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If you ever go to Lisbon make sure you visit the restaurant upstairs at the Confeitaria Nacional. They serve good food at good prices in a sophisticated atmosphere. It’s simple food, admittedly – mostly heavy steaks and refreshing salads – but what makes it really worth it is the bread basket at the start of the meal. One bread in particular to be precise – Broa. The Broa at the Confeitaria has a distinctive moist, yet crumbly texture and a golden yellow hue that comes from the cornmeal used to make it. It’s almost halfway between a bread and a cake (a definitional problem furthered by its sweetness). It seems to go well with anything – butter, honey, soup or even just by itself.

Recreating the recipe from scratch wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. In fact, even with fluent Portuguese help I couldn’t find a recipe online that would come close to the Confeitaria product. They were either far too cake-y (with an abundance of eggs – very Portuguese) or too savoury. My starting recipe was Priya’s Portuguese cornbread. It was okay, but it wasn’t what I was aiming for. It was too dense, not at all sweet and not very yellow. From there I looked into what makes bread tick – as an age old art form (sort of), there’s plenty of info about how to make a bread dough do what you want. This guide to bread making was particularly helpful. I still haven’t managed to crack the Confeitaria’s secret, but the recipe below is the closest approximation I could achieve without expert guidance.

Broa

Broa recipe
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)
250g Plain flour
125g  Cornmeal (quite difficult to find in the UK – Waitrose might have it)
125ml Lukewarm water (2 parts nearly boiling to 1 part cold)
1 tbsp Active dry yest
1/2 tbsp Sugar (for yeast mixture)
3/4 tsp Salt
25g Butter
1 Egg (lightly beaten)
75g Sugar
40ml Milk

  1. Mix the yeast, sugar and salt with the lukewarm water and leave to the side for around 10 mins until a thick foam forms on the surface.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal and butter in a large bowl. Pour the yeast mixture in and knead to an elastic, non-stick dough. Add the extra sugar, egg and milk. Knead back to a nice dry dough (you may need to add a little bit more flour).
  3. Lightly coat the inside of the mixing bowl with olive oil, put the dough in the bowl and leave covered in a warm place to rise for one hour.
  4. Punch the dough down, transfer to a baking sheet (or loaf pan if you have one/want a perfect looking loaf) and leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size bake in the oven for around 30 mins. You can tell whether the bread is done if it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

The name, while being Portuguese, has no bearing on where the delightful cuisine hails from. True, the chef, Nuno Mendes, is originally Portuguese, but the restaurant’s name should be used as a rough guide to the food on offer. Without a menu or any indication of what you will receive until your waiter lays it in front of you, a meal at Viajante really is like being a traveller on a voyage of culinary discovery.

I enjoyed the 6 course meal at Viajante a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been putting off writing this blog post in the hopes that the restaurant would send me the menu we ate, as promised, but alas, that is not to be.

The restaurant is in an unlikely location. Bethnal Green, as you may know, is not famed for haute cuisine. But this doesn’t seem to have stopped Mendes setting up shop in the old town hall. Although the surroundings leave a little to be desired, the premises themselves are cosy and inviting – a spot of wood panelling never goes amiss.

The menu (or lack thereof) was exciting to say the least. We went for the 6 course option, but in actual fact this turned out to be 6 ‘courses’ and 4 sides. To avoid spoiling the surprise, I won’t go into great detail about what we were served. The main things I noticed and that I think are worth highlighting is the use of traditional ingredients in novel ways and the recurrent theme of various purées holding the dish together. On the first point, I would like to mention the chocolate truffles that incorporated mushrooms to enhance the flavour. Truffles aren’t exactly the most exciting thig for someone who has been eating chocolate for 21 years, but incorporating mushroom into the mix was an excellent idea. The taste of the mushroom was nutty, a little salty and slightly sour – a perfect counterpoint to the creamy delicacy of the chocolate truffle. In terms of the purées, they prove that if you add enough butter and cream to something they will taste delicious. However, I am not criticising them at all. I loved every single purée I came across, from the more well-known butternut squash purée to the innovative use of kelp. Not only did the taste help to hold together the other ingredients used, but the bright colours made the overall presentation very impressive.

So far I’ve given a glowing report of Viajante, but it did have its bad points. Firstly, there was one dish on which I wasn’t terribly keen. A vaguely asian take on tuna accompanied with very bitter salad leaves and slightly undercooked vegetables came slap-bang in the middle of the meal. Even though I had been enjoying the courses up to that point and thereafter, the tuna dish unfortunately had the effect of dampening my spirits. Secondly, even though we’d ordered the 6 course sampler, there was no indication of what course was being presented to us. For example, what we believed to be the 8th course was actually ‘pre-dessert’. This did cause quite a lot of consternation.

Overall, Viajante is an excellent restaurant, particularly for those with little experience of fine modern cuisine. For around £68 it is possible to eat a substantial amount of very good food. However, if you have high expectations you could be disappointed by what is on offer.

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