Portugal’s hilly capital city is famed for many things, but foremost among them two stand proudly: its hazy light, dripping conspiratorially over terracotta buildings and a watery horizon, and its spectacular food. Few are more aware of the compelling cocktail these two national treasures combine to create than Nuno Mendes, the Lisbon-born chef who, among others, has masterminded food concepts at Bethnal Green’s Town Hall hotel, the Chiltern Firehouse (where he is executive chef), and Spitalfields Market’s gorgeous Taberna do Mercado.
Far though he may be from his hometown, it remains at the forefront of Mendes’ mind at all times. “Lisbon itself is a convergence of cultures, because it’s both a capital city and it’s a port city,” he explains. “Everything arrives in Lisbon – people bring their influences from whichever part of the world they’re from – so our pantry is really rich.” Fresh fish, lovingly rolled pastries and rustic restaurant environments reign supreme in Lisbon, and impassioned as he is by this magic equation, Mendes has published a new book with he intention of sharing it with the world. The result is Lisboeta, a Bloomsbury-published recipe book direct from ‘Portugal’s city of light’. Intrigued, we sat down with Mendes to find out his favourite addresses for food in his city.
1. Taberna da Rua Das Flores
“Every time I’m in Lisbon I always stop by Taberna to see what the chef [André Magalhães] is doing. He’s a very good friend. The area of town, his stories, his journey, he’s a self-taught chef and a traveller. He has a blackboard and he cooks whatever he has that day. Lunch is usually more of a working man’s sort of lunch – dinner is more creative but casual.”
“António Galapito’s place, Prado, is open, and it’s pretty special! There’s nothing like it in Lisbon – the way he cooks is casual, but his attention to detail, the focus on the product and the execution, is amazing. The wine list is made up of really, really good natural wines from a local wine programme. It’s a breath of fresh air, and I think it’s going to go really far. Prado is capturing everybody’s attention.”
“Feitoria is a little more formal, but if you are going to go to to a fine dining restaurant, you can’t beat it. It’s working with Portuguese products to make very creative tasting menus. It’s a very Portuguese experience – a real journey, a fantastic story. It’s one of those to save up for and then go for a special occasion. And it’s on the waterfront!”
4. Boi Cavalo
Boi Cavalo is run by Hugo Brito, a very young and very creative chef. He’s got a little restaurant – its name translates as bull and horse, basically – and again it’s a very little small place, super casual, with an open, old school kitchen. It’s a very Portuguese kitchen, lots of marble. It’s a family experience – the menus comprise whatever he feels like doing that night. Boi Cavalo is in an up-and-coming area of town, in Moraria, right on the border between Alfama. It’s an old Moorish settlement in Lisbon, so it has very small narrow streets, low-level housing, small buildings, lots of little alleyways and it is seeing an influx of young creatives around the world. There’s a real sense of community; everybody knows everybody.”
5. Salsa E Coentros
“A lot of people from Lisbon consider Salsa E Coentros one of the best restaurants in Lisbon. Working people go there for lunch – it’s very much Portuguese, people in suits, when they come from work in the offices around there, they go there to eat. But the food is fantastic. The cuisine is inspired by the Alentejo region, and cooked using traditional techniques.
“They make pigeon pies, and scrambled eggs, they serve a lot of amazing local wines. It’s one of those places that you arrive in and by the time you get to the table there are five or six different snacks on it – octopus salad, duck pies, chickpea dishes. When I grew up in Lisbon this is a place I used to go to with my father. It’s completely off the beaten track.”
Lisboeta: Recipes from Portugal’s City of Light by Nuno Mendes is out now, published by Bloomsbury.