Thursday, 17 October 2013

Food outta London: Lisbon

Originally I planned on going to Lisbon as a mini incentive to get myself in gear to finish my PhD thesis. Such as life, I've just got busier and busier. Starting my own business (Gourmet Focus) maintaining a couple of blogs, while doing a thesis is apparently not great if you like spare time. All the same, 4 days in Lisbon with glorious sunshine, culture and food has put me in great mood for the final assault. It also included without doubt the best seafood experience I've ever had.

Pastéis de Belem

Going to Portugal without having a proper pastel de nata is paramount to sacrilege, and where better to get one (who am I kidding, it was just one) than Pastéis de Belem. Under the gaze of the Monastery is this pastry shop that tourists flock to like in quest for the holy grail. It is such a simple indulgence to go with a bica, a custard sat in a nest of puff with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top. The exact ingredients and proportions are a top secret however, apparently only 3 people in the world know it. For 1€ each, it's no surprise I ploughed through 4. I had to waddle it off, walking through the hilly streets of Lisbon. Get there early before the queues snake down the street.

How many is enough?
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Cervejara Ramiro
Avenida Almirante Reis 1, Intendente

Such is the seafood experience at Ramiro, I could easily fly here, eat and leave. It's not a fancy place, paper tablecloth and the service is definitely rapid, but it took me to a euphoric place for at least a few hours after. I'm still getting flashbacks

Staying in a hostel isn't great for finding people to eat with, as most are 'on a shoestring' (if I see another person reading that Lonely Planet book, I swear.....). I was lucky to 'drag' an Aussie from the hostel to come with me, thankfully she was a seafood fan cause there isn't much besides this except a steak sandwich (Prego). It's a place best experienced at with at least a couple of you and share dishes, they are huge. 
Ramiro is about 10 minutes walk from the city centre, it's not on the tourist trail, but such is it's reputation it gets full quick (Watch Anthony Bourdain's: No reservations, it definitely inspired me!). Get there early, we got there at 6.30pm, or expect to queue. By the time we left, just 45 minutes later(!), there was a already a line 20 deep.
Walking in your are confronted with a PETA nightmare, mounds of crustaceans still wriggling around, fresh off the boat

'Prawns to the left of me, crabs to the right, here I am....'
Instead of menus, we were given tablets with the menu that you could interact with and see exactly what each dish looked like, great idea as I had not heard t a few things. To begin with we got clams with white wine sauce and prawns in garlic. 
Within a few minutes of ordering BANG..BANG both dishes dropped down on the table at the rate of knots, several other dishes flying out of the kitchen, the waiters scattering everywhere but some how managing not to bump into one another, a beautiful chaos. 
Still sizzlingly, both dishes were a phenomenal start, the clams slightly sweet, so fresh, cooked in wine, with hint of lemon and garlic. Simple and delicious.

Gambas a la Aguillo
Amijoas a bulhao pato
Being quite adventurous I had to at least try the percebes (barnacles). I ordered a 'small amount', I didn't really know what to expect, and in Ramiro, except the clam and prawn dishes above, everything is ordered by weight. These were €54/kg, my bill tells me I got 100g worth. They arrived as little leathery sea penis on a plate still with seaweed and rock attached. All I could think was 'how the hell do I eat these things'. Clearly the waiter saw my clearly panic striken face, and demonstrated to rip the leather at the top then pull it off...obviously. Another floppy phallic mollusc was hidden underneath, perfectly for eating with someone you barely know. She didn't seem to mind, but I don't see them catching on here. The taste was little morsels of the sea, but were far too fiddly to make the most of.

Percebes - Barnacles
The carabineriras (Scarlet shrimp) was something I had been salivating for a while after and it did not disappoint. There is nothing to show scale, but it was about the same size as my hand. Saturated in butter, the taste was extraordinary, rich and sweet, and tender, a fair feat to cook a prawn that size well.

Carabinerios - Scarlet Shrimp
The giant tiger prawn was even bigger at 250g, by this point I'm so glad I've got an accomplice, the meat of the prawn quite dense and thick. The shear enormity of it is impressive, but does reach the taste and flavour heights of the others. That said, it still knocks the socks off all tiger prawns I've had in London.

Giant tiger prawn
Almost stuffed to the brim, many items still left to try on the menu, I couldn't face more giant sized crustaceans, so we just got a couple of oysters. Do they do anything of even average size, they were beasts like swallowing a whole tongue. A bit intimating, but down the hatchet with a bit of lemon, lovely.
Less than 45 minutes after sitting down that was that, paper table cloth crumbled up, and replaced with a new one, and a bill for €65 (about £55), between us. Hard to find, for that quality, beaten anywhere in Europe.

'Save me'
Cantinho do Avillez
Rua Duques de Bragança 7, Lisboa

José Avillez, is a chef held in high regard with 3 restaurants in Lisbon, one with a Michelin star, Belcanto. In fact he was recently brought over for a YoungandFoodish Burger Monday. Avillez, has a very modern approach to Portuguese cuisine, a couple of his starters included 'Marinated mackeral with cherrys' and 'Crab and guacamole cornetto'. The in-house made breads were brilliant, of different flavours and textures a crispy orange fried bread, corn bread, and a sourdough. Another aperitif, the olives with lemon zest were phenomenal, they really do get some great produce this side of the world.
For this lunch I just went for the '21st century professor style eggs' a play on a classic combo of eggs bacon and fried toast. The slow cooked eggs and bacon lardons were covered in sprinkles of grated fried bread that absorded the gooey rich yolk. The whites of the egg weren't quite cooked, a problem with sous vide as the yolk and the whites harden at close but different temperatures. Runny whites aren't a great texture and taste like runny yolks. The dish was incredibly rich, although it was lunch was well suited as my first meal of the day.
For mains was the dish of the day, Bacalhau (salt cod) with onions, tomatoes and potatoes, a typical humble portuguese dish. Although bacalhau is synonymous with Portugal, but most of the balcalhau is  not from here and is imported from Norway, and very rarely do they eat fresh cod in Portugal. With the little fried potato slices this was great comfort food, but didn't need more grated fried bread.
As a cantinho it's a very relaxed atmosphere, and wasn't very busy at lunch, but I hear you need to book in advance for a evening meal. It was probably the more centrally located of all the restaurants I went to, and €18 for 2 courses, is fantastic for this quality. Although dishes outside of the 'dish of the day' are escalating more to the London price range. Service was excellent, and the waiters suffered my limited Portuguese while they 'practiced' their already great English

Salsa e Coentros
Colonel Marques Leitão, 12 Lisbon (Alvalade)

Knowing a few people from Lisbon has it's advantages, especially for off the beaten path restaurants that I would have never expected to come across or try. None more-so than Salsa e Coentros in Alvalade, just south of the airport. Unfortunately,  the first time I went there it was all dark, big sign on the door 'FECHADO' (closed). Big mistake not checking if places are open or not on Sunday, not great considering it took 40 minutes to get to, including 15 minutes walk from the nearest underground. Turns out a lot were closed. Including 3 other recommended restaurants I had traipsed across the city to get to, thankfully my last point of call Cruzes Crudo (below) was open just in time before I entered a hypoglycemic rage.

Finally, I managed to get to get there the next day. Even on a Monday night it was packed full of families and locals. Glad I made a reservation this time. Salsa e Coentros in English is Parsely & Coriander, they use them to great effect in many of their dishes. It's not complex cuisine of any type, just really good produce, cooked really well. I had a whole plate of pata negra da pluma (similar to the iberico pig), 6 pieces of medium pluma, wow, that was quite a sight, and for €10 euros just ridiculous, no wonder it is always so busy! To go with it I had a tremendous 'Encosta do Sobral 2011 Reserva' €12 a bottle! When can I move here?
Although I should have probably gone for something for adventurous, but at this price I couldn't help but be drawn to a large portion of meat. 
Service was excellent. Make an effort with the language, and they seem more than happy to help improve it. Love this place, and can see why it was so highly recommended

Cruzes Credo
Rua Cruzes da Se, 29 - Alfama

After the debacle of finding a decent place open on a Sunday night, luckily I had a back up plan of Cruzes Credo, a cosy little restaurant in the old part of Lisbon, Alfama, next to the cathedral. It's a very understated place, but somewhere if you don't want to spend alot of money have some great food, and some drinks. I had the octopus, clearly the kitchen had great influence in stacking things high. A huge amount of octopus, stacked high on chorizo, roast potatoes, cabbage and onions. A great combination and while the potatoes were overlooked, the star of the dish was the octopus, that I've had far too often overcooked, was nice and tender. Octopus is such an under appreciated seafood, but I can't get enough for it. 

Getting back to drizzly London after the sun and beaches of Lisbon and it's surrounding areas it's going to be hard to get back to work. If you haven't been, go, it's one of my favourite European cities. Not just the food either, it has a great nightlife culture especially in the Barrio Alto region, narrow roads with bars open until the early hours, people drinking on the street. If you are looking for somewhere to stay I highly recommend Traveller's House, a great hostel more sorted to an older (late 20s, early 30s) crowd. Ask me nicely and I might tell you how to get to one of the most beautiful secret beach in Portugal

Praia da Ursa
Até breve


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