Foz Velha experience
I know people love this place, and perhaps we just had an off day, but sorry to say it didn't do it for me in terms of food or very peculiar service.
First thing that I found strange and irritating was that the lunch menu was only to be found in the Portuguese language menu, which they don't at first give to obvious non-Lusophones. Makes you think they have a certain destiny in mind for the English-speaking clientele...
Anyway, I probably would have been tempted to order one of the larger tasting menus, if all of the options had been originally presented to me, but since they were not I decided to get the lunch menu. The first dish, made of mixed seafood was okay, the main dish, a steak, was really forgettable (and significantly worse than a steak I'd had a couple of days before at novamesa in Lisbon).
Another weird thing during the meal: the lunch menu came with a glass of wine. I drank my glass and then a waiter swooped in and automatically refilled it. No question, do you want another glass, no body language asking, just a quick and immediate refill. I started to wonder if maybe the menu had come with a quartino or something. Then I'm eating the steak, finishing that glass, and the same thing happens again. Finally got the waiter's attention and ordered a glass of a different wine after that.
Dessert was best, a pear poached in red wine. Of course, the punch line is that when we get the bill there are two glasses of wine on there, at five euros a glass. (I know that's cheap anywhere else, but it's a fancy glass in Portugal.) I didn't say anything because I guess I could have arrested the waiter in mid-pour or whatever and asked if it was included, but I didn't. Have never seen this kind of thing in Portugal before, where servers seem to always ask if you want another one, unless of course you have ordered a bottle.
Servers were unfailingly polite, but I got the distinct impression that they had been carefully instructed in the very (I think un-Portuguese) arts of upselling, overpouring, etc. Left a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps they only pull out these tricks for obvious gringos, but even then...
I don't doubt that if you spend 50 or 60 euros per person on the tasting menu your experience will be different. I guess you could say that the place doesn't shine with the simple lunch menu, but I think that if they offer something like that, it should entice diners to return for the tasting menu, not disappoint them. Otherwise just don't offer it and annoy people who come expecting something better.
tjdnewyork - I am writing to tell you that you were not the only one left unimpressed by Foz Velha. I also felt that the staff was very professional but quite cool and indifferent. The food was OK but not amazing and we were seated at the worst table in the empty restaurant. When we asked very politely for a different table, we were told that these were booked for bigger groups, some of which did not arrive by 11pm when we were leaving. And of course the prices were higher than usual in Portugal and certainly higher than I would pay for that particular food. I will never go there again.
tjdnewyork- I happened to have lunch there last Friday (probably same day as you did), and I dont' think your comment is 100% fair -although I take your point. The menu you chose was their business menu (starter, main course & dessert, including water and one glass of wine, clearly stated). At 19 Euros, it is intended for a business clientele, not for a gastronomic challenge! I have to agree with you that the restaurant does not cater specially for the English speaking clientele (fortunately!) but all in our party were presented with the full menu(s) in English and I had to ask for a Portuguese one! The waiter certainly spoke English to the 4 in our party who did not speak Portuguese... My only problem was that the chef Marco Gomeswas not there that day, and I found the quality of our meal was missing his special touch. I give him the excuse that Portugal was playing Brasil, or may-be he had not recovered from São João... We had the smaller of the 2 degustation menus and came out at 70 Euros including more "matching" wines than we could drink! I will give him one more chance when next in Porto, but I dont go for absentee chefs...
Fair enough, monchique. What annoyed me was not to even present the insert with the business menu in the English menus. I thought it only included one glass, so was really surprised when the waiter kept pouring without asking. Very strange. I'll have to give it another try when the chef's around. I thought that might be a problem on Friday so we came a bit earlier than intended. Very funny that you were there the same day.
Still think that if you don't stand by a menu (even a business menu) don't offer it. I eat a lot at Jean-George Vongerichten's Perry Street in New York, where he offers an excellent value lunch menu for 24USD. Truth is he offers almost the same food as at dinner, in slightly smaller portions, and I think the menu ends up enticing customers to come for dinner. My feeling is that if your lunch menu can't do that, don't offer it.
Anyway, all restaurants have off days...and appreciate your suggestions.