut and pancetta. I had a small cube of pancetta fat in my mouthful which gave it so much flavour it was heavenly. The smoke from the ash topped it off beautifully.
Finally the table was laid for our starter. We couldn’t believe we had just eaten all of that wonderfully intricate food before our starter. If I had gone home at that point I would have been a very happy chappy.
Our starter was clams wrapped in thin layers of bream with slices of bream skin in a crispy chicken skin broth. One of the chefs served this dish to us which was a lovely touch – who better to describe it than the person who actually cooked it. The clams were quite chewy but the combination of flavours made for a very exciting mouthful.
Next was our main course of sea bream, pickled vegetables with yellow courgette and mussel puree. It looked stunning. Another chef served us this dish and topped it with some cider and razor clam emulsion foam from a separate pan. The bream had been cured with fennel seeds so had an opaque colour which looked raw, however it was fully cooked and had been separately fried to give it a crispy skin. The fish was moist and delicate. The puree helped bring all the ingredients together and although my gentleman companion and I hate pickled vegetables they really worked in this dish.
A pre-dessert was served to us by Nuno Mendez who’s the head chef. I felt like hugging him to say thank you for such amazing food. The dish was cucumber jelly, cucumber ice and condensed milk ice cream (which reminded me of Mini Milks that I used to eat when I was a child). It was exciting, with flavour combinations that neither of us had experienced before.
As we opted for the beverage pairings, dessert was served with a glass of Sake which is a Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice. It was a very clever and well matched choice. For our starter and main course we were served a glass of white whine which was particularly small. With the amount of food you’re given and such small glasses you’re never going to leave Viajante feeling sozzled.
Dessert was foie gras cheese served with a wheatgrass sorbet, freeze dried raspberries and chocolate, deep fried wheatgrass and cotton candy. How unusual. The cheese was delightful and had a rich depth of flavour from the foie gras. The sorbet had the savory flavour of wheatgrass with some acidity from the raspberries and sweetness from the chocolate. We’d never tasted a dessert like this before.
To finish this gargantuan lunch we received porcini and chocolate truffles. The mushroom flavour came though very subtly but was definitely present and worked beautifully – who’d have thought it!
We were in Viajante for over three hours and loved every single minute of it. It was a unique and exciting experience that didn’t cost the earth. Perfect.