A decade ago Lisbon was a very different city, and the riverfront Cais do Sodré neighborhood was dominated by Mercado da Ribeira, the central market, and office buildings. No Time Out Market, no hipster cafés or trendy restaurants and bars, and hardly any tourists.
In 2011, Café Tati opened in an 18th-century building behind the central market, a new entry amongst the old-school tascas and restaurants feeding market vendors and office workers, and the bars and clubs down neglected streets in the neighborhood’s former red light district. Founded by Ramón Ibáñez, a transplant from Barcelona, Café Tati was a breath of fresh air, offering relaxed meals, organic and natural wines, and live music, too – we have fond memories of jazz nights and jam sessions as well as quiet moments savored with a wineglass in hand.
Yet with the rise of gentrification, which was particularly intense in this formerly neglected riverside locale, Café Tati’s landlord decided not to renew their lease, and the beloved spot had to close at the end of 2018. Luckily for us, Tati (in the transition the café was dropped) resurfaced two years later in Penha de França, a residential neighborhood uphill, far from the busy, central Cais do Sodré. Situated between traditional tascas and pastelarias, Tati, which Ramón now runs with Romina Bartolini, has managed to maintain the welcoming atmosphere, lovely food and excellent natural wine list that made it so popular in the first place.
Café Tati was ahead of the curve in more ways than one. “When we opened back in 2011 and introduced these wines, it was hard for the public to embrace them,” says Ramón. “Lisbon was really dominated by commercial wines from the Douro and Alentejo. At that time, there was no real natural wine movement, just Goliardos, which had been doing great and pioneering work with their wine bar.” Ramón started out working with the wines from Goliardos (now a distributor) and slowly it felt “like education of taste, both emotional and physical.”
Tati has managed to maintain the welcoming atmosphere, lovely food and excellent natural wine list that made it so popular in the first place.
Eventually things changed across the city, with restaurants such as Prado and shops such as Comida Independente highlighting a new generation of independent winemakers. “Now it’s much easier to have these natural wines,” he adds.
Yet just as the natural wine movement was gaining steam, Ramón and Romina were shut out of Cais do Sodré. It was a tough blow. They couple decided to go to Argentina for a year-long break (Romina is originally from Buenos Aires). “When we returned to Lisbon we realized we wanted to continue running our own business, so we started to look for a location,” Ramón explains.
On the same day, different friends of theirs mentioned that a space in Penha de França was available to rent. “We visited and were immediately convinced, we liked the idea of moving to the neighborhood. When we started in 2011 as a neighborhood café, we felt the same thing, but over time Cais do Sodré lost that feeling. So when we decided to reopen we were looking for that connection,” he adds.
“It feels really good to be here, like there’s more time, less running around,” says Romina. “And we started seeing people that used to go to [our location in] Cais do Sodré and now they come here – they live in this area so are quite happy with our move.”
Romina is the force behind Tati’s creative menu. An IT specialist, she came to work in Lisbon initially for one year but ended up moving to the city for good in 2012 (Ramón moved to the city, where he worked as a sound technician, in 2006). By chance one day a friend ask her to do empanadas for an event in a bar: “I did hundreds – I can’t remember the exact amount – but suddenly they were sold out.” After such a successful event, she did some dinners with the Renovar a Mouraria association and then found that Café Tati was hiring in 2015. She fell in love with the place, and later with Ramón.
She works mainly with seasonal vegetables and fish, as well as lesser-used cuts of meat and offal. Her liver with kimchi is very clever, as is her toast topped with sardines marinated in Jerez vinegar and comté cheese (using bread from TerraPão). Some of our recent favorites include the meat empanadas that Romina does beautifully (and were a big success at Comida Independente’s farmers’ market in January, just before the lockdown) and the fried rice with asparagus. The menu changes weekly and reflects what’s fresh and in season. “It’s more dynamic now than it used to be in Cais do Sodré,” Romina says, “so we’re leaving behind the café style” – hence the change in the name.
They also want to spotlight their wine selection, which is 50 percent Portuguese bottles. The other half is made up of wines from Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Germany and Greece. “We maintain close relationships with the local producers, we know them and we visit them. There’s really a community feeling within the natural wine world, connecting producers and consumers,” says Ramón.
“We’re not a café, and we’re not a wine bar. I guess we would like to be a tasca but we’re not really, so we’re half tasca, half bistrot,” he jokes.
The lockdown, from January until April, gave Romina the opportunity to test some dishes via takeaway; kits that people assembled at home were especially successful. The empanadas, vegetables with romesco, and oyster pataniscas (fritters) were also popular.
Now that the city is coming back to life, Tati opens at 1 p.m. for lunch on the weekend. But from Wednesday to Friday, they only open in the evening (starting at 5 p.m.). “After lockdown we think this is the best schedule,” says Ramón. “But we have many projects in the wings, and we want to continue the cultural side of Tati, with music, exhibitions and more.” Better to book a table, especially on the weekends or if you want to sit on their attractive terrace.
Ramón and Romina put in a lot of work to refurbish the corner shop, which used to be a snack bar. They kept the chairs and an old scale but most of the furniture and counter is new (with a few decorations, including a literary map of Portugal, brought from the original location). But despite the new space, the atmosphere is reminiscent of Café Tati in its prime: a quiet, leisurely environment where you can enjoy a meal and sip good wine.