As you all know by now, today is my birthday and I'm in Doha. So I'm spending it with neither my family nor The Irishman, but instead with work colleagues in a dry hotel in the Gulf. Whoop whoop.
But no matter! Since my birthday fell on a Tuesday this year, I had already planned for a big birthday blowout over the weekend before I even knew I had to travel for work. I booked myself into my local spa, Angel Therapy Rooms for the City Tonic pamper, and made reservations for The Irishman and I to go to Viajante in Bethnal Green. We've been meaning to go there for a while now, and as I wanted my birthday to be special but low-key after my epic 30th birthday celebration last year, so we decided to finally take the plunge. On the suggestion of my friend Kate, I made a special request for the chef's table so we could look in on the kitchen as they prepared our meal. What an amazing tip, because it felt like we were having the meal specially prepared just for us despite being in a dining room with several other parties. That's our view above.
We started our evening in the bar next to the restaurant; as it was feeling so springlike outside, we both decided to begin with Campari cocktails. I then made a rather fatal mistake of having a second cocktail, which in hindsight wasn't particularly clever, but I couldn't resist as it was called Shiso-lovely and had aloe in it. I had to try it! It was good, but not great, like a more fragrant mojito. I would like one in June.
When we were called to our table we had the choice of 6, 9, or 12 course tasting menus; we decided to go with 9 as 12 seemed like quite a lot and 6 maybe not enough. Our very charming sommelier then helped us pick 2 "interesting" bottles of wine to pair with the menu, and off we went! Nuno Mendes, the Spanish head chef, is from the school of molecular gastronomy, which meant we were treated to a series of delicious amuse bouches, fresh seafood, and fascinating flavour combinations. I was a bit sodden by the end, but enjoyed it all immensely and would definitely go back. As conceptual restaurants go, this one didn't break the bank that hard so I could easily imagine myself back at that chef's table fairly soon.
The other reason to go back: the service. Everyone was genuinely happy to serve us, to explain the food to us, and to gauge our reaction. Because the food changes so frequently, there isn't a menu – you get the food that is served that day, no choice, and it's all explained as it's served. But at the very end, the restaurant gives you a menu with your wine selections and your courses on it as a souvenir: mine said Thank you for celebrating your birthday at Viajante. If that isn't service, I don't know what is!