As the Londoner that I’m (slowly but surely) becoming, I started looking for new restaurants to try out and maybe review in my blog.
I found out about one that really caught my eye; one that has not only caused controversy in England, where it’s based; in Portugal, its chef’s home country; but also, I must admit, in my own head, after having gone there a couple of months ago.
Viajante – which means “traveller” – opened its doors last year and its chef, Nuno Mendes, says his goal is to push boundaries in the culinary world. That, it certainly did. Unless you think eating duck heart and tongue is common.
As a future journalist, I must very unprofessionally admit that my opinion of the restaurant is probably a little biased. That’s because I had very high expectations before going there. Expectations of the food, you say? Not quite. Of the restaurant’s atmosphere, perhaps? Nope, nothing like that. I was very naïvely hoping it would take me back to my beloved Portugal; I was hoping to travel back to my home country through a whirlwind of flavour that I was sure Viajante would offer.
Maybe I should’ve read some reviews first. It had been roughly a year since the restaurant had opened when I went there; even the Independent and the Guardian had reviewed it. After reading a number of different reviews, I realized that some think Nuno Mendes is breaking new culinary ground, while others think he’s an upcoming holier-than-thou chef. I don’t agree with either.
The thing is this: Viajante is not seeking to please Portuguese immigrants or visitors in London; I don’t even think it’s looking to attract a large number of Portuguese clients. After going there, I realized it isn’t even supposed to be considered a Portuguese restaurant: it is merely a restaurant owned by a Portuguese chef. Viajante’s goal lies (now very obviously to me) in its name: to offer your taste buds a journey they’ll never forget. And eating there is a journey, all right! – one that you’ll either love or hate.
It offers a set menu of what I call “nouvelle cuisine” – meaning that, even after 6 courses, you’ll probably still feel like having steak and fries. But the quantity of the food becomes irrelevant when you realize what you’re eating: raw cuttlefish, beef broth with egg, chocolate-mushroom truffles… Come to think of it, the smaller the dish, the better.
However, it has dawned on me that what you could criticize at Viajante is also something you can praise: the eccentricity and the avant-garde cooking means you’ll be sure to try something new, get out of your comfort zone and simply (try to) enjoy Nuno Mendes’ “tripping” food.
Personally, I don’t regret going there, as it was actually a lot of fun. However, I’m not planning on going there again any time soon: it’s not exactly student-friendly in terms of prices, and one trip around Nuno Mendes’ world was enough for me, thank you very much.