Lisbon-born Nuno Mendes is a chef who soaks up influence far and wide – inspired by Frenchman Pierre Koffman, mentored by Catalan creative Ferran Adrià, educated in San Francisco and Japan, and eventually rooted in London.
Having made serious culinary waves with Bacchus and Viajante, both in the east end, he was handpicked by renowned hotelier André Balazs to helm the kitchen at Chiltern Firehouse where his crab doughnuts received even more attention than the A-list crowd did. His latest restaurant, Lisboeta, offers a taste of home – and we called in to grill the chef…
Quote to live by
Reinvent yourself or die.
Accent/language that turns you on
I’m fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English and I understand French and Italian reasonably well, so the accent that turns me on is one I have less understanding of – the Germanics.
Book that shaped you
Haruki Murakami has been a real inspiration to me. I have loved South of the Border, West of the Sun, A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And I can’t not mention The Alchemist, The Fountainhead, 1984 and Brave New World.
Most memorable meal
I used to refer to my favourite restaurants when asked this question – some of the amazing fine dining experiences I have been lucky enough to have. But really, the meals that shaped me are probably from a restaurant called Velha-Goa (now closed) that I went to with my parents and grandparents, and one that I still can’t shake of the memories, flavours or the smells of. That restaurant inspired me to cook.
These old-school restaurants that I grew up eating in are not flashy or fancy, but they remind me of my roots and they are the ones I feel the most excited to share with my kids and my friends. Saudade in Portuguese means the longing for something that cannot come back – that’s what I feel about these places.
Worst holiday hangover
I’ve had many. But the best holiday of my life was this summer and, interestingly, I didn’t drink at all. I’ve been enjoying not drinking for the past eight months, not out of necessity, but instead to be more present and engage – with myself and with my children.
Best vintage/antique find
The 1950s Bang & Olufsen vintage turntable that I couldn’t afford to buy back in 2007 – still the best find and I think of it often.
Interiors you envy
I recently had the pleasure of working with Space Copenhagen and the interiors they create, which I adore.
Homewares you hunt while travelling
I’m always looking for good vintage cooking tools.
Design decade you feel at home in
How do you unwind?
I take long walks to unwind but when I can, being in the water is where I’m happiest. I find it clears my head, helps me gather my thoughts and become calm.
I think a lot in the water – about problems, challenges, dreams and ambitions. When at home I play vinyl and listen to good music, and I like to draw and paint too. I’m trying to make more of a conscious effort to prioritise these things everyday.
Your must-pack outfit
Swimming trunks, shorts and a comfy t-shirt. I recently had an epiphany when it comes to packing for holiday. I have three kids and we recently went away for three weeks. I bought the tickets for the holiday on the day and whilst quickly packing I allowed each of us to bring only a backpack. We had the best, most relaxed time away and didn’t want for anything else.
Most stylish place
Best place you’ve ever swum
Hydra, Formentera and the Vicentina Coast in Portugal. I had a really special night swim in Hydra with my friend Daniel Silver, looking up at the stars from the sea, floating in the water on the coast.
Best beach you’ve ever found
Ashvem in Goa – I spent several months there and stayed in a tree hut right on the beach. I was woken every morning by the sound of the waves at 5.30am. I wanted to stay forever.
It’s not a holiday without…
Some kids drama or a trip to the hospital!
Snickers, plus salt and vinegar crisps after service.
Pool or ocean
Define love in three words
I’m a believer.
Define sex in three words
I’m a believer (and the two together are amazing).
Nuno was photographed at his new Fitzrovia restaurant, Lisboeta, by Louis AW Sheridan.