Taberna do Mercado

Taberna do Mercado - 1 The kitchen of Taberna do Mercado

Taberna do Mercado is, probably, the “foreign” restaurant most spoken off, in Portugal, during the last year. Firstly, for being a restaurant of Portuguese cuisine in London, with the signature of Nuno Mendes and secondly, thanks to Giles Coren’s article, a food critic in decline, who decided to use Portugal, Nuno Mendes and the Taberna to promote himself, and in the end accomplishing exactly the opposite.

But talking about what really matters, located at the Spitalfields Market, East London (a very special region to Nuno Mendes), Taberna do Mercado promises right outside “Food, Wine and Tappas” so we could easily be somewhere in Porto’s downtown or at Bairro Alto in Lisbon.

The decoration transports us to an industrial environment, modern and cozy, a good fit of the tavern concept with the vibrant East London environment. There are Portuguese details, from the Vista Alegre tableware, to the wines, and the indispensable Super Bock or the Água das Pedras!

Taberna do Mercado - 7António Galapito 

Nuno Mendes, still at Chiltern Firehouse, gave the commands of Taberna to António Galapito, who accompanied him since his debut in London with Bacchus, having since then passed through some of the best houses to eat in LondonThe menu was designed for the dishes to be shared, from snacks, to cheeses and Portuguese charcuterie (highlight to the Cachaço da Bísaro, a mandatory presence in my fridge throughout the year), and of course, the homemade canned goods, the dishes, the sandwiches and of course, the desserts.

Taberna do Mercado - 3Prawn Rissóis (rissoles) (£5)
When the food arrives at the table we completely forget the idea that we could be in Porto or Lisbon. We’re in London and the Portuguese menu is in the hands of a “good lunatic” whose irreverence and boldness is felt in every bite. Proof of that are these deceptively simple rissoles, probably the best I ever tasted (and yes, I already ate plenty). Well fried and crunchy pastry, elegant filling with a good bisque of delicate flavor and right filling. Perfect!

Taberna do Mercado - 2Homemade Canned goods – Mackerel and tomato sofrito (£5) / Scallops, nuts and butter (£7)
In this area, the mark of Nuno Mendes is even more noticeable, canned goods prepared in sous vide allowing all the flavors to integrate, without losing the delicate textures. Mackerel and tomato is a classic preparation, which greasiness of the sauce and the texture and flavor of the fish stand out, mostly when accompanied by the delicious sourdough of Taberna (what a nice bread!). The scallops, delicious and with the right texture, winning from the combo of citric notes with the slightly spicy cheese and the structure of the dried fruits given by the nuts and the slightly burnt butter. Please send the recipes to the main national industries of the area!

Taberna do Mercado - 4Eggs, Terrincho cheese,  ratte potato and kale (£8)
Could be the Spanish broken eggs, but they’re not, they’re a delicious combination of flavors and textures, where the accomplished creaminess with the eggs and the terrincho cheese perfectly combine with the delicate ratte potato and the crunchy of the kale. Comfort food, simple and creative, as expected of a 2.0 version of a tavern.

Taberna do Mercado - 5Prego, shrimp paste and sorrel (£9)
Prego in bolo do caco (typical bread from Madeira), with the sliced beef cooked perfectly, nice adding of the shrimp paste and the sorrel, altough I can’t abdicate of the mustard when eating a prego (served aside). It was the least surprising and interesting of the dishes, but it’s a well accomplished prego, it’s not supposed to impress anybody (or at least not a Portuguese).

Taberna do Mercado - 6Pão de ló, olive oil and salt flower (£12)
To finish, I already spent some good moments around an Ovar or Alfeizerão Pão de Ló (a typical sponge cake), but few, or probably none, ever gave me the pleasure of this one. Sweet enough, moist, and the adding of the olive oil and the salt flower gave  it an amazing kick.

The service is relaxed and unpretentious, careful in treating a culture mix, varying among the modern Portuguese and the liberal British. Those needing to go to the Wc can always spend some time seating in the kitchen, watching in loco the unwinding of the meal.

Final Remarks 
There’s not much to say about the cuisine of Nuno Mendes that hasn’t already been said. Obviously here doesn’t rule the haute cuisine that gave him a Michelin star and a place among the best restaurants in the world with the Viajante, and that’s not the intention. It’s beautiful to see, and taste, the irreverence and creativity that make of Nuno Mendes a singular figure, with the simplest Portuguese gastronomical traditions! From the rissoles to the pregos, through the pezinhos de coentrada or the pão de ló. Everything is invariably Portuguese but is also Londoner and cosmopolitan, and that’s the magic of Nuno Mendes, that others must copy and recriate to help the Portuguese food to show off outside.

Certainly, a Portuguse restaurant that is needed in Portugal!

Taberna do Mercado
Old Spitalfields Market – London
+ 44 (0)207 375 0649

 Versão Portuguesa

 Text: João Oliveira | Photos: Flavors & Senses

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