Experiences from a long weekend in Lisbon
by Slug on November 19, 2011
In a bout of bad planning, we found ourselves in need of a meal near one of the touristy regions of Lisbon near the Castle of St George. We are always wary of those restaurants that cater to tourist parties (both for the quality of the food, and the forced hilarity and banal conversations of the folk thrown together on a package tour), and decided to stray a little down the hill from the castle.We fell upon the Restaurante A Tasquinha (Little Tavern) just a short walk down the hill and bit less busy than the places at the top. The menu looked very Portuguese with lots of grilled fish and meat. Prices weren't particularly keen, but it wasn't over the top for either a main course (around 8 Euros) and for a carafe of nice house wine. There was an option for a fixed priced lunch, but as my dining companions couldn't find anything they fancied on it, we just ordered off the main menu.I always have to have grilled sardines at least twice on any Portugal trip, and my meal at the Little Tavern was huge and plentiful, and served with plenty of salad and a large boiled potato. This was particularly true as we had decided not to wave away the starter plate of bread, olives and a choice of two local cheeses, which were particularly tasty (and not too pricy).My beloved had Tuna stake and it arrived swimming in butter and served with small boiled potatoes. While the tuna was a little overdone for my taste, it still arrived the right side of dry. Our dining companion had an equally large (and well cooked) piece of salmon; this time with salad.I heard tales of the owner and staff being particularly unfriendly at the Restaurante A Tasquinha, we certainly didn't find the same, although it was fair to say they didn't particularly have the time to stop and chat given the numbers of people dining. There is plenty of space to sit outside in an open town courtyard, although beware if you sit close to the edge of the tables as a constant line of tourist parties pass you by en-route to the castle. Despite that little annoyance, we found the restaurant a reasonably good place to stop by, and to watch the world go by.
by Slug on November 9, 2011
Lisbon folk don’t eat quite as late as many Europeans and by 8:30 many of the restaurants are getting busy with diners. 8:30 in Spain will find restaurants populated by the odd starving Brit and no-one else. After a bit of a gentle bar crawl of the lively Bairro Alto district of Lisbon, we were looking for a reasonably quiet, cheap and cheerful place to dine. While it was pretty busy with local diners already, the Bocca Della Verita had a table for four ready to roll. A pizza or Italian main dish seemed to be just the thing. The Bocca Della Verita (The Mouth of Truth) is named after a statue with a hole in the mouth standing in a Rome Church. If you tell a lie your hand will be bitten off by the statue – yes, it was shown in the 1950’s film Roman Holiday. The highlight of the restaurant is actually the impressive entrance display of pasta in jars along brightly coloured walls. Inside the restaurant was nice and clean and modern. The server was a friendly chap, and although his English wasn’t wonderful, we explained what we wanted pretty easily. That he looked something like Ian Wright pleased my two female dining companions no end. The quality of the food is very reasonable, although there was no choice of spicy or hot pizza, and everything came rather un-herbed. As I couldn’t choose, I went for the special pizza which contained boiled egg and a little bit of everything. I thought the bread was nice and thin and with good ingredients (although the sea food could have been a bit better quality). Pizza came in at somewhere between 8-10 Euros depending on your choice. Our dining companion went for lasagne from quite a range of similar priced pastas and found it good (but again not very herby). The side salad were also good and large, and arrived before our pizza so we could nibble while we waited. Service was good, and the wine was also fine.To put my hand in the mouth of truth to sum up, my experiences at the Bocca Della Verita didn’t really urge me to desperately return, but it was a very pleasant clean experience with average price and good quality if not exceptional Italian food.
by Slug on November 7, 2011
Housed in a sprawling turn of the 20th century former grocery store, the Pavilhao Chines bar (Chinese Pavilion for those of us with poor Portuguese) is something of a delight to behold although the experience has to be described as a little contrived.Although entrance into the Pavilhao Chines is free, beers are not cheap at 5 Euros for a large glass (wine is very silly priced at 4 Euros a small glass or 25 a bottle), but to have a drink in a museum is a rare treat.The bar itself is a wonderful piece of art deco styling, while the adornments hanging from the walls and ceilings must have taken countless hours to arrange and collect. This is a kind of good quality Portuguese "Irish" bar where nothing is thrown out or goes to waste. I didn't spot a massive Chinese connection, so am not quite sure where the name comes from (maybe some of the extensive range of tea on offer is Chinese). I was particularly taken with the display cases full of 1970's action men; all are displayed in different uniform, all from different eras; from the moving eyes version to the gripping hand version. In the same room are absolutely hundreds of older smaller military toys all set out like a miniature terracotta army. Those into bar pool will be pleased to note there is a room full of pool tables, and a relaxed clientele. We entered the bar early one evening and found it a little spooky as the first two rooms were completely empty of people and it felt like we had entered a home of an eccentric Portuguese minor nobility! The bar is in the third room, so keep on going. The staff are fully used to people taking snaps so visitors can feel free to wander around with their camera if they feel so inclined. One word of warning; don't go out wearing a red waistcoat; one woman at the bar did when I visited, and she was embarrassed to be mistaken for one of the bar staff! The Pavihao Chines is on the edge of the lively Bairro Alto area with its large choice of bars and restaurants to sample; that makes this rather unusual bar a perfect place for a pre or post meal drink.
by Slug on November 3, 2011
Solar Do Vinho Do Porto (the Port Wine House) is the "must do" place for Port Wine lovers to visit in Lisbon. While I’ve better enjoyed drinking Port in a couple of places in Porto, I’ve not found anywhere to beat the chilled atmosphere and sheer choice of ports in this place. The bar is in the Bairro Alto region of town amidst a whole host of bars and restaurants and is in a perfect spot to start or close an evening out. Unfortunately since my last visit to the Solar Do Vinho Do Porto, the place has been done up meaning the old ramshackle atmosphere has been lost forever. Instead it has been replaced by a rather pleasing modern worldly green palace with sophisticated up lighting, spot lights and glass. All is not lost as the staff appear as surly and distant as of old, although the service was reasonably fast (another new development). Despite the changes, the Solar Do Vinho Do Porto remains one of the chill places to visit in Lisbon, and offers a fantastic way to explore Portugal’s most famous export outside of fish and chips, port! There are bottles and bottles of the stuff to be sampled, and even better many of the ports can be bought by the glass, including some of the more expensive 40 year old vintages (although with the most expensive coming in at over 20 Euros a pop, you might need deep pockets for the very best). Fortunately, some of the Ports come in are a meagre 1.50 a glass, and if you know what you are doing, you can grab yourself a lovely glass for less than 2 Euros (try the dry white port if you are stuck). Raise your budget to 3 Euros and you can move into quite a range of options; in fact a mind numbing range of choices across all Port types. To accompany your drink you can order a few basic tapas at the Port Wine House; most of these are good value, and I especially recommend the cheese plate. Given the quantity of alcohol and saturated fat to be consumed here, you might as well die and go to heaven! Those not liking Port can drink something else but expect a disdainful look and a very small glass of beer. The Port Wine House is located in a rather grand parade of 19th century buildings, and the entrance is a little set back from the main street meaning you can pass it quite easily without noticing.
by Slug on November 2, 2011
I’ll be straight up honest and admit that Portugal doesn't offer one of my favourite world cuisines although it is perfectly possible to eat very well in the country if you follow a few basic guidelines.Breakfast: I must confess we usually simply buy a nice fresh crusty loaf of bread and buy fresh tomatoes and one of the wonderful local cheeses (there is a particularly impressive range of goat's cheese on offer in Portugal) or fish pastes and have a DIY breakfast picnic. It helps if you book an apartment to stay in (and I can recommend rent4days.com), but you can usually get away with it in a hotel room as long as you have a knife of some kind with you. Alternatively, you can go to one of the many Portugal Cafes and have a coffee, a tasty pastry (most are good although beware they are often deep fried and contain cheese and ham) or yummy custard tart (a Portugal institution) and a nice strong coffee. This can set you back around 2.50 Euros a head for a light breakfast in a no frills but clean and friendly cafe. The orange juice is good in Portugal too, but unlike Spain where every cafe sells freshly squeezed orange juice, you may find you are given a bottle or can of the preprepared stuff. Look out for the juicing machine for an indication that fresh orange is on the menu.Lunch offers probably the best and most filling deal of the day, although evening menus are usually the same as lunch. We tend to "big up" on lunch and then finish off the day’s bread and cheese before nipping out on the city streets for a few beers or glasses of wine and port. The real morale of the Portugal eating story is to keep it simple. Fresh fish by the coast is delicious and usually served plain; skin rubbed in sea salt and charcoal grilled and served with boiled potato, maybe fries and rice and maybe salad. Use the olive oil and white wine vinegar accompaniments to jazz up your dish a little. We usually ordered a side salad to be shared between us, as the Portuguese don't seem to be too keen on greens! (but note, these sometimes arrive as starters).Meat too is fine if served plain; I liked the Meat cooked Portuguese style which was charcoal kebab style pork, cooked in a casserole with fries, small pieces of vegetable and sprinkled with lemon, garlic and olive oil. The meats in sauces tend to be gooey, heavy and salty affairs – fine if you have the taste for it. Also note the habit of restaurants to serve you a tempting array of nibbles to start; bread, olives and maybe some kind of fish spread, and some of those deep fried cheesy things. They are usually cheap in price and negate the need for you to order a starter, but note they will be added to your bill if you accept them. The restaurant owners will not be offended if you turn away some or all of the nibbles as they are set down.Portuguese wine (the red, the white and the rose) is generally good, so if you are on a budget don’t be afraid to simply order the Casa de Vinho. This can be for as little as 5 Euros for a bottle- sized amount (this can the price of a single large beer in another not dissimilar looking establishment!). There are two kinds of local beers on sale; Super Bock the southern beer, and Sagres (a lager with a bit more bite), more popular in the North. As northerners in the UK we allied ourselves to Sagres, but most restaurants sell one or the other and not both. In many restaurants the price of food of a main course is nominally often quite similar irrespective of whether you are dining on a paper covered plastic patio set or linen covered wicker dining set. The financially astute will cast an eye over the wine list before sitting down. The difference in price at a restaurant can often be seen in the price of the wine and the price of the nibbles (and believe you me the cheap jugs of wine from the local farmers barrel can taste just as good (or not so good) as a bespoke bottle of house plonk).As in many countries, we always find the best meals are found in restaurants just off the main drag where they need to encourage a local client base of people who know where they are. Many of the restaurants on the main circuit will serve you good food, but it will often be a little smaller and a little more expensive than those that have to make a bit more effort. Likewise, the quality and style of the house wine will often be affected.
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