I’ve always dreamt of travelling to Portugal to eat a heap load of fresh octopus and to surf on its magical waves. But before I’ve had any chance to look at flights, Portugal (or at least its food) came to London in the form of Taberna do Mercado
, Nuno Mendes
‘ new small-plates baby in Old Spitalfields Market
We ordered the prawn rissois (£5 for 2) to start and I am transported to a few good memories: snacking on my favourite empanadas in Philippines; trying all sorts of curry puffs in Asia; overindulging in coxinhas from a local Brazilian bakery. Like all those good deep fried pastry filled with all things delicious, this put a smile on my face and we were off to a good start.
Our server recommended the quiejo da Serra da Estrella (£10), a runny sheep’s milk cheese hailing from the north mountainous region of Portugal. I’m a fan of sheep’s milk cheese and thought this was perfect for dipping the rustic grilled bread we were given so much of.
The Paleta porco preto was quite a pleaser (£15). Fatty, salty with the teeniest hint of sweetness, this particular plate of cured meat didn’t have a pungent smell nor a lasting aftertaste (aka meat breath) the way chorizo does.
The house-tinned mackerel (£5), preserved in olive oil for up to two weeks, was punchy with tomato sofrito. Considering 1) I’m not the biggest fan of mackerel for its very fishy aftertaste, and 2) the fact that I hate tinned tomatoes, I liked this enough. Possibly cos there was only enough of it to have a wee taste.
Special of the day was a 100-day dry aged steak simply cooked off the grill. There’s nothing like a good piece of beef cooked to perfection, but I wonder whether our 200g cut was worth all £40 considering a third of it was fat. We’d be talking differently if they charred the fat longer so it would’ve been crispier… and edible.
Beef was served with some bread and tomato salsa/salad.
Another special of the day was the tuna w/ picadito algarvio. This made me think of a fish escabeche sans the sweetness. I thought the fish was cooked perfectly but needed a bit more seasoning.
Runner bean fritters (£5) with bulhao pato – that’s clam broth – were quite moreish. The batter is reminiscent of tempura and the broth is something special. It’s light, crispy and an ideal thing to snack on.
The asparagus and fennel migas (£8) was a little bit too oily for my liking and lacked the asparagus taste I had hoped for. Granted it’s a subtly flavoured veg, but all I got was a heady case of bread and way too much fennel.
For dessert, we ordered the olive oil pao de lo (£12). This was definitely not a photogenic dish but it was definitely one of the highlights for me. It’s a super light sponge cake with what seems to be an underbaked centre. It’s sweet and slightly salty and so good that we had to order another one.
Overall, it was a bit of a hit and miss. Perhaps I came to Taberna thinking it was going to be over the moon fantastic, seeing the very #foodporn worthy shots on Instagram but to be honest I’m not sure how I feel about it… yet. The menu is ever so promising and inspired but somehow my first visit felt like a game of chances. Happy to give it another go and perhaps make my mind up then.
Oh, there wasn’t any octopus in the menu. Tears.
Taberna do Mercado
Old Spitalfields Market, 107b Commercial Street, London E1
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