Spent a week in Lisbon in mid-February (plus an overnight trip to Porto). My first time there in thirty years!
To get the big names out of the way first: was not impressed with Cervejaria Ramiro. We went at about 5:30pm on our last day (Sunday), were seated immediately, but there were at least twenty people waiting when we left. Oysters had a good flavour but adductor muscle wasn’t severed, some shell fragments, and a day later I had food poisoning (thankfully after the flight), for which this is the prime culprit. Prawns we expected to be shelled and in garlic butter like at other tables, but they arrived cold; it was difficult to get them out of the shell, because they were overcooked. Clams (ameijoas de Bulhao Pato) were good. With garlic bread and a half-bottle of vinho verde, about €50.
We fared better at Taberna da Rua das Flores, weekday lunch. We arrived early but there were still tables when we left. Most remote service we had, though not neglectful, just distant. Sardine handrolls to start, curry of pombo (? white-fleshed fish) and shrimp, magret de pato with port wine sauce and red fruits. Tasty and reasonably priced. I can see why everyone lists it.
The best meal we had was probably at Tasca da Esquina, way out in Campo de Ouriques. Sautéed shrimps in garlic sauce, sautéed squid with mushrooms, fresh cod carpaccio with matchstick potatoes and fried egg (brought to the table layered before being taken back to the kitchen for the final mix). Every dish was terrific. I saw large and delicious-looking plates of bacalhau à bras and bowls of ameijôas going by. If we’d gone there earlier, I would have gone back.
A close second was our tasting menu at Os Gazeteiros, in the Alfama. Six market-driven courses for €35 in a small space with an open kitchen. It reminded me of places I’ve eat at in Paris. More vegetable-intense than other meals we had, quite inventive, and very tasty. Modest wines by the glass.
Nice lunch at Bairro do Avillez, one of several José Avillez restaurants, this one split into several areas. We sat in the Taberna. Jamón iberico bellota, exploding olives (cheapest molecular gastronomy I’ve ever had), spicy horse mackerel tartare hand roll, beef cheeks with purée, salt cod with cornbread and chorizo crumbs. Avillez-branded house rosé was good.
We had a bit of an odd meal at Henrique Sa Pessoa’s Tapisco. We went early and were seated at the bar, despite all the tables being empty. There was one other couple at the bar. At least it had a proper full foot ledge and decent chairs with backs! More jamón iberico bellota; tuna tartare with avocado and wasabi “tobiko” (more molecular gastronomy); and good patatas bravas. Focus was on cocktails but I opted for a glass of local vermut, one of several highlighted. If it hadn’t been five in the afternoon, I would have gone for the paella negra, but we wouldn’t have been able to finish it.
We did better at his place Balçao in the Experiência Gastronômia on the 7th floor of El Corte Ingles. This consists of an upscale food and wine display (rather overblown, and one can get many of the same products in a more reasonable atmosphere in the large supermarket in the basement) and a number of outposts of various local places or designed by local chefs. This is possibly the best food I have ever had in a department store food court (perhaps not saying much, but that includes Japanese depatchika). I had sea bass with coriander clam rice (nice citrus foam on top); my partner had slow-cooked pork belly in reduction with turnip greens and potato crisps. Ordered at counter, served at nearby table. I think the Time Out food court at the Mercado do Ribiera is trying for a similar effect, but I was pretty disappointed in it.
Of the handful of downscale meals we had, it is worth mentioning the €12 set lunch at Carmo Restaurante, across the square from the ruined convent of the same name. I had chickpea and salt cod salad, stewed squid over purée, choice of traditional dessert, coffee, and a glass of wine. Quite a bargain! We also enjoyed our lunch at Zé dos Cornos, where we were the only people who didn’t speak Portuguese. Nearly everyone was having the grilled pork ribs with fries, as did my partner, but I had a huge grilled squid. With bottled water and a half-bottle of house red, €24. We were chatted up by the lively family next to us, who were regulars. Go early; fifteen minutes after they opened, we got one of the last places.
Choices seemed more limited in Porto, but we enjoyed our dinner at Flor de Congregados, the only place where the server took the trouble to explain the entire menu to us, and the highlights of the wine list. They had a 1996 Douro by the glass for €5! It took fifteen minutes of waiting and periodic vigourous swirling to open it up, but it was well worth it. Traditional food, in an old stone cellar.
We also had a good lunch on the waterfront in Vila Nova de Gaia, at de Castro Gaia in the Espace Porto Cruz, another place with a big name as executive chef. Good tapas, nice wines by the glass (many ports, of course) and the best bacalhau à bras we had on the trip.
I have photos of all the meals if anyone wants to see any of them.