Saturday, 17 June 2017

Lisbon Highlights

Jacaranda Tree in Lisbon

When you live in London, as I do, you never take it for granted when you wake up in another city each morning to sunny skies.  Lisbon is one of my cities of choice for banishing the grey and revelling in the blue.  The Jacaranda trees were at their best on our visit, highlighting just how much the few trees I know of in London struggle with our climate.  The scent released from the flowers is so much stronger too.  You don't have to go to the Jardim do Botanico to see these in Lisbon - which is just as well as it's currently undergoing some much needed tlc - Jacaranda trees are everywhere.  I've written about Lisbon before (links below) so I'll keep this brief and mostly about eating and drinking.

Street view from Garrafeira Alfaia, Lisbon

For a glass of good Portuguese wine from an extensive selection of regional wines by the glass (copo)  or bottle in a typical Lisbon-style bar head for the Bairro Alto and the tiny Garrafeira Alfaia at Rua Diário de Notícias, 125.  You can get a few small plates of food here too including expertly carved Pata Negra and Portuguese cheeses.  There's a recently opened small restaurant across the street which has the same owner.  We didn't need it on this trip but just down the street at No 83 is The Old Pharmacy which came recommended for wine and small plates.

For fresh shellfish, everyone goes to Cerverjaria Ramiro but 20 minutes in a hot, crowded holding pen with a token-operated beer tap on the steamiest of nights (no the water misters didn't help) was enough to send us hot-footing it to Sol e Pesca.  This tiny unchanging former fishing tackle shop still hits the spot when all you want is a cold Super Bock beer, or glass of Vinho Verde, a few plates of quality tinned fish and a basket of bread.  Close to the heaving Cais do Sodré riverside in Baixa-Chiado, we found the young, energetic staff as welcoming as ever.

Meeting up with a friend one night we headed to Bairro do Avillez in Chiado for a late dinner. Owned by Chef José Avillez, who has two Michelin stars at his Belcanto restaurant, it sounded promising.  There is more than one style of restaurant in this Avillez complex on Rua Nova da Trinidad.  We ate at the Taberna which was buzzy and, once again, you needed to be patient.  We were, but was it worth the wait?  Small dishes of XL Exploding Olives and Spicy Pork Skin "Popcorn" were less exciting than they sound.  I chose pretty well with a dish of Salt Cod with a Chorizo Crumb and onion cream, and the Douro wine was delicious, but a Tuna Steak looked overcooked, and Pluma Alentejano definitely was.  The bill for three came to around Euros 80. Maybe the Pateo, which specialises in fish and seafood would have suited us better but it wasn't offered.  Neither did we qualify for the walk down the "hidden passageway" to Beco - Gourmet Cabaret.  I notice the dress code is "casual chic" and the atmosphere "exclusive, bohemian and sophisticated"!  If that's what you want, you'll need to book.

We lunched on plump, fresh Sardinhas at old Lisbon-style Marisqueira O Palácio in Largo de Alcântara.  It's very simple and traditional.  You'll be lunching with locals, and it's value for money - less than Euros 30 including service for two for starters and main plus coffee - and you won't leave hungry.

Carapau (Atlantic Horse Mackerel)
at Horacio e Teresa's, Mercado de Alvalade Norte, Lisbon

Our best lunch came thanks to a trip to Mercado de Alvalade Norte, the local food market in the north of the city.  After watching a magnificent Atum (Tuna) being expertly 'butchered', we found Horacio e Teresa's fish stall displaying beautiful Linguado (Sole), large Peixe Galo (John Dory) and Tamboril (Monkfish) proudly offered with their liver intact to show freshness.  Who better to ask where to lunch on fresh, simply cooked fish?  A place they supply, of course.

Linguado at 
Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijao, Lisbon

And so we arrived at Restaurante Grelha Dom Feijão, about 15 minutes walk south on Avenida de Roma.  Don't be put off by the  commercial location.  Walk up to the first floor and you'll find the restaurant with a peaceful outside terrace well populated by locals and business people.  Get there early or book for an outside table.  The menu is not in English but the staff will help you.  The usual house dishes, always brought to table for eating or rejecting, are not to be ignored here - melting Beef Croquettes, crisp pastry Chicken Pies, excellent olives and bread. Whole grilled Sole (that Linguado) served with bitter greens, broccoli and particularly good potatoes, both plain boiled and baked in their skins with olive oil and salt.  A bottle of completely delicious house wine, Monte Velho from Alentejo, and Espresso to finish brought the bill to Euros 54 for two.  Great value for money and a place I'd definitely go back to.

Pasteis de Nata
at Cafe Manteigaria

There was Pasteis de Nata, of course, and no need to go out to Belem specially for them this time. Cafe Manteigaria in Chiado bakes on the premises from 08.00-24.00.  There's a stretch of stand-up bar where you can watch the bakers make the custard tarts while you eat one still warm from the oven.  Now, if they could only get the coffee right it would be perfect.

Sorry, but good coffee is important to me and this time we found it in Lisbon at Copenhagen Coffee Lab Lisbon.  I make no apologies for it not being Portuguese, though our love of this find could partly be explained by our discovery of a former Monmouth Coffee manager serving up the shots expertly.  This is also a great place for breakfast when you just can't take another Pasteis de Nata, however good.  You'll find it on Rua Nova Piedade, mid-way between the Museu Nacional de Historia Natural e de Ciencia/Jardim Botanico and Praça São Bento.  

Street Tiling

Tiling is hard to ignore in Lisbon and if you have the slightest interest then head for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (tile museum) in the cloister of a 14th century convent to see a collection going back five centuries.  We didn't take the tram to Belem on this visit but if you haven't been, you should go for the spectacular UNESCO listed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos; the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to honour Portugal's great explorers, and Museo Coleccao Berardo Belem for the collection of modern art.  While there you'd have to try the Pasteis de Nata at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, though it is much more of a tourist attraction these days than it used to be.

Artwork by Maria José Oliveira
at Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes, Lisbon

Interesting temporary exhibitions may be found at the Sociedade Nacional De Belas-Artes on the Rua Barata Salgueiro, just off the Avenida de Liberdade where we saw 40 Anos de Trabalho by Maria José Oliveira and por entre arvores a linked exhibition of ink drawings by Carol Archer and image and text works by Kit Kelen.

Detail of 'Peacock and Hunting Trophies' by J Weenix 1708
at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
Above all, find time for the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian close to Praça de Espanha.  A fine way to end a visit to Lisbon - just allow enough time for this one.

Trams on Elevador da Gloria, Lisbon

Places we didn't get to on this visit and wish we had:
A Taberna da Rua das Flores in Chiado/Cais do Sodré.  We went five years ago and such is its popularity now we have never been able to get back in.  Book ahead or be prepared for a long wait.
Tagide Restaurant and Tagide Wine & Tapas in Chiado - because everybody mentions them.
Bairro Alto Hotel Rooftop Bar - for the views.

We did finally go to LX Factory in Alcantara (on the way to Belem) and were disappointed to find it was, to our eyes, less about artisan makers than it was about places to hang out.  Lots of eating and drinking opportunities here.  If you like the atmosphere of Ropewalk in London's Bermondsey ('Maltby Street Market'), this may appeal.

Link to Previous Lisbon Post:
Lisbon - Autumn 2015
Lisbon - Summer 2012