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The influence of Nuno Mendes at Viajante, his restaurant in Bethnal Green, whose approach has been described ‘as subversive as it is imaginative’, strikes me as the most significant and recognisable at Fiend. A deep bow to Japan is definitely present, as is a fondness for taking ingredients out of their usual context. Conversely, the clientele on both occasions that I visit seem joyously anchored in their very own milieu. Notting Hillbillies, thrilled to find a new stamping ground, yee-haw each other across the room.

A long bar occupies one side of the restaurant, leading to the open kitchen at the end, with a couple of tables in front of its high counter and a row of tables on the other side. Ergonomically, it is not a brilliant space, and unrelenting hard surfaces and a tiled floor dial up the noise. But the dishes combat that by singing loudly. Fermenting and pickling naturally contribute their capabilities, and petals of what I think is kohlrabi make a little amuse-bouche flower that does indeed bring a smile. What follows are perfect bronzed brioches accompanying a chicken liver parfait that is extraterrestrially smooth and delicious. I remember this well from 108 Garage.

Mushrooms, hazelnuts and sail on top of leek with hollandaise

Jean Cazals

Dark mushrooms, hazelnuts and summer savory sail on top of a leek that is neither fibrous nor pappy, and beside is a spoonful of hollandaise freckled with spices. Sweetbreads (pancreas and thymus gland) are having their day in the sun on wide-awake menus recently, and the veal sweetbread with bulgogi (Korean grilled meat), spring onion and fermented cabbage is a triumph of crisp shell with soft, milky interior. Kurobuta (black pig) pork belly with blood peach, rock samphire and eel miso glaze is the lascivious side of luscious. 

Veal sweetbread with bulgogi and spring onion

Jean Cazals

After this, the palate cleanser of cucumber and dill, hazy as a cloud, is a wise move – as is involving redhead Irish sommelier Beth Brickenden in wine choices from a taut, gripping list. Much is organic, biodynamic and sustainable, and available by the glass. Speaking of evil spirits – fiends – my friend Crispin pronounces his daiquiri perfect and reflects that it is almost never the case. I suspect Denney is enjoying himself. 

fiend-portobello.com

This article was originally published in Tatler’s December 2021 issue. Subscribe now to get 3 issues for just £1, plus free home delivery and free instant access to the digital editions.

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