Having just returned from a fantastic holiday in Lisbon I was excited to revisit some delicious flavours that made my trip so memorable at Taberna do Mercado. Unfortunately, despite eating some well-crafted plates the service really deflated the entire experience.
Let’s start with the food. Wow. I was expecting great things from former Chiltern Firehouse chef Nuno Mendes and boy do his contemporary Portuguese dishes deliver. The tinned cod tongues were bold in flavour but were managed well by the marinade. Also served in a tin were the house mussels, which blew me away a little – sumptuously smothered in butter and light herbs they simply melted upon contact with my taste buds. These tinned seafood appetisers surpassed any tin of famed sardines I ate in the Portuguese capital.
Equally as delicious was the octopus and tomato small plate. Simple in its conception and delivery but far from basic in flavour. The sharp onions worked well against the sweet tomato and the light vinegar twang, which had permeated the octopus, stitched all of the flavours together. I am a long-time fan of octopus and this dish made me very happy.
I also really enjoyed the steak sandwich. Rare, tender beef stood shoulder-to-shoulder with peppery rocket in a rustic, ciabatta-like bun. I smothered my half in Portuguese mustard (which is a thing, apparently) and washed it down with a glass of the light, yet flavoursome Campolargo.
The Colombian and I, having both worked front-of-house, typically sympathise with flustered waiters on the verge of breakdown. On this occasion, however, the half-empty restaurant did not warrant any stress from the service team. Yet somehow, each and every dish seemed to take an eternity to arrive. I have never had to prompt a waiter about each dish requested in order for it to reach the table, until that particular evening.
Nevertheless, like a parent dealing with their child’s mishaps, I wasn’t angry, I was just disappointed. The food and wine were absolutely splendid and the setting in Spitalfields Market really taps into the rustic Portuguese feel that emanates from the food but I was left disheartened by the forgetful, inattentive staff. Perhaps next time, eh?