Portugal’s coastal capital city; Lisbon, is a culinary hot spot with one of the most diverse foodie scenes in Europe. There are a range of mouth-watering dishes to try in the many restaurants including traditional Portuguese options, fresh seafood and a mix of Mediterranean, South American and African flavours. Of course a trip to Lisbon would not be complete without trying at least one (or in our case one a day…) of the city’s renowned custard tarts (pastel de nata).
On our recent visit to Lisbon and both of our first times to Portugal, Pete and I were in foodie heaven with the vast choice of excellent quality and very reasonably priced restaurants dotted around the city.
However, like many major cities, the choice can be overwhelming and it is easy to stumble across restaurants in the more touristy hubs with mediocre food, which is why we wanted to do a post on our top four must-eats to help you avoid this fate:
From the outside this little tavern in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon doesn’t look much but once you have peered inside and seen the packed tables, traditional vintage decor, buzzy atmosphere and smelt the food you will see exactly why it is number one on our list. There is no conventional menu, instead the waiters come to your table and talk you through the locally-sourced dishes which changes daily. We chose a variety of tasty tapas (pincho) style dishes to share; the marlin steak was cooked to perfection and the tasty green bean tempura, a local delicacy and favourite of Portuguese children (their name in Portuguese is Pintxos da Horta or little fishes from the garden), was divine. The local wines on offer were equally as excellent and complimented the simple yet innovative traditional flavours of the dishes.
*Top tip* This place is always packed and they don’t take bookings. We would recommend getting here early (around 7pm) and then have a drink outside while you wait for a table to come available, which might take around an hour.
This little restaurant is in an atmospheric location at a slight slant on a cobbled street with great views of the castle. It has a cosy atmosphere as all of the tables are close-set and the staff are friendly and welcoming. The menu is superb with a mix of fresh salads, mouth-watering steaks and fresh fish. As well as catering for meat-lovers it is also a perfect choice for vegetarians (my friend Emma who is a veggie recommended it to us). We shared a starter and had an amazing Argentinian steak (they fly in the steak twice a week from Argentina), For dessert, try the Eton mess for something sweet and light.
*Top tip* If you arrive at the restaurant by walking down the hill do not be fooled when a man jumps out at you with a menu and invites you to sit down. This is actually the restaurant next door which is equally as busy but with a far less interesting menu and not nearly as good quality. We made the mistake of sitting down and were about to order when we realise it wasn’t Buenos Aires, we had to subtley step away from the table and sidle a few more steps down the street to Cafe Buenos Aires.
Founded in 1956, Cervejaria Ramiro is a Lisbon seafood institution and it’s not hard to see why. The decor isn’t very inspiring but this place is all about the seafood. The English menu was delivered in the form of an ipad making things very easy… until we had to actually choose what we wanted. There is pretty much every type of seafood imaginable, all very reasonably priced. We loved the grilled tiger prawns, sizzling garlic prawns and Spider crab. All of the seafood is served with tasty chunks of crispy bread smothered in garlic and we washed it all down with a bottle of refreshing white wine. Be prepared for mountains and mountains of garlic!
*Top tip* Don’t be too alarmed by the big queue outside. The restaurant is huge and spread over three floors, so it only took about half an hour of waiting to get a table.
Pasteis de Belem (Antiga Confeitaria de Belem)
We didn’t quite realise there is a cult following of the custard tart has in Lisbon. It really is the holy grail of pastry and a must-visit is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem just off the waterfront in Belem. The kitchen uses the same 170 year old recipe known to only three chefs at a time. The warm tarts are the perfect size and perfectly browned on the top.
*Top tip* We bought a selection of custard tarts and quiches and took them to eat in the Botanical Gardens just behind the cafe (4 Euros entry) it was a beautiful setting to eat with shady corners, wild flowers growing and little lakes. We had to keep the custard tarts firmly out of reach of the inquisitive and hungry geese.