Recently I told a long lost friend that I was living in East London. He looked at me, eyes brimming with pity, and asked whether I’d had to eat many jellied eels. If he wasn’t being deadly serious, I wouldn’t have been so shocked. But he was.

The East End has been shackled with a reputation of jellified, fish-based produce. People think that the 24-hour bagel shop is as good as it gets. Otherwise it’s Bethnal Green’s Chicken ‘n Ribs joints or a dodgy Brick Lane curry.

The truth couldn’t be further off though – a string of glorious bars and restaurants have been opening up in E2: Brawn, Worship Street Whistling Shop…and Viajante (I have to confess that restaurants are popping up so quickly that I can’t keep up. Viajante opened in April so is kind of old news—now it’s all about The Corner Room, which launched this week, and is an upstairs, cheaper and apparently brilliant extension of Viajante).

I was particularly interested to go to Viajante though, because I’d heard such mixed reviews about the venture set up by El Bulli-trained, Nuno Mendes in Bethnal Green’s old town hall.

AA Gill gave it a measly two stars. Guardian reviewer Matthew Norman couldn’t get over the stumbling block of there being no menus, and gave Mendes a hit rate of one in three dishes. Tracey MacLeod from The Independent also scored Viajante cruelly low, complaining about the open kitchen with “the spookily silent team of chefs, busily tweezering items onto plates from Tupperware boxes.”

Viajante’s selling point is the dining experience though—the mystery menu, and tweezering of spring garden salads is part of the fun. If Mendes had strived to create a formal and conventional restaurant, then it’s fair to slate him—because Viajante is anything but that. But it seems a little unfair to criticisise a restaurant for not being something it never set out to be.

When I went, I’d set aside an afternoon to work my way through the six-course taster menu. Setting aside time is key—the afternoon disappeared in a flurry of twelve beautiful little dishes whizzing on and off the table. They were formally introduced by charming waiters (and a few by Mendes himself).

Every detail had been thought through—broad beans and popcorn kept cropping up in dishes, tying the entire meal together, and stopping the courses from being detached and random. The mackerel with lemon and wood sorrel, for example, was served with a nutty popcorn dust, and then the meal finished with white chocolate ice cream fashioned into individual popcorn shapes.
The only negative point made by Mendes’ critics that I’d agree with is the hit-and-miss nature of the dishes. Some of them were definitely better than others. Perfection comes at a price though—if you want to pay triple the amount for a well-rehearsed, flawless meal, then there are plenty of places in London….but at £50 for 12 plates, I’d take a chance of Viajante any day.

(left to right) Duck ham, Lobster croquettes, Thai explosion II

Fresh cheese with peas and flowers

Bread and flavoured butter

Mackerel with lemon and wood sorrel

Milk yuba with peas and parmesan

Acorda de camarao

Romain lettuce with mussel juice and sour cherries

Confit cod loin with onion and crispy potato

Lamb with coffee, macadamia and broad beans

Frozen maple with shiso and green apple

White chocolate with grapefruit and lemon

Close-up of white chocolate, popcorn shaped ice cream

Petit fours

Close-up of petit fours

A music booth on the way to the loos…in case your dinner partner is a crashing bore

Patriot Square
Bethnal Green
London E2 9NF

+44 (0) 20 7871 0461


  1. LULU says

    Amazing. I hope that the problems with your wisdom teeth didn’t detract from your DELICIOUS looking meal.

  2. Theo says

    is there anywhere in east london you can still get jellied eels? my grandfather always bangs on about them and tried to order them at lunch in J Sheekey in covent carden the other day (apparently a past purveyor of the finest jellied fish) and the waiter denied such a thing ever existed. i have heard they are much less revolting than they sound. Viajante looks great.

  3. says

    There’s a super Pie and Mash shop near Broadway market called F Cooke that does a rather good line in jellied eels. I can also highly recommend the eels at M.Manze in Bermondsey.

    I’ve also been told of a jellied eel specialist called Tubby Isaacs, which is supposedly close to Spitalfields…but I’ve printed off maps, and tried to hunt it down to no avail, so have decided that it (and its convincing website) are entirely fictional. In conclusion, jellied eels definitely do exist though, because I have eaten them.


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