It has the makings of a sitcom: two itinerant chefs, one Greek and the other Peruvian, meet in Portugal and decide to open up a restaurant devoted to their home countries’ cooking.
Rather than pratfalls, though, we get Pita.gr, a charming restaurant where during the course of one meal we can feast on ceviche, fresh moussaka and tiropita (a Greek pastry made of phyllo dough, feta cheese, honey and sesame seeds), all at the same table.
Having the chance to eat delicious food from both countries feels like a privilege in this corner of the Margem Sul (South Bank), half an hour’s drive from central Lisbon. Being so close to the beach, Pita.gr shares a road with many similar fish restaurants; on the night we visit, the smell of grilled sardines wafts along the streets.
The two friends behind this venture, Thassos Bampalikis from Greece and Jorge Puente from Peru, met in Lisbon after working in restaurants in Europe and South America. In Pita.gr they present their two national cuisines separately – surprisingly, there’s no fusion whatsoever. The only synthesis happens in the stomach.
As so many new restaurants keep popping up in the Portuguese capital, Bampalikis and Puente decided to open a place in the suburbs, where more people live. They chose Charneca da Caparica, in the municipality of Almada, a neighborhood close to the beach of Costa da Caparica, where Thassos had previously worked at another Greek restaurant.
Like the majority of Lisbon’s suburbs, Charneca lacks any kind of urban planning – a shame considering that it was at one time a beautiful, tranquil area where quintas (country villas) and farms were surrounded by pine tree forests. There are a few traditional Portuguese restaurants that cater to the neighborhood’s residents and the visitors that spend the day here after going to the beach, but they’re nothing to write home about.
In this humdrum environment, Pita.gr sticks out. It helps that the restaurant is right on the main road, its cheerful sign painted in the blue and white of the Greek flag.
“It’s two gastronomies that are so magnificent and so different, and yet combine really well,” says Bampalikis about this singular project. “The Greek cuisine is better with meat and vegetables, Peruvian is better with fish. Clients ask for Greek starters and Peruvian fish dishes or vice-versa, and they seem to enjoy the mix.”
Greek food of this caliber is difficult to come by in Lisbon. And even though there are some excellent Peruvian restaurants in Lisbon – Puente himself was surprised by the quality of places like A Cevicheria – Pita.gr is focused on expanding beyond the world of ceviche (a popular import to this fish-loving country). “These are traditional Peruvian dishes,” says Puente. “It’s not gourmet – we want to show to the Portuguese people what Peruvian cuisine is really like.”
We were smitten with the anticuchos, grilled beef heart skewers with aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), and the octopus with a purée of Peruvian olives. And even though the menu presents the full scale of Peruvian cuisine, we couldn’t help but order a few ceviches, which were the best we’ve eaten this year.
The only “fusion” at this restaurant happens in the stomach.
Both chefs place an importance on sourcing only the freshest ingredients. In fact, the food available in Portugal was one of the biggest draws for both Bampalikis and Puente. “You have amazing ingredients [in Portugal], not just fish but also vegetables,” explains Puente. “When I settled here,” says Bampalikis, “I realized that Portuguese food is closer to Greece than to Spain with the immense variety of dishes, from pastries to grilling, with a strong Mediterranean influence.”
The two friends are also concerned with the quality of service. “That’s why we prefer to have a small restaurant – big places are so chaotic and they’re difficult to manage,” says Puente. As a bonus, the prices are affordable and much friendlier to Portuguese wages than the overpriced restaurants in Lisbon.
For lisboetas with a sweet tooth, the perfect ending to a meal might be the siropiasta, four different Greek desserts served with a glass of Moscatel from the Greek island of Samos, less sweet and alcoholic than its Portuguese counterpart. The siropiasta comes with an extra dessert of the day – we were lucky to have the Peruvian torta de três leches.
The restaurant only opened on July 17 of this year, and so far Bampalikis and Puente have been incredibly busy. Booking is recommended, especially for dinner, as there aren’t many tables. “The reaction has been amazing, it’s going much better than we expected,” says Bampalikis. So much so that the two are planning a spinoff, with another restaurant coming soon in the Margem Sul.