Sintra and O Cantinho de Portugal on Stockwell Road [London]
When I first moved to London I was consistently going to Brixton every Saturday for groceries. I also happened to have so little money that I couldn't afford a Zones 1-2 travel card... So I found myself on the 2 bus to Brixton for a hell of long time every weekend and each ride would see me pass a strip of Portugese businesses extending roughly from Vauxhall to Brixton with the largest being O Cantinho de Portugal. My Chowhound post on this was pretty much shot down by a horde of "London doesn't have good Portugese food" posts, but what the hell. Here goes.
The five of us first walked down and went to the obvious choice of O Cantinho. Ordering purely off their specials we ended up getting a clam dish, grilled octopus and roasted baby pig.
The clams were pretty good. Nice, light and super simple. Tasty little vongole, though they were undoubtedly frozen not fresh. The octopus was good and a complaint about its chewiness was voiced, but most of it seemed pretty tender. Nice char on the tentacles and decent potatoes. The liquid on the plate seemed vaguely similar to that of the clam dish. The pork was the star of this meal, though the skin lacked that perfect level of crispiness. Very good flavor on the pork and the skin, but texture wasn't perfect. It did come with some nice home made crisps though!
We then walked down only to remember that O Cantinho is basically the end of the Portugese stretch and upon backtracking we spotted a glorious little restaurant that was so covered in scaffolding that it looked out of business. Sinta sits more or less opposite O Cantinho and completely explains why a decent place like O Cantinho was completely empty on a Saturday. Sintra is pretty much amazing, at last from what we ordered. The interior screams Southern Europe and the customers are pretty much 100% Portugese. Prices are lower than across the road and the house wine is 5 quid a pitcher. And drinkable!
What seemed like dessert was soon transformed into three entrees (two of the same though), a pitcher of wine, dessert and coffee. We ordered two portions of a Jewish sausage and bean stew dish which ended up being served separately. This dish was basically what Jews across the whole of the Iberian peninsula cooked on the Sabbath as it could be simmered without striking a flame indefinitely. After that whole Isabella and Ferdinand complication occurred this dish became considerably less noticeable in Spain, but apparently it's going strong in the north of Portugal where much of the nation's Jews ended up moving to escape persecution. Ok, back to the food. This sausage was perfect. The taste was beautiful and smokey with so much flavor that you almost wondered (Limster actually did wonder) whether it contained pork in the end. The outside was crisp while the inside's texture could best be compared to a good shami kebab. The entire thing was topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg and surrounded by pickled vegetables which I found very reminiscent of the pickled vegetable antipasti that you generally get in Algerian places. The accompanying bean stew ended up being an extremely thick and flavorful amalgamation of black eyed peas and what I think was kale. Correct me if it was spinach, but I'm 99% sure it was kale. It worked very well when eaten together with the sausage (and I made an awesome soup out of the leftovers of it.)
Our other dish was cow hoof stewed in chickpeas. Also very delicious with excellent flavor yet an interestingly light feeling. Keep in mind, both of these dishes are super heavy but they still somehow came through with a surprising lightness. The chickpeas were practically glazed with beef gelatin and were pretty tasty in their own right while the beef was definitely re-orderable.
Our three desserts were a passion fruit pudding, what was effectively a flan and a very simple rice pudding. I'd rate the passion fruit weakest with a bit of a harsh taste and a very large number of bubbles (plus a slight surface char) that might have pointed to over cooking. The flan was pretty good if thicker than usual and I really liked the super simple cinnamon heavy rice pudding.
And the esspresso was pretty good at a pound each a double.
Each meal came to about 10 pounds a person and the second one was pretty much unfinishable in it's sheer weight and vastness (particularly after O Cantinho) despite my best efforts.
Thanks for the report. Sintra is a fifteen minute walk from my house so must check it out soon. Interesting that you went to two places in Brixton, when it's the stretch between Stockwell and Vauxhall that is more "famous" for Portuguese food. I have heard that Rebato is particularly good.
The pork comment was more directed at the generous vegetable side dish (spinach or kale with black eye peas, I thought it was spinach). I'm pretty sure it's not 100% vegetarian and I think we all agreed that some sort of animal fat was involved. The sausage is totally worth traveling for. The food we had at Sintra was quite different from the stuff I had in Lisbon, more meat, less seafood. We even got by without any bacalao.
It should be added that I was surprised at just how authentic this little place is. The wall is lined with azulejos, everyone else there was portuguese. Even the espresso at the end was Delta coffee with a packet of sugar from Portugal.
My Portuguese wife commented that going to this place Sintra was like walking through a Portal, being teleported and landing directly inside a random "cafe/bar" in the North of Portugal.
greedygirl: From what I can tell Rebato seems to be Spanish?
Have you been to The Gallery on Brixton Hill? That's like a little bit of Portugal as well. There's also a café nearby (Paulo's Way) which is also packed with Portuguese people. I also love A&C Continental on Atlantic Rd, which is run by a British-Portuguese family who are really nice people.
Great report, sorry I couldn't join you guys! But I will definitely check out Sinta soon!
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