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Taberna do Mercado review

Taberna do Mercado review

by Gemma Harrison Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nuno Mendes goes back to his Portuguese roots with Taberna do Mercado – Gemma Harrison finds out if it lives up to the hype.

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Gemma is Marketing Manager at Great British Chefs. She can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

Nuno Mendes took everyone by surprise when he announced the arrival of Taberna do Mercado. Since opening a restaurant in André Balazs’ Chiltern Firehouse last year, he’s no longer the preserve of foodies in the know. For those who wanted to continue eating Mendes’ food, it became a logistical nightmare, with tables rarer than hen’s teeth. So when the arrival of a food offering that’s a bit more ‘Nuno’ (and wallet friendly) came along, it was a cause for celebration.

Taberna do Mercado (located in Spitalfields Market) is no reservations, except mercifully at lunchtimes. I decided to guarantee myself a table by booking a lunchtime slot, which proved to be a good idea – by the time the doors opened there was already a queue of 10 people. The space is very small, and although there are seats outside (under the cover of the market roof), you’ll definitely want to be in the restaurant, with its whitewashed walls and wooden tables.

The menu is best explained by calling it ‘Portuguese tapas’ – there are cured meats and cheeses, as well as sandwiches, small plates and desserts. We started with a few of the snacks – prawn rissóis and carrots escabeche. The rissóis were similar to empanadas (filled with juicy prawns and bisque-like sauce) and I’m glad I didn’t have to share these, as I could have happily eaten another plate. The carrots escabeche were perhaps a little more sharp that I had anticipated, but perhaps paired with some of the cured meats on offer, would be a great start to a meal.

One of the things that had been most talked about before the opening was the selection of in-house tinned fish. We were recommended the scallops with brown butter and walnuts, and it is honestly the best scallop dish I have ever eaten. I could have drunk the brown butter sauce if there had been any left from mopping it up with the charred bread, and the pickled radishes were excellent at cutting thorough the sauce’s richness.

Scallops with brown butter and walnuts.
Scallops with brown butter and walnuts.
Chicory, massa de pimentão, pear and almonds.
Chicory, massa de pimentão, pear and almonds.

Next up was cuttlefish and pig trotters coentrada. I’d had cuttlefish and pork as a combination before, so was intrigued to see how the fish would work with pig’s trotters. The crispy pieces of trotter really made a difference to what is essentially quite a bland fish, and the broth was really tasty.

Chicory, massa de pimentão, pear and almonds was served on it's own and the dressing had an unexpected pungency. Perhaps the dish could have benfited from more of the sweet pear or been served with another dish (maybe a hunk of braised meat) to balance out the flavours. As in the carrots escabeche, this was more about the order of service rather than the dish itself.

 
 
Pork bifana with yeast mayo and fennel.
Pork bifana with yeast mayo and fennel.

As a lover of steak tartare (Mendes does a brilliant take on the classic with chipotle at Chiltern Firehouse), I had to go for the Bísaro pork tartare, Cozido broth and cabbage. It was a real revelation and I wonder if other chefs will start to adopt it – perhaps in 6 months time we’ll be asking ‘is pork tartare the new steak tartare?’

The sandwiches on offer are available throughout the day and even if you’re just passing through the market between lunch and dinner service, I urge you to try them. The pork bifana with yeast mayo and fennel was delicious, but it was the beef prego with prawn paste and wild garlic that won out for me. Just one bite will make you smile, and not just metaphorically – there is something about this sandwich that physically sends your face into involuntary grin. I will definitely be trying to recreate it at home, although wild garlic season is sadly very short – so another visit is in order to see what it will be replaced with.

 
Bísaro pork tartare, Cozido broth and cabbage.
Bísaro pork tartare, Cozido broth and cabbage.
Tigelada.
Tigelada.

From the four desserts we chose the Tigelada (a set custard sitting in a pool of orange zest flavoured rice milk) and the much talked about Abade de Priscos (a crème caramel style dessert made with pork fat) with port caramel. The Tigelada was a hit with both of us, but the Abade de Priscos seemed to be the Marmite option – and I was more than happy to be left to finish it off.

Taberna do Mercado is a very different offering to Chiltern Firehouse, and if you’ve never tried Portuguese food, it’s the perfect introduction to the flavours and variety that you probably weren’t expecting. I will certainly be back to work my way through the rest of the menu – but I have a feeling I’ll need to be prepared for a long queue…

 
 
 

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