On the former Bethnal Green site of Viajante, a great all-rounder from Jason Atherton protégé Lee Westcott, where the food is fashionable enough to be interesting, without being so mannered as to be irritating – hopefully the beginning of a trend!
Only those recently returned from Mars will be unaware of the fact that Nuno Mendes, having – under the Viajante banner – put this Bethnal Green site ‘on the map’, recently decamped to Marylebone, where his Ã¼ber-hip Chiltern Firehouse dining room has quickly become the stuff of urban legend. (For pre-10am callers on the first day of every month, late Monday night sittings are apparently available from some time in early-2017.)
The new chef here out East – but only one stop from Liverpool Street – is Lee Westcott, a Jason Atherton protégé who’s also worked at the much-touted Noma in Copenhagen. Quite a promising start.
On entering the restaurant, the overwhelming impression is of continuity. The open kitchen is still there. The twin dining rooms are still plainly painted in subdued covers, and the bare-topped tables and bentwood chairs still contribute to an air of Scandinavian understatement: all very restful, but with enough going on – even on a quietish midweek lunchtime – that no one could really describe the atmosphere as dull. Service – unstuffy but without pushing at the outer limits of hip – is very much in keeping with the room. It all seems, well, Scandinavian.
At the risk of flogging the theme, the food is very much in keeping with the room and the service. It’s modern and very pleasant, but it never seems to try too hard. Moreover, it is recognisable as food. You kick off with bread! Remember bread? In the old days, you could weigh up most restaurants by their bread basket. (Remember them too?) Well, here they have nothing as retro as a basket, but you do get two sorts of bread – a brioche and a campaillou – and two sorts of butter to go with ’em, artfully smeared on a platter. And very good they are too. What did Mummy used to say about filling yourself up’?
Next up, a pair of curried crab and corn crackers (sorry, ‘lavoches’) – rather like canÃ¢pés at the most superior sort of drinks party you could imagine. From the lunchtime menu, we then enjoyed a couple of delightfully balanced fish dishes – both interesting, but both of the sort you could, at a pinch, serve to Great Aunt Matilda without inducing any sort of shock, even if their charming floral decoration might have induced in her some sense of disorientation.
Pudding? An assemblage of marshmallows and sorbets and shortbread, of shapes and colours and textures, that somehow says ‘summer holiday’: as good as from Francesco Mazzei at L’Anima, and we mean that as the highest sort of compliment.
Reservations? Such splendid cooking deserves an espresso better than the one on offer here. And serve it in a proper cup!