A former industrial center, eastern Lisbon has gained a new vibrancy of late, with old factories and decrepit warehouses made over into art galleries, restaurants and breweries. Not even the pandemic has been able to stop this development: A Praça, a marketplace connecting Lisboetas with producers from around the country, has recently set up shop in an old meat-processing plant and civil personnel canteen in the former Manutenção Militar, the industrial area of the Portuguese Army that’s now home to Hub Criativo do Beato.
The project is set to open to the public later in the year but is already up and running digitally, offering many products, including fresh produce from local farmers, artisanal smoked sausages, wine, cheese and olive oil, for takeaway and delivery. And on Sundays, they offer the hearty cozido à Portuguesa – the meat and vegetable stew is one of the most ubiquitous and traditional Portuguese dishes.
A Praça is a dream come true for Cláudia Almeida e Silva, who previously worked in retail but had hopes of building a marketplace where producers from around the country, especially those who struggled to find outlets in the city, could sell their wares. “It will be an informal place to hang around, to taste, to eat, to buy and to learn at the same time,” she says.
The online shop of A Praça – which in Portuguese is a synonym for “market” – already has a wonderful collection of products, giving us a clue of the vision that Cláudia has for this large (roughly 1,700 square meters), dilapidated space. “It will be the first marketplace dedicated to the excellence of our produce and the knowledge of our people,” she tells us.
“It will be the first marketplace dedicated to the excellence of our produce and the knowledge of our people.”
More than just a market, the project also offers cooked dishes made by executive chef Bernardo Agrela, a 30-year-old Lisboeta with an extraordinary resume that includes experiences on different continents, from living with a family in northern China to fine-dining restaurants. Before the pandemic, he was working at East Mambo, where he became known for his kebabs. After the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, East Mambo closed; during the summer, Bernardo worked at a pop-up at Casa do Capitão, also in Hub Criativo do Beato, before moving on to A Praça.
Originally from Lisbon, he ping-ponged across the globe starting at an early age. First came an internship in London, at Bacchus, a Nuno Mendes restaurant, where he worked with António Galapito, whom he knew already from culinary school. Both Bernardo and António moved on to the Loft and Viajante, both Nuno Mendes projects, but Bernardo eventually left to work briefly in San Sebastian and then Japan. Because of visa issues, he spent a month with a family in the north of China so that he could return to his job in Japan. But by then it had disappeared.
Upon returning to Lisbon, Bernardo teamed up with António again, this time on the production of the first MasterChef in Portugal, before leaving for Luxembourg and then the Seychelles, where he had his first chance to lead a kitchen at the young age of 24. Next he moved to the Maldives where he would stay for a year and a half working in a resort.
Back in Lisbon again, he led the kitchen at Cave 23 with creativity, crafting a fine-dining tasting menu as well as organizing terrace parties with food producers, music and some twists on traditional Santo António food, an early connection to producers – such as Adolfo Henriques’s goat cheese – that we see now at A Praça.
Bernardo met Cláudia through the project From Start to Table (by Start Up Lisbon), which he applied for while working at East Mambo. The two first collaborated on last summer’s pop-up at Casa do Capitão before deciding to open A Praça together. “The concept is to bring producers closer to a more urban clientele in a market with stalls of fresh food, both raw and cooked,” he tells us.
It’s a concept that Bernardo sees as distinctive from the Time Out Market, especially because two different companies run the food court and the attached fresh produce market, Mercado da Ribeira. “Everything at A Praça is under the same owner, aiming at the same goals and zero waste,” he adds. “It will be a hybrid between a restaurant and a shopping area where the highlight will be the produce.”
For now the amazing smoked sausages and the cozido are on the menu on Sunday (one portion is enough for two people) but the menu will change in March. They deliver in the Greater Lisbon area, including to municipalities that are not usually served by Lisbon deliveries, such as Cascais or Almada, and there’s no charge for orders over €35. Besides all the food on offer there’s also a splendid collection of Portuguese wine and olive oil – like all the other items, the producers, of which there are currently 140, are chosen very carefully.
For instance, Bernardo and the team at A Praça will use only meat from Portuguese native breeds – beef, chicken and pork – but there will be more space devoted to local fish and vegetables. In total there will be 10 different menus, but people will also be able to choose ingredients from the various stalls.
While food will reign on the ground floor, the upper floor will have a large wine section and an olive oil press led by Francisco Magalhães, formerly the chef at the now-closed Apicius restaurant. “As consumers there’s still a lot we don’t know in general about olive oil, so we want to share that knowledge,” Bernardo explains.
As Bernardo puts it, A Praça is a place “where everything is possible, that ties the best of two worlds, restaurants and retail.”
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