Taberna do Mercado: Nuno Mendes brings his Portuguese magic to Spitalfields
I was pretty devastated a couple years ago upon hearing that Viajante, one of my ultimate favourite restaurants, was closing in East London. Thankfully though, there appear to be plans in the works by Chef Nuno Mendes & team to revive Viajante at a new site in Wapping. In the meantime, until the new venture reaches fruition, there’s certainly a void of Nuno Mendes magic that needs filling in East London.
So, it was a very welcome sight to see Nuno’s Taberna do Mercado launch in Spitalfields market earlier this year. It’s a more casual affair here – the offering much more all-day ‘Lisboeta’ café inspired by Nuno’s native Portugal than it is avant-garde fine dining restaurant. Open 7 days a week, there’s everything from breakfast pastries to charcuterie, Bifana sandwiches to innovative small plates.
We’ve happily worked our way through most of the menu in recent months. Razor thin slices of Cachaco (cured pork shoulder) had a beautiful depth of flavour – each bite a flavourbomb of acorn-fed, iberico pork goodness. Prawn Rissois, half-moon shaped snacks filled with a rich, lobster bisque-like filling were deep-fried until crisp and golden brown. Juicy queen scallops, cooked in a marvelously moreish brown butter and repackaged to appear straight out of a tin can didn’t disappoint either.
It gets better. Of all the things I’ve eaten in 2015 so far, Taberna’s exquisite cuttlefish, trotter and coriander broth remains the most delightful and surprising. The dish has the most unique flavour profile – the fresh burst of the coriander cutting through the rich, gelatinous trotter beautifully. The subtle acidity of the broth is the perfect complement for the tender cuttle fish. It’s so good, we couldn’t help but order seconds on recent visits!
Cuttlefish, Trotter and Coriander broth
Onto dessert. And the puddings here at Taberna are the stuff which dreams are made of. The Abade de Priscos – a shimmering, wibbling concoction made from egg yolks and pork lard – is truly extraordinary. Its silky-smooth texture just melts away in the mouth, giving way to a delectably rich, port caramel sauce. A small flourish of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil adds a beautiful balance. Equally as dreamy is their Olive Oil Pao de Lo – a feather-light, pillowy soft sponge cake that’s served still gooey in the middle. If you are in for breakfast or brunch, there’s also their signature (and very runny!) Pasteis de Nata (egg custard tarts).
When the food is as bold and as innovative as Nuno’s style so often is, there’s bound to be the odd dish which divides opinion. Migas (bread pudding) served with sorrel and Roscoff onion on our recent visit didn’t quite work for me – the texture was overly soggy and the flavours all a touch too sweet. Bola – a sugary donut served with savoury paleta ham – was all a bit too confusing for me to appreciate. But as with the food at Viajante, I’d still happily risk the odd miss of a dish here any day. Because when one of Nuno’s dishes works, it’s well and truly fireworks.
A very welcome addition to Spitalfields’ increasingly vibrant dining scene. I’m already counting down the days until the return of Viajante in Wapping. Exciting days ahead!
Old Spitalfields Market, 107b, London E1 6BG | www.tabernamercado.co.uk