My favourite restaurants: Nuno Mendes

The Portuguese chef shares his top five places to eat, from London to Lisbon.

Updated on • Written By Ellie Donnell

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My favourite restaurants: Nuno Mendes

Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes is one of the most influential culinary players to shape modern gastronomy in London. Although born in Lisbon, his early career sent him across the globe to San Francisco and Japan, before later cutting his teeth at three Michelin-starred El Bulli on the Costa Brava, while working under the expert tutelage of Ferran Adria. As a result, Nuno’s cooking is flecked with myriad influences, particularly Iberian, South American and Japanese. 


Never one to shy away from the unknown, Mendes’ experimental project The Loft back in 2010 was the first indicator that this is a chef who likes to do things a bit differently. Part chef’s table, part immersive experience, the 16-seat venture saw Nuno invite guests into his home – a loft space in Dalston - to enjoy a multi-course meal cooked by his hands. Barmy but brilliant, The Loft quickly graduated to The Loft Project, where he would invite chefs to cook for a day or two in his kitchen, giving them a platform quite unlike any other to showcase their craft. 

Every venture after that superseded the next. There was Viajante in Bethnal Green, a globally influenced but Portuguese at heart venture that won a Michelin star in 2011. Although the restaurant closed in 2014, Nuno swiftly accepted an exec chef position at the acclaimed Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone. This was arguably the gig that catapulted him to fame, which let’s be honest, sounds about right considering the restaurant’s high-flying clientele and paparazzi lined frontage.  

There have been other projects to keep him busy over the years. His fine dining restaurant Maos in Shoreditch experienced the swift rise-and-fall trajectory of a restaurant that straddled Covid: opening in 2018, winning a Michelin star in 2019, and sadly having to close a few years later.  

Still, 2022 was a happier year for Mendes with the launch of Lisboeta. Hailed as a love letter to Lisbon, it was an instant hit. Here, the chef goes back to his roots to evoke the food of his childhood city, from Portuguese-style small plates known as pesticos to larger, tasca-style dishes. Lisboeta is two years old now and still going strong.  

Naturally, we were fascinated to find out which restaurants across the globe have influenced the chef the most over the years. From London to Lisbon, read on to discover Nuno Mendes’ top five restaurants.  

Brawn, London 

Shot of dishes on table

Nuno says: 'Located on Columbia Road, Brawn is the perfect neighbourhood restaurant. I first visited when my daughter was she was as little as one and I've had many meals here since. The cooking is faultless with impeccable sourcing and ingredients. This is a place where you can really taste seasons on plate - the menu changes regularly, and it’s different every time. Pasta dishes are a highlight.' 
Where: 49 Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Book now: Brawn

Lyle’s, London 

Scandi interiors at lyles

Nuno says: 'I met James Lowe when he was head chef at St. John’s Bread and Wine, so we go a long way back. I remember clearly the day he told me he had found a space for his restaurant - since then, I have been visiting regularly. It’s a world class restaurant and James’s style of cooking is unique - every time I visit I leave full of ideas. The dining room is paired back but inviting, the team is very professional yet friendly and approachable. Still one of the best restaurants in London and one of my favourites.'
Where: 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ
Book now: Lyle's

Prado, Lisbon 

Bright interiors and food

Nuno says: 'Eating at Prado feels like coming home to me - Jose, the owner, is an old friend and we worked together for 10 years. The produce used is incredible and really showcases Portugal, hence why it feels so familiar to me. The food here is fiercely local and sourced ethically, with a strong emphasis on the 'farm to table' concept, highlighting seasonal and local market produce. Since its opening in 2017, Prado has remained one of the most relevant restaurants in Lisbon.'
Where: Travessa das Pedras Negras 2, Estrela, 1100-404 Lisboa

Canalha, Lisbon 

Interiors and prawns

Nuno says: 'This is a new restaurant in Lisbon - and a very special one. Renowned chef João Rodrigues (of the Michelin-starred Feitoria) has opened a new casual spot that celebrates Portuguese produce in a fun and unconventional way. Loud and hearty, it offers a menu of small plates filled with unfussy, delicious dishes like carabineiro with fried egg and fries or an open omelet with shrimp. It's a re-imagined Lisbon restaurant from the '80s with the most incredible food and ingredients - simple yet sublime.'
Where: Rua da Junqueira 207, 1300-338 Lisboa

Studio Euskalduna, Porto 

Moody interiors and open kitchen

Nuno says: 'Chef Vasco Coelho Santos’s studio Euskalduna started out as a workshop in central Porto, which has evolved into a test kitchen, and then into a restaurant. The cuisine is international, with a focus on creativity: there is no menu to select from. Rather, Chef Vasco offers a tasty and succinct 10-dish tasting menu - ten moments to enjoy, from starters to desserts. With only 20 seats, loud music, and staff wearing football shirts, everyone is young but very professional. Vasco plays with Portuguese traditional dishes and the flavours he encountered during his time in San Sebastián, London, and Italy.'
Where: Rua de Santo Ildefonso 404, 4000-466 Porto

Read more of our recent interviews with the UK's top chefs. We sat down with Helene Darroze to discuss her latest international project, and find out where chefs like Vivek Singh, Theo Randall and Jack Stein like to eat.

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