Lisbon – The Food: Amazing Alma and the masterpiece of 100 Maneiras
You’d be excused from assuming, from the deterioration which is widespread on Lisbon’s streets, the chipped ceramics and the cracking plaster, the plethora of graffiti and the deserted algae-covered fountains, that the Portuguese would be a little behind on the food front too. But like so much of the underlying spirit of Lisbon, when it comes to trends, to creativity, to meeting the fashion vibes that spread through the most sophisticated cities of Europe, Lisbon is certainly plugged in to the undercurrent of cool.
When it came to food during our five days in Lisbon, we simply didn’t have a bad meal. Whether it be the freshest of all sushi at the Restaurante Confraria Lx and simple squid with vegetables sat out on the cobbled streets of the Baixa, to simple pastels de nata in any random street cafe of your choice, we were met with consistently high standards of food, the freshest of ingredients and prices which were half what you would pay in some neighbouring Spanish cities, let alone the outrageous excesses of London and Paris.
Of our evening meals – the sushi at Confraria Lx, followed by an evening spent in the charming surrounds of the Restaurante Olivier (where a tasting menu for starter plus a main course was only around 35 euros), two meals were absolute standout exceptions, so good in fact that I couldn’t resist but take photos aplenty and devote to them an entire post all of their own.
Alma – Henrique Sa Pessoa – Calçada Marques de Abrantes, 92 Santos – Lisboa
The first of the two was at Alma, the restaurant of fresh-faced Portuguese celebrity chef (who spent some of his time training at the Park Lane Hotel in London’s Mayfair). The restaurant itself is very small and VERY white – the chairs, tables, walls together with a rather hypnotic white cloud swaying suspended from the ceiling are all similarly, clinically white. This doesn’t make for the cosiest of atmospheres, but mercifully, with low lighting and due to the restaurant’s sheer popularity, we certainly felt warm and very welcome.
The service was faultlessly efficient, speedy but not rushed, and with perfect english spoken by all. We even got to meet the celebrity chef himself when I complimented him on the quality of the food – that personal touch sets this restaurant apart – in English celebrity chef-owned restaurants, you’d be lucky to get the “celeb” cooking in the kitchen at all, let alone greeting his guests.
So talking of that food, well avoiding the tasting menu for one evening (we had been stuffing ourselves rather royally during the preceding days) we opted for a set menu with the usual choice of starter, main and dessert. But normal this dinner was not. The quality of the wines (we opted for the chef’s choice of matching wines), the bread, the stylisation of the food – all was exquisite.
So to start, after home made flat breads and a rosemary and garlic foccacia, I opted for a starter of strawberry gazpacho (such a good combination of the acidic vinegary base coupled with the roundness and sweetness of the strawberry) with a little filo parcel of goats cheese, while my partner went for squid and prawns sautéed in garlic and chilli, with a cherry tomato compote and a rocket and parmesan salad.
To follow, the stakes were upped. I had an exquisite duck which was perfectly seasoned and marinated in chinese spices and sesame seeds together with a sweetcorn salad and little shiitake mushrooms wrapped in… what were they wrapped in? Cabbage? I can’t remember. Nonetheless it was delicious! My partner meanwhile opted for a roast fillet of cod with a chick-pea purée, chickpea vinaigrette, and roasted potatoes – a faultless combination of Portuguese flavours with an elegant twist.
For dessert, we shared a combination of the creamiest but not at all heavy raspberry and lemongrass crème brûlée with a coconut tuile (thus combining French classic with tropicana bay to dreamy effect), and a plum crumble with a coconut ice cream. And as if we hadn’t indulged ourselves enough then, dinner was rounded off with petit fours of salted caramel fudge and little chocolate truffles.
100 Maneiras – R. Teixeira 35, 1200-459 Lisboa
But as far as feasts go, Alma was just the starter to the gastronomical banquet which ensued. The following night we went to 100 Maneiras. We had in fact been recommended it by our hotel receptionist but struggled to get a reservation (unsurprisingly, so we later found). I therefore thought it was strange when suddenly I managed to secure us a table when I tried again to book online that afternoon on my ipad. It was only when, duly arrived at the restaurant, the owner couldn’t find our booking that I realised that I had booked for the following sunday instead. Oh so embarrassing. But despite being fully booked, he managed to squeeze us in by turning a table of two into a table of 3 and thus freeing up some space. Now that is customer service. And highly fortuitous if you ask me.
Having somewhat imposed ourselves upon this little chic restaurant, we began a culinary journey for which I would sooner invade the whole of Portugal than go without. The only option was the tasting menu, a 10 course extravaganza which, for 45 euros each felt like we were robbing the place as well as invading it!
First up was the cuteist little culinary creation I have ever witnessed – a Codfish Clothes line – little pieces of super thin dried salt-cod literally hung out on a little clothes line and served with a dual dip of red pepper and coriander. Delicious as well as visually genius.
Next, onto marinated sardines with guacamole, served on a toasted bread skewer and padron peppers, a mouthfull of 100 different flavours, playing their own little harmony on my palate. This was followed by a salmon carpaccio with herbs, lime sorbet and julienne of asparagus, fennel and dill pickle. Asides from the super fresh flavours, the best aspect of this dish had to be the presentation, with the salmon shaped like a wave ready to swoosh onto the seashore.
Those dishes were merely tasters. Onto the starters next, and first, a seared scallop and seaweed salad with a mushroom and asian broth followed by a very unusual almost transparent duck, mushroom and peanut ravioli on rice noodles with asparagus fricassee.
For mains, we had a poached codfish with “bras de batata” cabbage, tomato and coriander, with a very well balanced helping of strawberry to cut through the rich salty density of the cod. This was sensibly followed by a palate cleanser of ginger, lemon and lemongrass granita and then, while there was just about room for more, we had a low temperature cooked suckling pig with caramalised granny smith apple and turnip.
The culinary adventure was not over yet, and just as we thought we were full to bursting point, the perfectly rehearsed balance of rest and eating was timed to such perfection that when a beautiful little dessert of fruit with an almond sabayon and cocoa crumble came along, we found ourselves quite able to eat again, and in fact relish both that dessert and the second – mascarpone foam with guava sorbet and medronho nougat.
And with that, we finally bowed out, along with a glass of port and a glass of dessert wine. The meal was just exquisite – perfectly choreographed gastronomic theatre which had us on the edge of our seats, zealously lapping up every word, sight and savour of the dishes as they were brought to us with such swagger, and described in such mouth-watering detail. And for the quality, and the scope of this meal, the price (the whole thing came to a little under €130 with wines) was incredibly good value – I’d go so far as saying worth going to Lisbon for.