Lisbon is known for good food, nice people and amazing weather, such good weather it almost overrides the other aspects. Even so, what the city is also notorious for is being cheap and, let’s face it, there is hardly anything more Portuguese than complaining about something being too expensive. An espresso for fifty cents, a beer for an Euro, same for a pastel de nata, quoting the great George Clooney – what else?
An aspect that might not be an immediate synonym of Lisbon is fine dining. Nevertheless, these special gastronomic experiences seem to have been proliferating for the last couple of years and are still considered hidden gems, as most tourists don’t even remember their existence when hiking up and down the hills of the capital, dreaming of bifanas and pasteís de bacalhau. So, how about getting off the beaten path, mingling with Portuguese haute cuisine enthusiasts and treating yourself to Portugal’s finest?
And what is Portugal’s finest you may ask: anything that has once been underwater. Blessed with the largest coast of Europe in comparison to land mass, Portugal has exquisite fresh fish and seafood and the following are just some of the places where you can get it.
Furnas do Guincho
Portuguese Seafood | Cascais | £££ | Instagram: @furnasguincho
Suitable for GF | Suitable for either small or big groups of people | Make a reservation
Probably one of the best kept secrets of Lisbon is a unique restaurant, lodged on the rocks, overlooking the ocean, in the Guincho area, that serves what has been caught that same morning. If you don’t mind the 30 minute drive outside of Lisbon, this place is definitely worth a bite. The perfect sample menu would include crab paté, garlic prawns and octopus salad to start with, a beautiful grilled fish chosen by the waiter to proceed and, to end, a ‘Portuguese cheesecake’ (queijada de Sintra), in which the only way it resembles a traditional cheesecake is the fact that is made with cheese.
Around this area there are many other great seafood restaurants to chose from, but if you are looking for the complete package: food, ambience, service and view, this is surely the top pick, if you don’t mind spending those extra Euros.
Contemporary Portuguese and Japanese Fusion | Sintra | ££££ | Instagram: @penhalongaresort | Suitable for GF | Best for a date and small groups of people | Make a reservation
If you’re a follower of our dear puffy tire friend Michellin, chances are you have heard of this place, as it has been honoured with a star. Also a short drive from Lisbon in the Penha Longa Resort in Sintra, a magical Japanese and Portuguese fusion awaits you. This might be considered one of the most distinct restaurants of Lisbon at the moment. It seats very few people, so an anticipated reservation is recommended. There are three menus to choose from and each one of them is delicately planned, presented and performed right on the table to the smallest detail. You even need to ask permission to use the toilet in order not to break the flow of the dining experience; our suggestion, go easy on the drinks. This combines the mastery of Japanese cuisine and the elegance of the Portuguese fish, which unfortunately doesn’t come cheap, but with due reason.
Contemporary Portuguese | Chiado | ££ | Instagram: @mini_bar_joseavillez
Suitable for vegetarians and celiacs | Best for a date and small groups of people | Make a reservation
A little bit less on the fishy side, this exquisite kitchen of theatrical appearance makes the whole meal a performance, would it not reside on a theatre. Their most special act:everything is minion sized. “Honey, I shrank the meal!” you may yelp when your miniature green apple edible margarita stares at you from across the table.
You can choose form a number of acts that complement the menu, following the play bite by bite, in this place where nothing is what it seems. On this brilliant game of deception we suggest the salty “Ferrero Rocher”, the croquettes and mustard emulsion; the tuna tartare temaki cone with spicy soy; the “brás style” codfish and especially the edible cocktails.
This is one of the many incredible restaurants by chef José Avillez, already a Portuguese trademark, but this is certainly his most unusual one, that, as a plus, doesn’t even break the bank that much.
Top tip: If you want to come just to literally eat a cocktail, there’s a DJ every Friday and Saturday at 23:00 to go with it.
Contemporary, Minimalistic | Castelo | £££
Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and celiacs | Best for a date and small groups of people | Make a reservation
What’s on the menu? We don’t know… And you won’t either.
Léopold focuses on regional daily ingredients and prepares delicious dishes with whatever the chef finds on the market that day. You will only know what you are eating when the dish is presented in front of you, and even then you might doubt your own eyes.
This restaurant is everything but ordinary, it makes you rethink the way we eat and what we put together. Here, you will encounter the most dubious combinations of flavours and textures, we just remind you of one thing: be brave and open-minded, you are in for a ride.If you are looking for comfort food, this is not the place, this is an adventure.
Don’t forget to make a reservation, as the chef will shop that day for how many people he is serving that same night. Also, don’t hesitate in telling the host when booking if you have any allergies or dietary plan, as the meal will be especially catered to you. If there is anything more personal than this food experience, I really don’t know what it could be.
These are only some of the delights Lisbon has to offer, over the years it has become increasingly hard to keep track of all of the great experiences popping up all over the city. There is still enormous potential in the gastronomic Lisbon scene yet to be discovered by the mainstream tourist, so shape up your Portuguese and act like a local, charming everyone with a loud ‘Boa noite, mesa para dois’.