Just a few hours upon landing in Porto it happened quicker than either of us imagined.
We sat down for our first meal in Portugal made up of Bacalhoa (salted codfish) along with a sampling of local wines, and we were captivated…hook, line, and sinker. The food scene, while often overshadowed by the popularity of Port and the rising appreciation of the country’s still wines, is absolutely worthy of its own recognition. Portugal’s gastronomy is steeped in tradition, defined by variety, and has put the world on notice thanks to its popular Celebrity Chefs and abundance of Michelin-rated restaurants.
Tasca da Badalhoca
Our first introduction to Porto was on a private bike tour courtesy of our local guide, Anselmo.
We left the itinerary entirely up to him outside of the one request that our lunch be at somewhere authentically local. After a couple of hours of riding through some lesser know parks and up to some of his favourite, though unorthodox viewpoints, he asked if we were sure we wanted his version of local. Without hesitation we pushed on and ended up at Tasca da Badalhoca, a 120-year-old tavern in the suburb of Serralves.
When we say authentic, we mean no seats, meat hanging from the ceiling, no English spoken authentic!We pulled up to an opening at one of the side counters in between locals, that based on their various uniforms were clearly on their lunch break.
We took turns walking up to the front to order lunch, all three of us choosing the roasted pork meat sandwich where the meat was scooped up from a simmering pot and literally poured into a fresh baked bun. Anselmo ordered up 3 glasses of Espadal wine for us to try, a local favourite also known as “red wine for the poor”. Dark red in colour and with a light spritz, it gave us both the impression it might be overly sweet. On the contrary, it was a refreshing sip that is dangerously deceptive with its low alcohol content. While we could have easily wiled away the afternoon, sipping Espadal and people-watching from our countertop perch, we stuck with one glass knowing we still had close to two hours of biking left. Well worth the trip uphill to get there for such a delicious and unique experience!
The Yeatman Gastronomic Restaurant
Not only is the Yeatman Hotel in Porto the top hotel in the city, but it’s also arguably one of the top hotels in the country.
Its location overlooking the Douro River is rivalled only by the incredible amenities it offers, including its two-star Michelin Gastronomic restaurant led by Chef Ricardo Costa. Born in Aviero, Portugal, Costa has been at the helm since the restaurant first opened in 2010. He prides himself in offering up traditional Portuguese fare with a contemporary twist.
We enjoyed an excellent 5-course meal that featured Langoustine, Codfish, and Veal, each paired with wines from the Douro Valley that included the 2020 Vale dos Ares Alvarinho, the 2017 Quintas das Tecedeiras Reserva and a 20-year-old Taylor’s Tawny Port.
As much as we love a Michelin restaurant experience, Dick’s Bar at the Yeatman was where we gravitated to each night. Named after Dick Yeatman, one of the most influential figures of the Port wine trade, Dick’s Bar is a throwback to classic English lounge elegance complete with live music. Once you pull up a plush velvet chair or comfortably ensconce yourself on the fireside couch, you’ll quickly lose track of time sipping wines from their extensive list while nibbling finger food ranging from sushi to charcuterie plates featuring local Portuguese cheese and smoked pork sausages.
The Wine Box
An absolute must for a fantastic lunch in Porto is the Wine Box, appropriately named for its walls covered in wine box lids from some of the greatest wineries not only in Portugal but from around the world.
It makes available more than 200 wines, many by the glass that are difficult to find elsewhere. Vintage Port dating back to the 1800’s are on display (and available for purchase) and the vibe is very much modern and casually hip.
Our tapas selection was excellent from start to finish and the portions were more than enough to satisfy the most insatiable (and discerning) appetite. This cozy spot is a favourite among locals which is always a good sign but given its limited size, fills up quickly so you definitely want to make a reservation.
DOURO VALLEY (Pinhão)
Chef Rui Paula’s DOC restaurant in the Douro Valley was simply one of the best restaurant meals we’ve had in our lives…ever. Paula is a bona fide Portuguese treasure, helping put the country on the world culinary map with his inventive take on traditional northern dishes.
Balanced on the south bank of the Douro River, the restaurant’s large deck would be the perfect spot to spend a warm summer night, thankfully their modern interior with floor to ceiling windows provided as magnificent a view on a chilly early November evening.
We were treated to a 4-course meal that was exceptional from start to finish. The combination of flavours in each dish were mind-blowingly complex.
So much so it required remarkable willpower to resist the temptation to devour the dish immediately and instead savour each bite to allow a new flavour revelation to take hold of your tastebuds.
The menu? Burratta with Paga Negra smoked ham, fig and pesto sauce; local sea bass with crayfish sauce on quinoa; Bisaro pork cheeks, and finally, a chocolate and coffee pie with hazelnut and crispy caramel. Do yourself a favour and put this at the top of your restaurant bucket list, we promise you won’t be disappointed!
Cozinha da Clara (at Quinta de la Rosa)
Quinta de la Rosa’s restaurant Cozinha da Clara translates to “Claire’s Kitchen” and pays homage the Bergqvist family matriarch. The Bergqvist’s opened their winery restaurant in 2017 and like it’s neighbour across the river, it also takes advantage of the stunning views along the Douro with its large deck, full-sized windows, and vaulted ceilings. Chef Pedro Cardoso focuses on local farm-to-table ingredients serving up Portuguese dishes, both traditional and contemporary, built around the estate’s wines.
The menu is deliberately small, concentrating on doing a few dishes well that let the season’s bounty determine the focus. No effects or fancy foams here, just relatively simple food that is well prepared, beautifully paired, and, most importantly, absolutely delicious.
Quinta do Soito
When travelling, there’s nothing more memorable than a local preparing you a meal at their home. We were lucky enough to experience that in the Dão wine region by none other than the co-owner of Quinta do Soito. Sandra Soares, along with her husband Jose Carlos, are getting a lot of attention for their wines and deservedly so. But on our visit, we were not only treated to a terrific tour and wine tasting, but a spectacular traditional lunch that was an absolute highlight of an incredible trip.
Our first indication that we were in for something special was sitting down in the pool house where local sausages and cheese were set up at the table as appetizers.
We would’ve happily eaten just that for the entire meal and still raved about lunch! Sandra and her assistant left the table and soon returned carrying a large black pot between them that was filled with pork, pasta, and the most flavourful broth we’d ever tasted.
Sandra humbly downplayed the meal to the point of apologizing that it wasn’t a “fancy” meal. We would have taken that lunch and experience over the best Michelin restaurants in the world any day. More to come on Quinta do Soito’s wine in a future feature article!
On our last night in Lisbon before we headed home, we ended up at Chef Jose Avillez’ Pateo restaurant. Arguably the most famous of Portugal’s celebrity chefs, Avillez is a Michelin star darling and well known to foodies worldwide. Pateo is in the Bairro do Avillez, his group of restaurants situated in a restored heritage building in the trendy Chiado district. We walked in the front entrance, wandering past the Pizzeria and through Taberna before getting to our restaurant of choice at the back of the building.
Our table was situated toward the middle of the room and in perfect view of the open kitchen with all the preparation activity in full swing.
Looking up, we realized we were in more of an atrium complete with skylights that allowed lots of natural light and an ambiance more akin to outdoor dining.
Known for its focus on seafood, the menu is a fusion of Portuguese, European and South American culminating in innovative dishes where you marvel at the brilliance of talented chefs that think to put together ingredients that would never cross your own mind in the kitchen. Expectations are always high when going to a restaurant with a name like Avillez behind it, but believe us when we say this restaurant lives up to the hype.
Grapes & Bites
Toward the end of our trip, we were to have lunch with one of, if not the most famous winemaker in Portugal, Luis Pato. He was accompanied by Luis Lourenco, owner of Quinta dos Roques from the Dão region, and Diogo Barradas, National Sales Manager of Herdade do Rocim in Alentejo. The idea being that if we couldn’t get to some of the other regions on this visit, they would bring their wines for us to taste and learn about.
The restaurant of choice was Grapes & Bites wine bar in the heart of Lisbon’s old Bairro Alto quarter. Casual and inviting, we can only imagine how lively this spot is when the sun goes down. While the wines we had (no less than 14!) were brought by our most esteemed guests, Grapes & Bites has an impressive cellar with over 1000 wines in stock.
Their menu features Portuguese tapas and charcuterie boards filled with local cheeses and sausages, and we opted for the latter knowing we had some serious wine tasting ahead.
We sipped and nibbled as Luis, Luis and Diogo explained the wine regions they were from and the wine techniques they used. Then we listened and laughed as they regaled us with stories of their AdVINEtures over the years.
Toward the end of this truly epic lunch, a trio entered and serenaded us with the traditional Fado music. Haunting and beautiful, it was truly the perfect ending to a special lunch and a trip we will never forget.