Nuno goes back to his roots - we Test Drive Taberna do Mercado

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What do we need to know about Taberna do Mercado?

We could just use two words here: Nuno Mendes. That one of London's best chefs is responsible for this new Portuguese restaurant should have you over here like a shot. In the kitchen is Antonio Jose Simoes Galapito who's worked with Nuno since the days of his East London gastropub Bacchus and has also been at The Loft Project, Corner Room and Viajante. Between them they've worked up a menu of small dishes designed to showcase amazing Portuguese produce.

Where should I meet friends for a drink first?

You could, as we did, pop into nearby Blixen for a drink. Alternatively there's the Ten Bells opposite, or the downstairs bar at Hawksmoor Spitalfields not too far away (which is where we ended up afterwards for one of their famously good full-fat Old Fashioneds)

Where should I sit

Right now, give thanks to the gods that you have a seat here at all. But if you're in any position to choose, obviously the ones by the front windows are rather nice and there's a good table for larger groups on the left as you come in. And we didn't see it ourselves, but the four person chef's table in the wine room off the kitchen sounds great.

So, to the food

We're not going to beat around the bush. We're huge fans of Nuno's and have been since his days at The Loft Project. So we loved everything we had here and reckon you will too. But if you need some pointers, here are some of the more memorable dishes we had on our visit:

  • Runner bean fritos with bulhão pato - wafer-thin tempura beans in clam juice (£5)
  • Prawn rissois - a plate of two deeply-flavoured turnovers stuffed with prawns (£5)
  • Cuttlefish with pigs trotters coentrada with slivers of fried garlic (£10)
  • Beef prego sandwich with prawn paste and wild garlic - best new sarnie in London? We think so.(£9)

There's a whole section devoted to the house tinned fish which you're going to want to work your way through. The original intention was to serve (and sell for takeaway) some of Portugal's best tinned fish, but Nuno and Antonio weren't quite happy with the quality. So, of course, they decided to make their own, cooking various combinations of fish in tins and giving them time to marinate. On the night we went a special of queen scallops with brown butter were the best on offer.

But the dish you absolutely must have, the one that defies your senses and properly demonstrates why Nuno is such a genius is the dessert dish of Abade de Priscos and port caramel (£5). Our one line description of this would be a pork (yes pork) creme caramel as it's made with rendered pork fat. The history behind the dish is that it derives from Portugal's convents where egg whites were used to starch the habits. Not wishing to waste the yolks, the nuns came up with this dessert. The dish marries sweet and savoury in a way that was totally new to us - It blew us away and, right now while writing this, was the standout memory of our meal here.

What about the drink? Portuguese wine, right?

Absolutely. Our favourite was a bottle of Redoma Branco from Niepoort (£38) (a family-run Portuguese winery in the Douro valley who, incidentally, turn out to be great, longtime friends of Nuno's). There's a lot to enjoy here by the glass too, and a glass of sparkling Pinot Noir at £6 is a good way to kick your meal off here.

Overall thoughts:

A genuinely new and interesting restaurant to add to the growing list of reasons you'd want to eat out in London's East End these days. We can't wait for them to fire up the outside grill too, so we'll be back for that and the promised Portuguese tarts. If we EVER manage to get a table here again. Once word gets out, this will be every bit as hard to get into as Chiltern Firehouse.

Taberna do Mercado is at Old Spitafields Market, 107b Commercial Street, London, E1 6BG. 

Map it: Find it here on Google Maps

Hot Dinners ate as guests of Taberna do Mercado. Prices were correct at time of publication.