"No reservations, few disappointments at this Michelin-starred Viajante offshoot"Review Rating: Reviewed by James Whiting
Inside the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, tucked away up the stairs and round the corner is Nuno Mendes’ aptly named, and slightly hard to find Corner Room. The multi-course Michelin-starred wallet-busting extravaganza is provided by Mendes’ flagship Viajante in the same building. Yet Corner Room provides flashes of his culinary excellence scaled down, particularly with regard to the price. There is an in vogue no reservation policy, accompanied by an enigma of the website that merely states opening times and “no phone no email no bookings just walk-ins”. All together a certain mystique is created that makes the Corner Room a fashionable destination. There were luckily no issues grabbing a table thanks to the necessity of an early pre-theatre arrival, and it soon became clear why this small room up the stairs and round the back is creating such a buzz: the food.
The dining room is a curious mix of kitsch and vintage chic. A cast-iron spiral staircase leads nowhere, wood-panelled cabinets hold useless old kitchen accessories and a multitude of industrial lamps hang in front of a white tiled wall. The strange thing is, the room as a whole works: it is quirky and offbeat, breathing life into a what used to be a storeroom. As the simply typed brown paper menus arrived so did the bread and olives, the former in two varieties: sourdough and walnut and raisin. Both were full of flavour, although perhaps a little heavy. The olives on the other hand were exceptional, plump, green and stuffed with confit salmon and gleaming anchovies, a splendid way to get the taste buds excited. The service was swift and friendly, and the starters arrived promptly. Atop a confit duck salad sat a perfectly soft poached egg, oozing across the plate with the nudge of a fork. The subtle warmth of the yolk coated the chunks of flavoursome duck and earthy girolles, with bright green runner beans lightening a hearty dish. A crab salad was vibrant and summery, the sweet crabmeat complimented by flashes of Mendes’ technical flair in the form of refreshing cucumber jelly, and sharp notes and crunch thanks to the slivers of radish and spring onion strewn about the plate.
The main courses were restrained in portion size but packed a flavoursome punch. A slab of cod resting on clam chowder was a wholesome dish without any fireworks. The fish was tender, and with that all important crispy skin. The chowder had a faint spiciness that added to the depth of flavour, furthermore the al dente sweetcorn was a great textual addition to the bowl. However, the undoubted star of the show was the Iberico Pork, by far the best piece of pig I have ever eaten. Cooked rare, deep pink in colour, with the fat marbling through each slice a joy to behold, knives were optional. Accompanied by the simplest of ingredients, a Portuguese bread pudding crammed with sweet red peppers, and three manicured baby carrots. The soft bread was packed with flavour, and the carrots added that much needed bite, both working excellently with the flawless, peerless pork.
Puddings were sadly a case of hit and miss. Raspberries with black daikon and herb sorbet can best be described visually as a psychedelic jellyfish who had washed up on the side of the plate. Flavour-wise there was nothing to redeem what I very much hope was an experiment. The vivid green herb sorbet was pleasing to begin with but descended into a cloying medicinal flavour that lingered far too long. The dish contained flashes of red but was bereft of any flavour of raspberry, and finally the daikon (a Japanese radish…) added a nice crunch amongst the slop but the overpowering savoury flavour bordered on unpleasant. Sadly a blot on Corner Room’s impressive copybook. The pastry chefs redeemed themselves via dark chocolate and peanut butter. This myriad of components snaked their way across the plate in classic Mendes style. Each element was exemplary, the chocolate mousse silky smooth, the brownie light and crumbly, the caramel sweet and the peanut butter ice cream strong without overwhelming the dessert. A subtle yet intriguing element were the blobs of citrus that were vital in cutting through the richness of the dish. It was a great end to the meal, which overall was exceptional value for the calibre of food placed on the table, experimental dessert aside. It is clear to see why Mendes’ Viajante has been such a hit, and now Corner Room provides a cut price and very tasty insight into his cooking. Take a chance, heed the cryptic website, and turn up in Bethnal Green, seek out the room in the corner for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and see what all the fuss is about.
James Whiting reviewed The Corner Room on Wed 05 Oct 2011