Snails, lupins, custard tarts and a heady tot of Ginjinha, but let’s maybe pass on the Piri-Piri.... welcome to the gastronomic challenges of Lisbon...
1 Let’s start with a swift gulp of the Ginjinha. There’s nowhere better to sample the cherry flavoured liqueur than A Ginjinha do Rossio. Locals crowd into this tiny bar on Praça de São Domingos near Rossio station in the Baixa district. The tipple is made by infusing sour cherry in Portuguese brandy (aguardente) and adding sugar with other ingredients. It is served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup.
2 After that head off west towards the old Moorish quarter of Alfama or east up the hill to the Bairro Alto and you’re bound to find a taverna selling heaps of Snails as bar nibbles with a Sagres or Super Bock beer. Lever out the little fellows with a toothpick or get up close and suck them out, piling up the empty shells on your plate.. June to August is the season. Look for signs proclaiming: Há caracóis (“We have snails!”)
3 You are never far away from the irresistible sizzle of roasting Chestnuts on the streets of Lisbon. I burnt my mouth dipping in too quickly to a bag full bought from a stall at the foot of the Elevador da Gloria. This handy funicular links the flat Baixa with the heights of the Bairro Alto and the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, which offers one of the best city views across to Sao Jorge Castle.
4 These heady heights also mean Port. The Rua São Pedro de Alcântara is home to the Lisboa Solar, operated by the Port Institute IVDP. It is easy to walk past the grey facade of No 45 but peep in and you’ll find a civilised, almost contemplative place to worship Portugal’s national drink – white comfy armchairs, floor to ceiling wine rack and diligent waiters. Over 100 Ports are served by the glass, from 40 different producers with vintages dating back to the 1960s.
45 Rua de São Pedro de Alcantara, +351-21-347-5707, this link
5 Only five minutes from the Solar is another wine shrine (to the country’s table wines) in a jail-like converted 18th century water store. The Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho is tucked away off a series of steepling steps. Outside there’s barely a sign; inside is equally disorienting. You enter this unique Vinoteca past the kitchen. They were clearing up after an afternoon party and the proprietor, a celebrated Portuguese wine critic, was reluctant to let me in. A waitress pleaded my cause and I happily nibbled a recommended local sheep’s cheese called Azeitao, washed down with a duo of delectable Douro reds.
Enoteca Chafariz do Vinho, Rua da Mae d'Agua a Praca da Alegria
6 The Bairro Alto segues into the posher Chiado area with its elegant streets and squares. Here you’ll find two contrasting places to drink. The Cafe A Brasileira opened in 1905 as a shop to sell Brazilian coffee but customers so enjoyed its bicas (small espresso cups) that it was soon remodelled as a cafe. Behind the ornate green and gold facade you’ll find an Art Deco riot of gilt mirrored walls, polished wood and brass. Nice terrace on the square, too. Equally visually impressive is A Cervejaria Trinidade. It’s on the 700-year-old site of the Holy Trinity Monastery (it was destroyed by fire in 1708 and again by the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755). In the 19th century it was rebuilt as a brewery and today’s bar was created. The old refectory walls are covered in Masonically-inspired painted tiles, while another room features vivid panels representing the four seasons. Traditional Portuguese menu, including fresh seafood, but I just settled for the draught Guinness, which was excellent.
Cafe A Brasileira, Largo do Chiado
Cervejaria Trinidade, Rua Nova da Trinidade. www.cervejariatrindade.pt
7 More monkish inspiration behind Lisbon’s culinary icon – the Pasteis de Belem. It’s a sweet egg custard tart baked in a phyllo-dough casing, creamy and crispy, dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Known as Pasteis de Nata across the Portuguese speaking world, for centuries it was baked at Belem’s Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (today a UNESCO World Heritage Site); in 1837 the fathers handed over their secret recipe to commercial bakers. Aficonados will insist there’s only one place to sample it – the Antiga Confeitaria, only 200m from the Mosteiro. At weekends you’ll have to queue to get into this atmospheric cafe. It’s worth it, these are top tarts.
Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, 84 Rua de Belém, pasteisdebelem.pt
8 An equally popular but different kind of Pasteis, do Bacalhau, showcases another Lisbon staple – Salt Cod. These little pies are often served as petiscos (tapas), prefereabl I think to the traditional cold salt cod salad served with raw onions, garlic and olive oil.
9 Rarer nibbles in Lisbon these days are Tremoços (Lupins), referred to by the locals as “poor man’s seafood”. These fibre-full, low-calorie seeds are served, sometimes salted or with garlic and oil, like peanuts to accompany a cold beer. Ask for an “Imperial com Tremoços”. Expect to be offered them if you visit the Casa do Alentejo restaurant and cultural centre inside a beautiful 17th century palace.
Casa do Alentejo, Rua das portas de Santo Antão 58
10 Nandos. Yes I’ve written it. The global champions of chicken cooked in Piri-Piri sauce are South African but the original Piri-Piri (the word is Swahili) or African bird’s eye peppers were shipped from Brazil to Angola and Mozambique by Portuguese explorers and the sauce is synonymous with the Portuguese, many of whom sprinkle bottles of the hot stuff on everything from fried potatoes to shellfish. In Lisbon you’ll get the signature dish if you ask for Frango no Churrasco (barbecued chicken). Oh and it probably won’t cauterise your tastebuds! I'll still pass when there are more delicate gustatory experiences to be had (see below)
Six restaurants I recommend:
A Feiteria, Altis Belem Hotel &Spa, Doca de Bom Sucesso (this link) Chic globally-influenced restaurant, which retained its Michelin star for 2013. Book chef José Cordeiro’s “creative signature dish menu” 48 hours in advance. The boutique hotel itself is a qiet base to see the city, just a 10-minute train ride from the centre.
Deli Delux, Armazem B, Avenida Dom Henrique Graça (handily opposite Santa Apolonia rail station). Enticing grocery/wine shop with casual restaurant at back. Great brunch spot with low mark-ups on wine. www.delidelux.pt
Tasca da Esquina, Rua Domingos Sequeira, 41 C Campo de Ourique (www.tascadesquina.com). The kind of neighbourhood restaurant every neighbourhood should have. Stylish and playful and that includes the food.
Largo, Rua Serpa Pinto, n.10 – Chiado (www.largo.pt). Quality take on traditional food, buzzing atmosphere in a converted cloister beside the opera house. Some surrealistic decor details.
Bica do Sapota, Av. Infante D. Henrique – Armazem B., Cais da Pedra – Santa Apolonia (www.bicadosapato.com). Retro minimalist decor with kind of crowd that crave “the scene”, but food and service are excellent. John Malkovich is one of the owners.
Further afield – reached by coastal train to Cascais (and taxi ride) the Michelin-starred Fortaleza do Guincho at the beachside hotel of that name. Glorious French cuisine with a Portuguese accent from head chef Antoine Westermann. www.guinchotel.pt
TAP Portugal flies daily from Manchester to Lisbon. For further information and to book visit www.flytap.com or call 0845 601 0932.
For Lisbon tourism information: www.golisbon.com
A Lisbon Card offers free or discounted entrance to more than 80 Lisbon museums, sights, and tours, including the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Free transport includes all trips on the Metro, public buses and the famous yellow trams. From €18.50 (€11.50 children) for a 24 hour card.
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