I don’t expect to fall in love with Lisbon but I fall as hard as a swooning Regency heroine. This compact, decoratively crumbling city has the lot: swooping views down to the sea, evocative architecture and, most importantly for me, a thriving bar and restaurant scene.
is the Tivoli Lisboa on the stately Avenida da Liberdade. At first
its blocky exterior isn’t rocking my world, but it grows on us in a big way.
The hotel’s Sixties look is rather groovy, baby; the sprawling lobby bar makes
you feel like you’re in an episode of The Avengers. And amenities are 100% 21st
Terraço, the hotel restaurant, is a serious
destination in its own right – the eponymous terrace is a magnet for the city’s
beautiful people. Chef Adelaide Fonseca fuses traditional Portuguese recipes
with contemporary flair: our meal is stunning, from delicately fried fish –
reminding us it was the Portuguese who introduced tempura to Japan – to
cataplana, the famous fish stew popular on the Algarve, dotted with coriander
and fish-stuffed ravioli, to a reinvention of sericaia, a fluffy, meringue-y
hybrid of soufflé and sweet omelette.
have an unashamedly sweet tooth – just think of the famous custard tarts. There
are a couple of justifiably renowned cafés in the centre of town but they’re on
every tourist’s radar. We’re headed to the business district of Saldanha and
Café Versailles (Av. da Republica 15, 00351 21 354 6340). Excuse me while I
catch my breath; this is the most beautiful Art Nouveau café I’ve ever seen –
Paris, eat your heart out. Vast, wood-panelled, mirrored and many-chandeliered,
with formally attired waiters and acres of twinkling cabinets groaning with
every cake you’ve ever imagined; it’s jaw-droppingly lovely. We have been
warned that the Lisbon waiter default mode is grouchy, but they couldn’t be
more heavenly. Nor could the thick hot chocolate, muffiny queques, and pastéis
de nata either.
Pedroso and Lucy Pepper, authors of the newly published Eat Portugal, take us
to Ramiro, a seafood lover’s fetish parlour, every
surface piled with sea creatures and a basement rammed with tanks where crabs
blow leisurely bubbles until it’s time to meet their fate. I’m a huge fan of
Portuguese wine anyway but it truly comes into its own when served with
mountains of langoustines, oysters, salt cod croquettes, clams, sizzling,
garlicky prawns, an oddly mean steak sandwich, and ripe, silky Portuguese cured
more upscale is Tavares. This is Belle Epoque at its most gilded,
making Café Versailles look positively minimalist. It’s like eating inside a
jewellery box. The Michelin-starred chef clearly decided his cooking should
match the sensory overload of the surroundings: if there’s a ludicrous spin on
a traditional dish, he’s there – dehydration, spherification and
miniaturisation a go-go. He’s now moved on; I do hope the latest incumbent lets
the surroundings and quality of the ingredients tell their own story.
do at Restaurante Solar dos Nunes. When we arrive for dinner, one
exclusively male table is just finishing lunch and taking receipt of what
appear to be minihamburger petit fours. Oh, yes please. There’s nothing foofy,
just vast amounts of rustic, Alentejo-accented food: ham and whole, oozing
sheep’s milk cheeses while you look at the menu; a steaming cast-iron cauldron
of pap açorda – like a collision between bread sauce, Tuscan panzanella and
Mediterranean fish stew; game birds and hunks of beef.
it’s against the law – and if not it should be – to leave Lisbon without a
visit to Pastéis de Belém, near the Jerónimos monastery. Here in this
cool, traditionally tiled interior, the pastel de nata reaches its apotheosis.
Pretentious? Maybe. But I’m prepared to bet it’s the best custard tart anyone
has ever tasted.
much more to love in Lisbon. I love the vintage wooden number 28 tram that
takes you everywhere you’ll want to go (especially the evocative old Arab
quarter, Alfama), guided by surly drivers, rattling along its tracks like some
kind of emphysemic rollercoaster. I love the kiosks in the open spaces that
sell Portuguese cheesecakes and recherché tinctures and cordials. And the wine
bars, such as Chafariz do Vinho, that spring up in unlikely places like this
old aqueduct with its miles of subterranean tunnels. Or the psychedelic dream
interior of Pavilhão Chines. And I adore the ginjinha
purveyors, teeny holes-in-the-wall that cluster round the main squares selling
powerful cherry aguardente totally unique to Lisbon. You ask for it ‘with’ or
‘without’ – cherries, of course – and nobody bats an eyelid if you neck a few
first thing in the morning. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get around
to this enchanting city. But I’m so, so coming back.
The article 'Postcard from Lisbon, Portugal' was published in partnership with BBC Olive magazine.