As I have found out this year, buying endless floral dresses and iced lattes on credit will eventually catch up with you. In a bid to have less minus money, I have cut all foreign jaunts out of my budget for the year, instead returning frequently to my parents’ house in Devon, dubbing it a holiday and demanding G&Ts on the dot of 5pm. While this has saved me money (and added a fresh strain to father-daughter relations), it’s definitely not the same as a heady European night, filled with tapas so good you wonder if taking some back to the UK might halt Brexit in its tracks. But it seems we don't need to call in the European big guns as in our midst is a tiny slice of Portuguese deliciousness; Taberna do Mercado in Spitalfields is saving all us lost holiday souls with its gospel of Mediterranean dishes.
Venue and atmosphere
Taberna do Mercado is the work of renowned Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, a man who has spent his career in some of the best kitchen’s in the world, namely renowned El Bulli, a restaurant that received up to one million booking requests a year. His own work has been similarly as lauded, with Viajante in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel receiving a Michelin star within its first year of opening. One might therefore expect that someone with such stratospheric credentials would open somewhere similarly as fancy. But if Chiltern Firehouse - where Nuno Mendes is executive chef - is known for its celebrity clientele, then Taberna do Mercado is devoid of any preening and posing, instead taking eating back to basics.
Located within Spitalfields Market, the restaurant is bareboned and stripped back; tables are simple wooden pieces that could have been knocked up from IKEA, walls are whitewashed and the only toilet is through the searingly hot kitchen. Despite being run by one of the world’s best chefs, it feels undiscovered, the sort of place you might accidentally trip into on holiday, only to leave five hours later, promising to return every night. Undiscovered, however, is exactly what Taberna do Mercado is not; on a Wednesday night, the place is fully booked with every single table filled with groups and couples, and those unlucky enough not to nab a seat, perch at the wine bar in the corner.
Food and Drink
Perhaps due to its proximity to the City, or its prime location to Spitalfields, Taberna do Mercado’s menu is a single page of small plates and snacks that serves for both lunch and dinner and can be whacked out in minutes. Placing 'small' before 'plates' is always a dangerous game, in my opinion, and is a justifiable reason to order double of what would usually constitute as a meal. Nuno Mendes lessens the greed-guilt, however, with each dish a little taste of holiday idyll, from the salted cod bacalhau (£9) that pervades Portuguese cooking through to Welsh mussels (£5) cooked with olive chunks for a seaside-salty dish.
We order both cheeses on the menu; the hard and potent St Jorge cow's milk which has been aged for two years (£7) and is strong enough to be gorged on alone. The second, Azeito sheep's cheese (£12), is the scene-stealer as a treacle gooey wheel is heaped onto chunks of sourdough for a dish sure to clog arteries. The small plates are essentially little dinner dishes; slices of black pudding (£6) was heaped on cornbread for a subtle, smoky dish, while grilled octopus (£8) was chopped up with wedges of juicy tomato. In keeping with the fuss-free ethos, the drinks list is comprised of a selection of wine that comes largely by the bottle. We opted for 'Euphoria' from Convento do Paraiso (£7.20 a glass), a red that left us so cheery, we each ended up guzzling three glasses of the stuff and practically skipping home.
I might never see the sun again but I'm happy to stay in the UK for the rest of my life with Taberna do Mercado around. For two delicious hours, I swapped the grey drizzle outside for Portugal's sunny shores as Nuno Mendes brings his home country to life with a roaring selection of small plates, an easy atmosphere, and all too drinkable wine.