As soon as I heard Nuno Mendes was opening his own restaurant I emailed to book a table during the soft launch week. Clearly with the rest of London. So no table for me, as I was very much not the only one who had read and heard so much about this famous Portuguese chef.
For those of you perhaps not as food-obsessed as I am – Nuno Mendes is head chef at Chiltern Firehouse, has an adorable beard (and a very kind face) and cooks seriously good food. And then he opened a down to earth, accessible to all, Portuguese restaurant in Spitalfields Market. Just like that. And the best news is that you can book a table for lunch OR choose to queue for a table for dinner. So there is none of that ridiculous exclusivity of Chiltern Firehouse.
I booked lunch a month in advance (which is unnecessary actually, but definitely do book). My one possible criticism is that it’s in Spitalfields, which I feel has become a bit like Kingly Court – almost like a food court with restaurants which once were Soho pop ups and are now semi-chains. And while a lot of them tend to be good (like Blixen – not a chain), I think they lose a bit of their identity all being so on top of each other.
That’s where the criticism ends. The food is incredible. Most items on the menu are unlike anything I saw on any menu while I was in Lisbon. And that’s why I liked it. It’s all small plates, so you can try lots on the menu. Though it’s all quite filling, so don’t be greedy like we were, and then not finish the pea dish we had quite forgotten about.
While ‘House tinned fish’ might not sound so appealing, and reminds me of canned tuna you buy in Tesco – you definitely have to go for one of the options (I would recommend the Monkfish and fennel). Possibly as far as you get from canned tuna (and the sourdough bread is really good too)! The Alheira (sausage) with spring tomato and watercress was refreshing and different. Also, definitely go for the Runner Bean fritters, for £3, delicious and nicely filling.
One of our favourites was the Pork bifana, with yeast mayo and fennel. A ‘sandwich’ with a twist. It doesn’t look so appealing, but that’s irrelevant.
But the real highlight was being served by the man himself. Yes, Nuno is modest too, and serves his customers himself (as well as cooks). Obviously I had to get a photo with him. So make sure you head over soon to gets yours yoo, and enjoy the food while you’re at it.
Old Spitalfields Market
107b Commercial Street, E1
Photos are either Taberna do Mercado’s own, or from my Instagram account.