The food Nuno Mendes was creating at Viajante was quite extraordinary, and Matthew Fort commended the chef on turning Bethnal Green, then still on the cusp of its rejuvenation, into ‘a place of gastronomic pilgrimage’. Dishes such as Cured lobster and charred leek, Lamb belly with milk skin and Green apple with shiso and maple demonstrated dazzling technical skill along with pioneering combinations of flavour. It was not just the hordes of eager punters who were won over – in 2011 the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star which it retained until Nuno Mendes left the restaurant in 2014.
Upon leaving Viajante Bruno Mendes took over the restaurant at the exclusive Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone. The restaurant (with a hotel and bar on the premises) was the brainchild of global hotelier André Balazs and quickly gained the same cult status as his other perennially popular celebrity hotspots, such as Chateau Marmont and the Mercer.
Nuno Mendes’ reputation as the East End’s most inventive culinary mind did not disappoint the Chiltern Firehouse’s discerning clientele, and visitors were quickly won over by his flair. There is, perhaps, less of the avant-garde in the menus at the Chiltern Firehouse compared to the gastronomical Viajante, but Nuno Mendes’ use of ingredients and flavour remain every bit as confident. Iberian influences are clear in his deft handling of fish and pork (think chargrilled Iberico pork with courgettes, or the much lauded monkfish dish, cooked over pine and served with puffed barley) while the crab doughnuts with coral dusting and maple-glazed salmon with smoked broth hint at the innovative streak that made him so revered.
With Chiltern Firehouse still pulling crowds and a new Portuguese casual dining restaurant planned for 2015, the capital’s appetite for Nuno Mendes’ unique, stylish cuisine shows no sign of abating. The feeling, it seems, is mutual; the chef has travelled all his life in pursuit of cultural – and culinary – enlightenment, but it is in the vibrant melting pot of east London he that has truly found his home.