CANTINA DA ESTRELA: If you thought going back to school would be horrible…

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Dear readers, as you might have noticed, we are not a regular food blog. We care about our sexy pictures of food in its pre-digestive state (okay, in that sense we are a regular blog) but we also firmly believe in writing proper essays about our experiences and impressions of a restaurant. Mostly, it’s to do with the fact that many restaurateurs have a great passion for food and creating a specific atmosphere and we at Lisbom want to do their hard labor justice and write considerately and nuanced think pieces out of respect for them. Unless it’s “Cantina da Estrela”.

20151120_230501It was a coupon of “Eat in Lisboa” that would seal our fate. “Cantina da Estrela” is situated on the minus second floor of the “Hotel da Estrela”. It used to be a former school and the restaurant has used the school motive in its décor (well, there’s a blackboard against the back of the wall of the dining room) and you can even decide how much you pay for each dish, with a minimum and maximum price indicated, depending on how much you like it. That all sounds great, but the space itself is awkward with a bunch of irregularly arranged wooden beams on the ceiling, old red painted water plumbing and it really is way too big for its own good.

Not to mention that just the experience of sitting at the table is weird: the tables are awkwardly big so that your companion seems really far away, the chairs are uncomfortably low and there’s a big candle in the middle which makes any kind of food sharing tricky. The “going back to school” concept is carried out in the menu which really is rather cute and funny and is one of the only upsides about this place and can be checked out for free here: http://www.hoteldaestrela.com/pdfs/menu_en.pdf Make no mistake though, this place is as uncomfortably grown up as it could possibly get.

20151120_221911Oh yes, the service is wonderful, impeccably dressed waiters in tight, buttoned up red shirts. They whisper to you, are almost too courteous to say “obrigado” (except for the lady of the house) and make ordering any kind of dish or any other question you might have, stylishly uncomfortable and awkward. They ask you whether you’d like to have another glass of wine even though you still have wine in your glass but don’t dare to ask whether you like the food or not (even though the whole menu concept depends on customer satisfaction). It really is a bit like salesmen in fancy suits trying to sell you expensive sunglasses held together only by duct tape, with a distinct whiff of glue.

20151120_221937Confused as all of this might be, nothing can prepare you for the food. Nora made the mistake of ordering an mediocre chestnut soup served with dry figs and overly sweet Port wine ice. Now, flavor can always be argued about, “des gouts et des couleurs”, and all of that, but ice cream with ice crystals is culinary idiocy of the highest level. The soup was not hot and the ice cream elbowed its way through our mouths. I didn’t fare much better with the in rice vermicelli fried overcooked shrimps (I got two and there was one head (!) missing, not that there was any flavor in the head anyway) served on a grave of a very common, bland chickpea salad with a distinct flavor of the can where the chickpeas came from. Unreal.

20151120_223150I didn’t fare much better with the lamb, presumably a safe bet, but there really isn’t anything the chef (or was it a couple of trained monkeys?) couldn’t screw up that fateful night: the lamb shank was way too big, flavorless, fatty, dry, overcooked, dry, dry and was accompanied by some oily, soggy potatoes, out of season cherry tomatoes, asparagus and black olives. Oh, and there was a weird, oily, substance trying to pass for sauce tasting like cinnamon or something else I don’t care about in combination with lamb. Nora fared a little better with the Tornedo and mushroom sauce, but it was accompanied by a mixture of half cold sweet potatoes, bacon and onions with the inexplicable addition of camembert-like cheese. Someone should also explain to the chef that medium doesn’t mean that the meat should still have a heartbeat when it comes to your plate.

20151120_223101It is novelty food served on absolutely impractical plates, as if the plates themselves are already suggesting that this really is not food made to be eaten. A gimmick (oooh, we serve ice cream with soup and crème brûlée and our risotto comes with tortured goose liver, look at how special we are) specifically created by someone who doesn’t know anything about food for people who like living on the edge where food is concerned and don’t know anything about food either. Birds of a feather flock together I guess. Even with the “determine your own price concept”, the food is way too expensive for what it is and the awkwardly formal service makes you feel like a cheapskate if you want to only give the bare minimum. Needless to say, we didn’t take a desert. We like life.

The fact that Nora had forgotten to take her camera card actually makes poetic sense: to make a point, we took the pictures with a smartphone. If they don’t care about serving up something decent for the price you have to pay, then why should we care about taking nice pictures of it, all dressed and photoshopped up for you, our beloved audience? A proper, old-school birching on the bare buttocks to you “Cantina da Estrela” and your elitist nonsense food and fake service. Back to first grade!

(Nout Van Den Neste)


Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 12h30–15h00 and 19h30-22h30, closed on Sundays an Mondays
Address: Rua Saraiva de Carvalho 35, 1250-242 Lisboa
Phone Number: 21.190.0100
Homepage: http://www.hoteldaestrela.com/en/cantina.html

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