Lisbon’s tiny Taberna da Rua das Flores is almost always crowded, with barely enough room for staff to explain (and often translate) to hungry clients the dishes chalked up on its only blackboard menu.
With around 10 marble-topped tables in a narrow, vintage-style eatery that takes no reservations, its small scale and increasing popularity makes for a challenging place to serve food – and yet, the staff are always smiling. The restaurant’s original, contemporary take on the forgotten tavern fare of the city, as well as its patient service and shared love of local ingredients, make it well worth the waiting time.
André Magalhães, head chef and one of the three business partners, has spent many years exploring the old tascas of the capital, chatting with innkeepers about food traditions that are vanishing due to lifestyle changes and new taste trends. Collecting recipes and old-school techniques in a manner that verges on ethnographic research, he has kept a close eye on the history of products and eating habits in Portugal.
This has resulted in a few rescued dishes that are lovingly recreated at Taberna. One of them is iscas com elas: narrow slices of cow liver (from a breed called Mirandesa, which is unique to northern Portugal) , marinated in white wine or vinegar, garlic and laurel oak, fried and served with boiled potatoes and accompanied by a cow spleen sauce. Another speciality is the picadinho de carapau, a tartar of Atlantic horse mackerel – a cheap fish quite common in Portuguese waters – marinated in ginger, celery, green apple, red onions and lemon.
Picking up fresh products at the local market and adding his own touches of inspiration, Magalhães continuously conceives new ways to present typical dishes that often belong to humble traditions. Meia desfeita – codfish accompanied by a chickpea salad with onion, garlic, boiled eggs and parsley – is a classic example, with the fish served in slivers because of the use of the cheaper parts, such as the tail or cheek, of this otherwise pricey Portuguese food staple.
“We try to use only sustainable ingredients, creating a close relationship with small local producers,” says Bárbara Matos, one of Taberna’s partners. She points to a shelf at the entrance, which stocks a few unique products used in the kitchen and that are also sold to customers, such as the olive oil Magalhães’s father makes in the northern region of Trás-os-Montes, or a variety of tinned fish – a concept capitalized on due to the rush to sell mediocre sardines to tourists – that actually tastes good.
This little bistro, which since 2011 has become the place to go for locals and visitors alike, is a good choice in the new Lisbon, where many recently opened taverns base their menus on touristic expectations or lazy European influences. In Taberna da Rua das Flores, the path is inverted: it takes its time, reviving the flavors belonging to the old culinary memory of the city in a genuine atmosphere.