Viajante, London

http://www.viajante.co.uk

Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF

My last restaurant meal on my most recent trip back to London was Viajante, a place that had been making a name for itself in the culinary back water of East London. Only open 8 months or so, it has already won a michelin star, since my visit. Of course the two events weren’t related.

I arrived for lunch (the luxury of being a tourist) meeting a very good friend who had flown over for Jersey. It was going to be a good day together and so we kicked proceedings off with a decent bloody mary.

After a bit of banter we made our way into the restaurant – a modern room with the most open of kitchens – no heat lamps, only benches between the chefs and diners. It gaves the restaurant a sense of solid professionalism with 3 chefs quietly preparing away. We had a birdseye view of the kitchen from our comfy booth. It’s worth noting that one of the most distinctive parts of Viajante is the the reducing of barriers between the protagonists. The chefs themselves throughout the meal served our dishes, taking the time to explain ingredients and the inspiration behind the plate. It serves to really involve the diner in the meal.

There is no menu to speak off, just the option of three or six surprise courses. (upwards of twelve for dinner). We naturally chose the six course lunch.

The Amuse kicks things off: Thai Explosion 2

A chicken thigh and egg mousse sandwiched between chicken skin tuile. It was a good way to start with soft, but sparky asian flavours, coupled with a bit of bite from the tuile.

Then the bread arrived:

Very memorable – warm baguettes with butter with chicken skin, pancetta and chicken skin. Or you could choose from butter with black pudding. It’s butter taken to another level and almost a meal in itself, hence why it’s served as its own course. Bread given the respect it deserves. I like it.

Our first course was Scallops, butternut squash and carrot, mustard and watercross

Lightly poached in a squash consomme it was a refreshing start to the meal. The scallop, carrot and squash all giving off a fair amount of sweetness, but it was reigned in by the frozen mustard and slight bitterness of the leaves. The luke warm temperature served to make it very easy on the palate and it came together as a good balanced dish and an ideal starter.

Raising the game, was the next dish: Lobster, potato, confit egg yolk and saffron

From the lightness of the scallop to the rich indulgence of egg yolk  & pasta. Silky smooth, the pasta hid the sous vide egg yolk, which when prodded unloaded it’s goodness. It wasn’t totally clear if the perfect accompaniement to this was meant to be the potato or lobster. I would have taken one or the other, but they were both very well cooked and the sort of rich dish I enjoy.

The next dish: braised salmon skin, confit salmon in enoki dashi with aubergine purée

This was a left field dish – a japanese theme had arrived. I am always partial to Japanese and this was a very well executed plate – salmon skin, sous vide (or lightly confited?) salmon, caviar with aubergine puree in a dashi broth. It came together beautifully. I could have eaten this again and again.

The japanese dish, dovetailed into a tuna on toast, garlic kale and st.Jorge

This was the only disappointing dish of the lunch. The tuna was seemingly air-dried and therefore lacking in rareness or softness as expected. It also clashed with the pungent St.Jorge cheese that overpowered the rest of the dish. The elements were all fine, but were a little disparate.

The main course was a doozy: Duck, beetroot and pistachio

Duck breast served with varieties of beetroot was a perfect combination, not just in flavour, but in colour. It was a joy to eat and the pistachio (which seems a very current ingredient) was a fine addition. The duck rich and beetroot sweet. It was simple in conception, but rewarding in execution. Much enjoyed.

Moving on to dessert was a kind of interim dish – Sea buckthorn and burnt meringue

It wasn’t inconsequential enough to be called a palate cleanser. The buckthorn tasted orangey, served as a granita with the meringue providing a bit of relief from the tartness. Not something to rave about. More a pleasant curiosity.

The dessert itself was grilled pear, walnuts and szechuan creme

A relatively pedestrian dish, elevated through cool plating and the added oomph of szechuan providing some novel heat. It made it more interesting that it had the right to be and ended the meal on a pleasant zingy high, aided by the two bottles of wine we’d drunk.

We closed out the lunch with a decent espresso, vanilla cream and a cep truffle.

All in all it was a particularly fine meal, deserving of a star and its reputation. What makes it a memorable place is the casual confidence that it radiates with a kitchen that is pushing the boundaries a bit, without being too pretentious, although for some it is a very fine line. It could be argued that the service does overstep the mark, with a little too much hipster cool for my liking. Yet the menu is constantly changing and because of this restlessness and the evident ambitions it will be good to return.

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