Article written by Ann Abel for Forbes
This year is not a good one to be a restaurateur. But some of Lisbon’s best and brightest have shown remarkable flexibility in reacting to this new abnormal. Whether they were about to celebrate their first anniversary when covid-19 arrived, or they were just weeks old at the time, they managed to hold on—some with delivery or packaged products—and tweak their offering when they were able to reopen.
Truth be told, I was planning to publish this annual-ish list in March. Now some of these restaurants aren’t quite so new—but I’d contend that time stopped for several months this year. And this list doesn’t include two of my most favorite, more unconventional food experiences right now, which are hidden in small hotels. All that said, these are in alphabetical order.
Inspired by the audacity of the Portuguese and the local food products—but with a lot of global influences—chef Manuel Lino (who passed through the starry kitchens of El Celler de Can Roca and Mugaritz) aims to be an innovator. The reopening of Audaz allowed him to add lunch menus, create a weekend brunch, and perfect dishes like chicken liver buns with kimchi mayonnaise, roasted tomato salad with fresh cheese and coriander, and, for brunch, fried chicken and waffles. Although the original restaurant-bar-hybrid concept had to change, the executive bar chef, André Peixe still turns out his inventive craft cocktails. There’s also a new fado show on Tuesdays, and other performances throughout the month.
Francisco Gomes was inspired by the bars in Spain where everyone would sit around one counter when he created Barra. Soon after opening in winter, they were busy in the evenings with food lovers and at lunchtime with some of the more adventures office workers in the neighbourhood. Soon after that, they were shut. They reopened as an intimate restaurant for just one group at a time, from four to seven people. (If you’re just two and don’t mind eating early, they might be able to manage an extra seating for the same very reasonable per-person price.) The seven-course tasting menu changes all the time, though it’s usually heavy on Portuguese seafood—for me, that meant dishes like a Sado oyster with fermented watermelon and cucumber and a nicely spicy octopus taco.
Bistro Bicho Mau
The funny name is a reference to the childhood of Rita Gama, one of the chefs at this unassuming spot in Campo de Ourique. She runs the place with her partner in life and in business, Tomás Andrade Rocha, making the restaurant one of the rare places in Lisbon that has a chef couple as equal partners. (The two met as cooks at Kiko Martins’s Cevicheria and went on to work at an esteemed restaurant in Nice.) They work behind the small counter that separates the kitchen from the casual dining room, which is a bit reminiscent of a French bistro, but with more plants on the ceiling. Their playful, frequently changing menu is based on what looks good at the market. Within months of opening last year, they gained a reputation for their flavorful steak tartare and a few curiosities: “The pig that wanted to be a sheep” is pork belly prepared in a manner more typical for lamb, and “Kraken in the forest” is a perfectly tender squid served on a bed of wood and moss.
Dining at Eneko Lisboa is a theatrical production overseen by superstar Basque chef Eneko Axta. You enter between long red curtains, view the dining room, and then settle into a lounge where the first snacks are served—in my case, from a picnic basket in front of a tableau that includes a cow’s head on a dress dummy holding something that looks like a lollipop. The “picnic de bienvenida” included piquillo ice cream, smoke fish brioche, tartar of eggplant, and something that appeared on my souvenir menu simply as “hibiscus.” From there, you progress the dining room and chose between two tasting menus—long, or longer. For a less formal affair, the restaurant Basque, in the same building, has a menu of dishes meant for sharing.
It’s a simple recipe: animal protein plus fire—a return to the food of our distant ancestors. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Except that chef Alexandre Silva (who holds a Michelin star at Loco) and his deputies, Manuel Liebaut and Ronald Sim (who cooked at Burnt Ends in Singapore, widely considered the best fire restaurant in the world), make it seem effortless. The open kitchen has a collection of open flames, over which everything is cooked on grills, in small pots, in ovens, in a giant 80kg pot, and sometimes on a spit. (They go through a lot of wood.) That “everything” is top-quality national and organic products from small producers. Meat is obviously a star, but fish, seafood and vegetables shine too.
Before the pandemic, this small-but-powerful newcomer was racking up awards, for things like “best everyday restaurant” and “rising star chef.” It was a casual, neighbourhood place with most of the seats arranged around a counter, where cousins Carlos Afonso and Sérgio Frade hold court as they cook and host. When it reopened in the summer, it was with far fewer places at the counter and many more outdoors. The classic petiscos—“food they like to eat”—such as chickpeas with squid, codfish salad and duck escabeche taste at least as good outside. For main dishes, the seafood rice and duck rice remain the things to order.
This new Japanese restaurant is unapologetically luxurious. Uni, oysters, big fat red roe and dehydrated egg yolk are the ingredients for just one dish. It’s unctuous and sumptuous, a flavour bomb served on the half shell and flambéed at the table. Other dishes include elegant nigiri sushi, rich toro tartate, and noodles with uni, and much of it comes fresh from the nearby Mercado 31 de Janeiro. The restaurant opened last winter with an international team of chefs imported from Dubai, but after covid sent everyone home, it reopened with chef João Francisco Duarte (formerly of Bica do Sapato) at the helm. The quality didn’t suffer one bit.
Misc by Tartar-ia
Tartar-ia, a celebration of all things raw, was a mainstay of the Time Out Market. When dining there became less appealing, the owners, Maria Calheiros Machado and António Lemos, doubled down on their new venture. Misc takes tartare as a starting point, but the menu ranges over a miscellany of dishes, such as cheeseburgers made from aged beef, razor-clam rice and remarkably light eggplant croquettes. Many of the flavours reflect the proprietors’ international travels. The dining room is appealing and casual, with a long counter and seats by the window, facing the street.
Praia no Parque
This trendy restaurant-bar-nightclub hybrid in an architecturally significant, 1950s space in Parque Eduardo VII had just celebrated its first birthday when the world it paused. At first, it followed a concept of Food, Drinks, and Fun (not necessarily in that order), which might have begun with customers ordering the “I’m feeling lucky” option (after the Google search feature) at the long, golden-hued bar. It frequently ended with everyone dancing. In between, you came for the scene, but also the food—ranging, from delicate, elegantly presented ceviches and salads to hearty rice dishes, and then fish and especially luxury meats from all over the world. In today’s world, that bar has been turned into a sushi counter. The fun may be a bit more low-key, but the experience is no less enjoyable.
Taberna no Calhau
This homey little restaurant is the passion project of Alentejano architect-turned-chef Leopoldo Garcia Calhau. It’s filled with the furniture of an old tavern in Beja: mismatched tables with marble tops, benches in various sizes and shapes, pictures that fill the walls, and old suitcases. The menu consists of small dishes meant to be shared, such as Cabeça de Xara (pig’s head terrine), eggs with lamb’s brain, and an “Alentejaninha,” which combines a southern-style roasted pork cheek with the other elements a Porto-style francesinha. For lighter or less adventurous eaters, there’s a dish called “tomato, tomato, tomato,” delicious shrimp with finely chopped lupini beans, and an excellent dish of ceviche-style hake with lemon and olive oil, coriander sauce and a sous-vide egg. Shortly after the confinement this spring, the restaurant celebrated its first anniversary, and Calhau added a convivial wine bar next door, called Bla Bla Glu Glu.
In addition to choosing the very “before times” location of the cruise terminal, Marlene Vieira had also set out to create a high-end dessert bar, which would have been the first in Portugal. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have been compliant with our new health authority guidelines, so it’s on hold. Instead, Vieira reimagined everything to appeal to a local audience—starting with showcasing the best of Portuguese gastronomy and Portuguese products. At Zunzum, she brings a dessert sensibility to many of the dishes on the long, sharable menu, such as filhós de berbigão à bulhão pato, which look like the flower-shaped pastries from the north of Portugal, except filled with coriander, lemon and delicious little clams, and bacalhau tartlets, which look like cupcakes. She plans to open a fine-dining restaurant under her own name in the coming weeks.
Read the original article here.
Photo by Bicho Mau