(NOTE: This place is now unfortunately out of business despite our beautiful article! We’ll miss it dearly. R.I.P.)
The evening that Nora and me came back from holidays we were, frankly, starving. We’d been out on the road all day (we were hitchhiking from Porto and it didn’t go as well as planned) so by the time we got to Lisbon, it was late. Our first idea was to go to Bella Ciao but by a stroke of bad luck, Bella Ciao was on holidays. Backpacks still on our backs, we decided to check out a restaurant nearby which had a similar menu of pasta and risotto, which was all we were craving for anyway.
We started off on the right foot: the re
d wine tasted great and the carpaccio of octopus blew us away. The octopus was soft and tender as an Iberico ham marinated in sea water. The dressing that accompanied it was sweet and sour and fresh and was topped off with some crunchy salad leaves. It would have been the perfect entrée if only the chef would have exercised a little more restraint: the Azores cheese on top really didn’t add up to anything and only distracted from the pure, sweet octopus flavors. Less is more!
The main course however caused some division. By a stroke of bad luck (or karma? Was it you Mr. Lennon?) Nora chose the pasta with vegetables. And yes, the pasta was homemade, but if you want to make a vegetarian pasta dish, does it really have to be that bland as some boiled strings of carrots and courgette and some garlic olive oil? There was nothing really wrong with the dish, it was fresh, light and tasty, but nothing really exceptional or memorable either.
I was however rather chirpy with my mushroom risotto: it actually tasted of the mushrooms, lots of butter and little green flecks of coriander which fitted in very well. The rice was nicely al dente and the risotto was as good as the real deal. Again, it would have been very near perfection, were it not that an old restaurant trick was pulled on me again: they promise you a “wild mushroom risotto.” If I’d gotten 5 euros everytime I was promised something with wild mushrooms and had gotten regular button mushrooms instead, I would have had enough money to buy about two kilos of wild mushrooms and cook them at home – which I would have preferred to be honest. Even though I’m ranting, there’s really nothing wrong with button mushrooms, they are quite delicious and very versatile, but it’s a matter of pride and honour. Next time, I shall challenge the naughty menu writer to a duel.
However, never mind all of the previous paragraphs I’ve written about this restaurant. Never mind all of the “oh my risotto didn’t have wild mushrooms” or “oh, why would you put cheese on an octopus salad” first world whining because I had the orange and ginger flavored crème brulée as dessert and it took me to cloud number nine from where, to Nora’s disgruntlement, I didn’t descend for the rest of the evening. I don’t know what it is about crème brûlée, but everytime I see it on the menu of a restaurant where I had good food, I simply cannot resist.
There is something so tempting about the sugar caramelized so crispy and the gooey layer of cream sleeping underneath. But this crème brulée ticked all of the boxes for me: the sugar on the top was pleasantly thick and so crisp that when I first broke the ice-like sugar, it felt like a 10 on the Richter scale; I swear, the table was slightly shaking. And then the cream: soft, gooey, yes, but flavourwise not only sweet but a slight ‘bite’ due to the orange and ginger scented cream. It tasted like Christmas, or like a distant childhood dream of what Christmas should be, although I cannot remember having eaten crème brulée when I was a child. If I had been given half the choice, I would still be sitting there in the restaurant, still eating crème brulée and not having gotten on with my life. Together with the delicious tawny port wine, I was rocked into a trance. (That deeply that I completely forgot to write about the splendid apple crumble that Nora had). Immediately, I also thought of my grandma back in Belgium and how lovely it would be to take her to this restaurant (although she’ll never set one single toe in an airplane) and enjoy this crème brulée with her.
Even though the menu still has some glitches – they change the menu every couple of months so I guess we’ll be back for that – and even though they cater mainly to tourists, if you are on a night out in Lisbon and you want to go out to a more classy kind of restaurant with good food and you don’t want to spend a day’s salary, this is the place to go to.
The restaurant itself has a great decoration, hardwood floors and the wine bottles put up on the wall give it a modern though “natural” touch. The waiters were courteous and the service was impeccable and friendly but never pushy.
Go there, take your grandma, make sure to get the crème brulée and be happy. That’s what food is all about and this restaurant knows it.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: 12:00 to 1:00, closed on Sundays
Address: R. São Nicolau 114, 1100-548 Lisboa
Phone Number: 21 347 4218 / 961330226