Over the course of 2018, Lisbon saw restaurants, cafés and bars popping up like hot buns. It’s hard to tell if there’s room for so many places, especially in the already saturated city center. In the meantime, we watched helplessly as many classic shops and restaurants shuttered their doors. It’s a pattern we saw in 2017, but it seemed a lot more intense this year. There are reasons to celebrate, though, and they are delicious.
It was on my list last year, but I can’t help myself: Prado is still my favorite. I met António Galapito, Prado’s chef, some years ago in London, when he was the head chef at Nuno Mendes’ Taberna do Mercado. I was impressed with the lunch that day and how he explained the dishes and techniques to us with such passion and knowledge. Coincidentally, a famous food critic was sitting next to us (I was dining with an English food writer who recognized him), and after his companion left he joined us and ended up eating half of my desserts. Some weeks later an awful review came out in The Times, insulting not only Mendes and Taberna’s crew but also the Portuguese dishes. I felt sorry for them all, but especially for Galapito who was there on that day. In my opinion, it was unfair and totally undeserved.
Fast-forward to 2017, Galapito moved to Lisbon and opened Prado, a restaurant with a creative and innovative menu utilizing amazing local produce, at the end of year. Throughout 2018, Prado has been extraordinarily consistent, creating different seasonal dishes but also tweaking certain favorites so as to keep them on the menu throughout the year, but in a sustainable (and delicious) way. One year ago I wrote this: “On my first visit, I fell hard for his delicate dish of cockles, spinach, cilantro and fried bread. The broth is amazing – almost as much as the price (€5.5).” The vegetables have changed but the dish is still perfect, keeping the inspired touch of the smoked butter. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but sometimes it can also be served warm.
A Taberna do Mar
Since he first began working at the Sea Me restaurant, Filipe Rodrigues has shown Lisbon that fish – sardines in particular – can be honored in ways other than simply grilling them over charcoal. His expertise in Japanese techniques led him to open his own restaurant, A Taberna do Mar, alongside chef Hugo Gouveia, a long time colleague and friend, in September. It’s a small place but that makes it more intimate: it’s easier to talk to the chefs and get detailed information about each dish. My favorite is still Rodrigues’ emblematic sardine nigiri: a fresh sardine flamed with a torch, served over rice and topped with flor de sal. These distinct textures and sublime flavors are best followed by the pingo de sardinha, a toast of their homemade sourdough bread soaked with the magnificent fat and flavor of the sardine. A Taberna do Mar is also a reminder of how cozy restaurants can be so rewarding. Having put so much work into the spot, from the walls and floor to the kitchen, Rodrigues and Gouveia deserve a full house.
Opened in the Lapa neighborhood some 41 years ago, Zuari is perhaps most famous for its samosas. Owner Orlando Rodrigues, originally from Goa, made samosas so popular in Lisbon that there was a time when he was folding about 12,000 every week. The samosas are still there and still delicious, but lately I’ve been enamored with their amazing ice cream. The ginger and cinnamon ice cream is exceptional, a blend of heavenly flavors that taste especially good after a spicy meal. Same with the mango ice cream that, according to Orlando, is coveted by a major ice cream producer. As silky and smooth as the best Italian gelato, it tastes like ripe mangoes while managing not to be overly sweet. Orlando’s daughter, Débora, is the dessert expert at this family restaurant. Of course, Zuari also has a famous bebinca, the traditional festive multi-layered cake from Goa made with 40 egg yolks, coconut milk and nutmeg. My recommendation: go for the samosas, prawn curry and vindalho, stay for the desserts, which were some of my best bites in 2018.
– Célia Pedroso
Here at CB Lisbon, one of the greatest blessings of 2018 has been a detour down the backroads of Portugal’s wine country. Obscured by a deeply rooted industry filled with old family crests and grand quinta is a society of young and talented individuals unfettered by the legacy that seems to restrain more mainstream wine producers from, well, getting funky. For those of us who thirst for something different, there is Os Goliardos, a wine distributor, shop and visionary in the world of small, independent wine producers in Portugal. Attending their events, climbing over boxes in their garage-cum-shop, and spending a lot of time ordering from their website, we’ve gotten to know their style and some of the producers they feature. These are small “projects” working on the margins of the natural wine world, some more concerned with this designation than others, but all produce wines that grab the attention, screaming, “This is not your aunty’s vinho verde!”
So rather than trying to identify a best bottle of the year – we are still deep in the research period – this “best bite” is a tribute to the facilitator of all of our best sips of the year, Os Goliardos. It would take more than a year, even moving at our frenzied pace, to work our way through all of their recommendations, but our New Year’s resolution is to try.
Sea bass in Sintra
Among the barrels in the musty old winery of Viuva Gomes, Senhor Jose opened a bottle of his much-loved branco and evoked the sea breeze and sand of the Sintra coast in explaining the unique character of his wines. We swirled and slurped, contemplating the unique story of the malvasia grapes of Colares, when our next question for Sr. Jose came to us. “Where do you go to eat fish around here?”
His eyes lit up as he described the sea bass caught off the coast of Sintra. He couldn’t quite recall the name of the restaurant, but the sea bass, he seemed to be able to taste as he gave us directions.
And off we went, down the road, through the permafog of Sintra to a cliff-flanked beach with a concrete bunker of a restaurant at the edge of the drift, Restaurante d’Adraga. Super Bock chairs and umbrellas, black leatherette menu folders, nautical décor, a waiter in a white short-sleeved shirt and black slacks, kitchen cooks in batas and hairnets – what the Portuguese might describe as a “tipico” dining scenario. But, upon closer inspection, there’s nothing typical at all about the ice chest by the front door, a freshly stocked morgue of local Atlantic catches. According to Senhor Jose’s recommendation, we focused on the sea bass. Weighing a kilo and a half or more, these are large fish, split down the middle and hinged at the dorsal. Fatty and fresh, they are grilled over a charcoal fire with true expertise and then hit hard with sea salt before arriving at the center of our table. Flesh of a sea bass this size doesn’t come off in tender little flakes, but large juicy lobes each with a small crown of char. We know from experience that grilling a fish like this without turning it into a plate of confetti is not easy, but the tribute goes to the fish itself and the cold deep waters off Sintra that nurture this special animal, just as it does Senhor Jose’s brancos. As memorable as this particular meal of sea bass was, we’ve had many comparable ones up and down the coast such that the experience is almost typical. But really, when a fish of this caliber is laid out in front of us, each time, we declare it, hands down, to be the best, ever. And it always is.
– Ansel Mullins
Chanfana at Imperial de Campo de Ourique
Despite its official name of Imperial de Campo de Ourique, most clients – including myself – refer to this classic Campo de Ourique joint as Tasca do João (João’s Tasca). That’s how much João Gomes, its owner, has been making it feel like an extension of his own home and kitchen for the last 30-plus years. I never really read the menu to choose what to eat here – I behave exactly as if I were in João’s place and let him choose for me. That’s what happened one cold Friday in January. “Today, you’re going to eat chanfana,” he told me with a confident smirk. I complied, even if I’m not – or rather wasn’t – a big fan of the dish. As soon as he served it I understood the smirk: the smell was incredible, as the meat had absorbed all the flavors of the ingredients it was cooked in, namely red wine and different herbs. “Adelaide [João’s wife and a magnificent cook] always does it one day in advance, so that the meat gets really tender and flavorful,” he explained. Well done, Mrs. Gomes.
Perdiz à Convento de Alcântara at Petite Folie
Two months ago, Almerindo Gonçalves got a letter from his landlady terminating their rental agreement. Because of that, on December 28, Petite Folie will open its doors for the last time. Mr. Gonçalves knew this day would come sooner or later, so he is not making a big fuss about it. Instead, he’s continuing to make great food with a smile in his face – the same food and smile he has been showing for the last 30 years. One of his trademark dishes is the famous Perdiz à Convento de Alcântara, a kind of stuffed partridge and the only haute cuisine recipe of Portuguese origin. He made me one on the day I went to the restaurant to hear the bad news. I didn’t know whether to feel sad or happy: the bird – manually boned by the 80-year-old Gonçalves – was perfectly cooked, the stuffing was delicious, and the sides of creamed spinach and apple purée were both delicate and flavorful. A great dish, and an even greater restaurant. I will miss both dearly.
Lagarada de Bacalhau at Maçã Verde
Whenever I talk about Portuguese food with visitors, the word bacalhau (codfish) is always mentioned. Not by me, most of the time, as I think that Portuguese cuisine has much more to offer, but by those who think that it is the sole component of our gastronomic identity. It is not. We do, however, have great examples of how to use it. At Maçã Verde, one of my favorite tascas in town, they do a slight variation of the classic bacalhau à lagareiro (roasted cod with olive oil and potatoes) that takes the aforementioned recipe to another level. They call it lagarada de bacalhau, which basically stands for the same thing but – at least here – is served in a different way. Instead of the usual flat tray with codfish and potatoes, we get a baking tray with the elements spread over one another in layers: the potatoes under the shredded roasted codfish, which is then covered with lots of roasted garlic and some coriander for freshness. The olive oil on the bottom retains all of these flavors. That’s why I always keep a piece of bread to mop up the last remnants of the tray. And you should as well.
– Tiago Pais