I must admit that the first lunch I had at Viajante was good fun. The food was very good and there were only a few issues that bothered me. However, those were probably due to the fact, that the restaurant had been opened just a week before. So, when I decided to go back a while ago, I was looking forward to what I expected being an even more polished experience.
First of all, service was indeed better and more confident. We were greeted warmly, and had nothing to worry about throughout the entire evening. The team and style of service fitted in perfectly with the style of the food and the restaurant’s concept.
The food too had some very strong points to make. Take for instance the fantastic bread and butter served here. It is unlike anything that is being served in London. Whilst some may find it gimmicky, I find it addictive and quite good for a change. Equally excellent was a vegetable dish. With lots of different elements, the dish did not only look beautiful, but also tasted very well. Every vegetable was carefully prepped and seasoned and thus had something to add to the picture. It was sensible, modern cooking that worked. Not really inventive, but very well done.
Another very good dish was an egg yolk with asparagus and lobster meat. The runny yolk worked brilliantly with the nicely timed crustacean and the al dente-cooked asparagus. The omni-present tapioca-enriched sauce was of course also on hand.
A third dish I very much enjoyed on the last meal too was the skate with yeast, brioche and nut-butter. The dish itself was just as good as on the first time, however what startled me was that the fish quality was also on the same level as the first time: Mediocre. Now that is something I can’t really understand. Why does a serious chef, such as Mendes, not get better fish? Surely people like Brett Graham, Phil Howard and Jocelyn Herland manage to find fantastic produce, so it might be worth doing the same. At least if the restaurant has the ambition to be amongst the city’s very best. I for my part was a bit disappointed by what was served here.
The same goes for some of the other dishes too. Obviously no dish was bad, all safely 1* material, but some just didn’t work. A good example for such a case was a combination of pork neck and prawns. Served with nothing else but a few braised leaves, the two products lacked a combining element. Each was prepared without any technical mistakes, but the dish as such did not really seem like something into which someone had put a bit of thought. Furthermore, none of the two proteins was of impressive quality, thus making the dishes’ success even more questionable.
However, desserts better than on the first visit, and we thus ended on a more positive note to say the least. All of the desserts served were tasty, fun and light. What they proved yet again is the precision that reigns here, and the kitchen’s technical dexterity.
Overall, one can say Viajante has reached cruising speed now. The restaurant seems to be busy, and has found the customers that fit into the concept. The food is mostly very capable, without any technical issues, and generally speaking entertaining and fun to eat. For modern cooking, London hasn’t got much to offer than can rival Nuno’s food, so I would not be surprised to see it get a star in the next edition of the Michelin guide. But, a major issue can still be worked on: The quality of some of the produce served. Especially everything coming out of the sea is not always as fresh as it could be, in a restaurant of its standard. It might be a bit more expensive to serve constantly fresh fish, but with only one menu, and that menu costing at least the same as most 2* restaurants’ in Mayfair, one can ask for a little more rigor in that department. The lack of very good or outstanding products inevitably results in some dishes not working at all, such as the pork and prawn combination or in other dishes not being as perfect as they could be.
Nuno is a good cook, someone who obviously is ambitious and talented enough to belong to the elite of this city’s culinary scene. So let’s hope this issue will be dealt with, or has already been dealt with, so that we can have an even better time when we come back! And there will definitely be a return, as this is a very fine restaurant.