Lisbon trip report (long)
I spent a week in Lisbon, travelling with 2 friends who are possibly more obsessed with food that I am. I usually spent the days on my own and met up with my friends for dinner, thus experiencing the city both as a solo traveller and in company. I really enjoyed my stay: it’s a great city to wander, had some lovely food, some just ok food, and only 1 truly disappointing dinner.
On day 1, we arrived late at our hotel and then took a taxi to the café Sao Bento for some of the famous steaks in creamy sauce with a fried egg on top. Lovely old fashioned space (think red velvet banquettes), attentive but unobtrusive service, great wines. My friends did not enjoy the food as much as I did – I thought the steak was strange (I’ve never seen a steak this pale), but very tender. And with the rich sauce, runny egg yolk, and a couple of glasses of red wine, this was just what I needed after a day of travelling.
The next day I had coffee and a pastel de nata at café Brasiliera, and enjoyed the “I’m here and so was Pessoa” experience. After that, lunch and some wifi time at the very relaxed and comfortable Pois café in Alfama.
Drinks and dinner at Wine bar Artis. Good service, good wine recommendations, but the food was only ok – it felt a bit ‘tired’ if that makes any sense.
The next day I happened to walk past Tasca do Esquina at 12:29 and saw that they opened for lunch at 12:30…. Not having any specific plans for the afternoon, I thought why not? Had a delicious dish of cold codfish carpaccio topped with hot salty shoestring fries en a fried egg. So simple yet really one of the best things I’d eaten in a long time. My next dish of Portuguese sausage with broad beans was unfortunately covered with a vinaigrette that had loads of raw onion in it, which is one of the very few things I don’t eat, so I could not fully enjoy that. Attentive service. Overall I found that after the initial surprise of seeing a woman out dining alone, waitstaff was accommodating and I felt welcome and cared for.
That night, drinks in 2 wine bars near the castle: Instinctus and Wine bar do Castelo. At the latter we also had some terrific charcuterie, cheeses, and an olive oil tasting.
After that we took a taxi to a place that intrigued us: A Casa do Bacalhau where they do cod, cod and more cod. Unfortunately we found the place pompous and pretentious and the food very, very mediocre.
The next day I took the tram to Belem and visited the Monastery, but not after sitting down at the Antigua Confiteria for coffee and another Pastel. Of course I’m no expert but I have to say that I had enjoyed the one at Brasileira more.. the one in Belem seemed to have a curdled filling. Still delicious though.
I had lunch at the Enoteca de Belem (just some charcuterie and cheese, and wine of course !). Nice atmosphere, a little too formal for my taste but maybe it gets livelier in the evenings.
That night I met up with my travel companions for dinner at Sinal Vermelho. Loved it there… great service, informal and fun atmosphere, and simple but great food. Loved the fried sardines and the sole with a creamy sauce, and the veal steak that was so tender I could cut it with a spoon.
After that, drinks at the Cinco Lounge – where the bartender made me a cocktail that was exactly to my very specific tastes. My friends are definitely more knowledgeable about cocktails than me, and did not enjoy theirs as much, so I can't really vouch for the quality of this place as a cocktail lounge...
The next day, I’m sorry to say, we were quite hung over :) but still managed to take the train to Sintra for some sightseeing. In Sintra we sampled different versions of the local specialty, Queijada de Sintra cakes. Also had a nice lunch with more savoury and sweet pastries at the café Saudade.
In the evening we had a fabulous dinner of crab and various shrimp and prawns at Ramiro. A very fun place. Don’t expect to eat anything but shellfish and some bread, that’s all they do, but oh so good!
The next day I was on my own. Had a nice and rather fancy dinner at Bocca. After the fish extravaganza it was nice to sit down to something elegant.. I really enjoyed the braised quail with fresh green peas, especially because it had been a while since I had seen a green vegetable.
All in all, a lovely first visit to Lisboa and I’m already planning my next visit for October.
Thanks for your report. As someone who spent much of his visit going to wineries in Portugal, did you have any particuarly enjoyable wines? This struck a chord: " ....really enjoyed the braised quail with fresh green peas, especially because it had been a while since I had seen a green vegetable.... " Too bad the Portuguese aren't better with vegetables, since they seem to have a climate that would (and does) lend itself to growing some tasty stuff.
In my experience, the Portuguese are perfectly good with vegetables, it's just that they're not listed on restaurant menus for some reason. I discovered this by happenstance by traveling there with a vegetarian in the late 1990s. When I explained what he could and couldn't eat (I speak Portuguese), all sorts of options appeared that weren't on the menu. Having lived in both Porto and Lisbon I can tell you that the supermarkets are full of vegetables, and people certainly eat them in their homes.
re: Kitchen Imp
Well, I agree to a certain extent. There are nice vegetables around and I thought Portuguese restaurants are usually happy to be flexible. And I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of some of the fruits (e.g. pears). But even when vegetable courses or sides are offered, they can lack the creativity that one finds elsewhere, at least IMO. And not putting things on the menu is a bit of a problem for the average tourist.
Just got back from two weeks in Portugal and was seriously craving greens and salads upon returning. There are fast-casual salad restaurants in Lisbon, but I found that most meat/fish dishes at restaurants were accompanied by potatoes, and if you were lucky a tiny heap of overcooked green beans. Not to say we didn't thoroughly enjoy ourselves and our meals throughout the trip – had some of the best seafood and goat (not together) ever in Portugal and Seville.
Once again, I just want to say in case people run into this problem: in smaller, family-run restaurants, even something as basic as a salad often won't appear on the menu. You just have to ask if they have salad. The phrase to get you a green salad (sometimes with tomato, cucumber, and/or grated carrot) is "salada mista." It's not hard to get vegetables in Portugal at all. That said, it's definitely true that green vegetable sides are not terribly interesting -- just steamed or boiled, generally. But the vegetable soups are divine!
delicious report, thanks for taking the time to relive it with us. Maybe your steak was 'baby beef', ie. something between veal and beef? Tender, tasty and delicious but a tad pale? And shellfish and bread, who needs anything else in Lisboa? Time I went back, been too long since my last visit...
I'm going to comment on your report since people don't really use the boards here the way they do in Boston and NYC. Unfortunately when I went to Lisbon (and Lagos) in 1995, I wasn't as obsessed a food person so didn't eat anything special or memorable. Jealous that you're going back so soon, Oct. is a great time to be there.