London’s Best-Kept Gastro Secret
When El Bulli, the world’s most famous restaurant, closed for a year to give its creator a break, foodies all over the planet groaned – after all, more time would now be added to the two-year waiting list for tables. Who would have thought the next best thing would appear in a run-down area of East London?
But that’s what Viajante is. Nuno Mendes has poured all his creative verve into building an avant-garde, thrilling restaurant that remains the City’s best-kept secret. The old Bethnal Green town hall has been converted into a restaurant for the senses, and has cleverly arranged its menu to cover a range of prices. We went for a friend’s birthday treat and started with some of the most astonishing cocktails I’ve ever tasted, one containing rum and Victorian porter.
The menu is blind – you order 6, 9 or 12 small courses without knowing what you’ll get, and you can drink-pair the courses (one recommendation with a Japanese dish was a sweet & salty Belgian beer). After, they’ll give you a copy of your menu.
This is not a meal for the easily frightened; tastes explode and linger in the nose and throat. From the pre-meal galangal and lemongrass-scented chicken sandwich with rendered skin, via parsnips with onion tapioca and coffee, bonfire-flavoured fish and charred leeks with hazelnuts and milk skin to sea buckthorn and burnt meringue, with mushroom flavoured chocolate truffles, it’s a unique experience that has left critics reaching for superlatives.
Viajante provided dishes the likes of which I’ve never tasted, and is well worth the trek to Patriot Square, Bethnal Green. A day later, I can recall those tastes. An awesome treat for someone you love.