Taberna Do Mercado
Old Spitalfields Market, 107b Commercial Street, E1 6BG
Taberna Mercado by Nuno Mendes, the Portuguese chef best known for helming the kitchen at the Chiltern Firehouse: 2015’s best-loved celebrity hangout, beloved by a stream of A listers, and making Mendes indirectly responsible for most of this year’s celebrity gossip. Can we forgive him? Perhaps (if he sneaks us past the doorman on a Friday).
Mendes’ new restaurant in Shoreditch is a different proposition. It’s a modern, unassuming eaterie tucked away at the back of Spitalfields Market, which counts the award-winning Bleeker Street Burger and Galvin’s Bistro among its neighbours. There’s no sign of Lily Allen or any of the Delevingne/Nick Grimshaw/Pixie Geldof crew: just one small dining room, a couple of outside tables, and a deceptively simple menu celebrating Mendes’ Portuguese roots.
The menu offers a choice of small plates, from which the staff suggest choosing 2-4 per person. ‘Small plates’ is a bit of a misnomer in London: there’s no standardisation, and a small plate can mean anything from a single scallop to something akin to a full-blown main course (case in point, the hearty beef ragu at Florence Knight’s Polpetto). At Taberna Mercado, the portions really are small – a hangover from the size zero Chiltern crowd no doubt – but what they lack in size they make up for in taste and invention.
Tiny, delicate bowls of scallops and monkish cheeks come with slivers of pickled cauliflower and grilled bread to soak up the juices. We chose the ratte potatoes and ovos verdes simply because we didn’t know what we’d get, and ended up with an unusual, crispy, very more-ish combination of crispy greens and devilled eggs. Two sandwiches, tender pork and rare beef, came with an unexpectedly ‘normal’ touch: shop mustard in a squeezy yellow bottle, while our highlight was the simply named ‘cuttlefish and pig trotters’: a shallow bowl of sliced, tender cuttlefish swimming in a rich broth of shredded meat.
The puddings feature eggs, sugar, eggs, eggs, and more eggs. And more sugar. And then more eggs. We try a gelatinous sliver of yolk and sugar, resting in a sauce of warm port. We order their version of Pão de Ló, a Portuguese sponge cake which comes soft, warm and wrapped in paper, cooked with olive oil and hiding – you’ve guessed it – an egg yolk, caramelised on the outside, raw on the inside. We try a soft meringue spiked with fennel – an interesting, fragrant combination, less artery-thickening than the others.
Unlike the Chiltern Firehouse, the toilets are mercifully free of 20-something celebrities taking selfies and snorting coke; instead they’re reached through the kitchen, where at the end of the night we watch a crowd of kitchen staff writing tomorrow’s shopping list up on a chalkboard (butternut squash, in case you were wondering). It’s an informal touch which suits the surroundings – and a gentle reminder that their focus is on food rather than celebrities.
Price for 2 with wine: £50-60