Olá Lisboa! Where to eat in Lisbon
Out of all of Europe’s capital cities I’ve visited, few have exceeded expectations quite as much as Lisbon did on our recent trip. The contrast between Lisbon’s hilly landscape, historic architecture and Rio Tejo in the backdrop offer picture postcard views galore from the many ‘miradouros’ (lookout points) across town. The food scene is vibrant, diverse and thriving. Steep, narrow streets are filled with eateries of all sorts from old school petiscos bars (serving the Portuguese equivalent of Tapas) to cutting-edge, haute cuisine… artisanal bakeries to traditional churrascaria grills. Wash down all the food with local Portuguese wines – some of the most underrated out there. With over 250+ indigenous grape varieties to choose from, oenophiles are spoilt for choice, variety and value here.
And lets not forget the local Lisboetas – a friendly, easy-going and bohemian bunch…. always helpful, courteous and willing to engage in conversation. I forget how well the Portuguese speak English (a compulsory second language in school I was told by the locals). This makes getting around and assimilating in local culture a breeze. Cab drivers pointed us in the direction of their favourite restaurants. Waiters offered us insider tips on where to find the best pastel de nata. Bartenders waxed lyrical about their favourite wine regions. And whether it’s food or wine, accommodation or transport, everything was fantastic value for money. It’s no wonder the Portuguese capital has fast becoming one of my favourite long weekend destinations on the continent.
As is the norm, food chasing was top of the agenda this trip! Here’s a round up of some of the best eats and restaurants in Lisbon we came across.
The freshness, quality and range of seafood in Lisbon is extraordinary. And if there’s one seafood restaurant on everyone’s lips in Lisbon, it’s Cevejaria Ramiro. The sizzling garlic prawns and clams here were delish, but for me it’s all about Ramiro’s Carabineros. These ginormous, red scarlet prawns – chargrilled in olive oil and sea salt – are quite simply the sweetest, most succulent prawns I’ve had anywhere. Be prepared to pay about €13 a piece for these beauties (that’s still about 40% cheaper than anything you will find in London!). The umami-charged gold in those humongous prawns heads however are worth every cent. Be prepared to lick, suck, scrape and bread-mop every bit of prawn shell dry!
Foie Gras posing as Ferrero Roche… Beef tartare in an ice-cream cone… Exploding ‘olives’ El Bulli style. Strap in for a mindblogglingly delicious affair of petiscos at Mini Bar by Portugal’s top gun Jose Avillez. The dishes are fun, innovative and bound to make you feel like a 5 year old in a candy shop! There’s a great selection of cocktails and wines by the glass too.
Fancy a cheeky Nandos? If so, Bon Jardim’s signature spit-roast chicken (Frangos Assado) is the real deal. Cooked over red hot coals, the constant lick of flames over the spit imparts a wonderfully smoky flavour to the chicken. Be sure to order a side of their scrumptious Brazilian rice and brush loads of their killer piri piri sauce on before tucking in! Nandos will never taste the same again.
The crowning jewel of Jose Avillez’s restaurants, the 2 Michelin star Bel Canto is a match for any of the world’s best. The cuisine here is classic Chef Avillez – inspired, playful, mindbloggling yet totally delicious. We went for the ‘Taste of Lisbon” menu – a 7 course degustation of Avillez’s greatest hits. And great dishes throughout there were, including “the Goose that laid the golden egg” – a slow-cooked egg dish, wrapped in gold leaf and smothered in a combination of black truffle crispy bits of squid-ink infused bread. Up there with one of the best dishes I’ve every tasted anywhere on the planet.
72 hours in Lisbon. 11 Pasteis de Nata sampled. Old school Pasteis de Belem’s was still our favourite pastel of them all. Perhaps it’s because we had Belem’s fresh out of the oven first thing in the morning before hitting the obligatory sights nearby, but the crisp, buttery pastry here was just spot on. The custard still semi-set and oozy… not overly sweet. And a small dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar to finish off. That 180 year old recipe doesn’t lie and beats all of the rest we sampled, many of which were either too sweet (Manteigaria, Fabrica) or stone cold by the latter part of the day (Nacional). Aside from Belem’s, we also really enjoyed Pasteleria Aloma‘s excellent pasteis.
Ah Lisboa, how you have exceeded all expectations. We will most definitely be back again soon!