My first visit to Bethnal Green was a few years ago, when I went along to the ABA Championships in York Hall, followed by a few pints in one of the traditional East End pubs. If you'd asked me the chances of a high class hotel and restaurant opening more or less next door then I would have laughed at you.
Yet, that is what has happened and Viajante, under the stewardship of Head Chef Nuno Mendes, has firmly established itself as one of London's top restaurants.
It's been on my list to go along for a while and it was one of my first choices for our week of dining out in June. There are no menus at Viajante and you are instead asked how many courses you would like (we went for six) and if you have any particular food dislikes and allergies. The kitchen then do the rest.
There were only four tables in for lunch, but the place still had some atmosphere with the friendly staff taking the time to have a chat with us and knocking up a superb non-alcoholic cocktail for Grace.
We had a great table near the open plan finishing kitchen and watched the chefs working away with precision instruments and tweezers to prepare the delicate and intricate dishes. It looked more like an operating theatre than kitchen at times!
Overall, I thought the standard of cooking was very good, although there was only one dish that thought was truly amazing and memorable. I'll talk you through the menu...
The meal started with a 'Thai Explosion' a tasty mix of coriander, chicken and other Thai ingredients and was followed by some fresh, warm crusty bread and two flavoured butters: one black pudding (which didn't taste of much sadly) and an excellent chicken skin one that Grace and I fought over.
As we weren't given a menu and the promise of an e-mailed menu afterwards never arrived, then I'm afraid I don't have an exact description of every dish, but will do my best to describe each one...
First up was a squid (hidden under the sea lettuce) and pickled radish dish that was a bit of an underwhelming start. Luckily the next course was much better...
I love asparagus, so this dish of asparagus four ways was a delight and a real treat for me. Served chilled, the various textures and intense asparagus flavour made it my favourite dish of the day. In particular the clear gel was like asparagus cordial and I could have happily slurped a whole bowl of it. Excellent.
The next dish was also very good and it was at this point I was beginning to get excited that we were on for a truly memorable meal.
Leek and lobster may not sound like a classic combination, but they worked fantastically well together. The lobster was cooked two ways and was sweet, succulent and complemented the charred leek. The accompanying consomme was moreish and devoured with fervour.
Sadly the next dish wasn't to my taste buds and I found the egg yolk and saffron foam overpowered the light, delicate flakes of cod. Technically there was nothing wrong with it, it's just it was one that didn't fit my palette and this is always a danger when you have a tasting menu.
The lamb dish disappointed. The lamb, which was meant to be the star of the show, was under-seasoned, lacked flavour and was a bit too chewy. The accompanying mash and broad beans were fine, but overall the dish was a bit of a let down.
When I heard the description of dessert I was a bit underwhelmed, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. Light, delicate pieces of meringue, sweet white chocolate mousse and then sharper notes from the grapefruit sorbet and lemon made for a dessert that was different, but delicious.
Overall then, when Viajante was good, it was very good, but there were too many dishes that I didn't particularly savour. If I'd had a three course meal consisting of larger versions of the asparagus, lobster and dessert then I'd be praising the place to high heaven, yet the take it or leave it impression of the other three dishes means that I was left with slight feeling of disappointment that the meal didn't consistently hit the heights. I'd definitely give Viajante another go, because if it could get six dishes like the asparagus and lobster then it could be remarkable.