As regular followers of our blog will know, we have had a hard time in finding restaurants with good vegetarian food. Or even decent. So we are always excited and happy whenever we find a place like “Pachamama” that cooks mostly vegetarian food, always includes a vegan and/or raw food option and every day has a fish dish or two on offer. That all sounds very interesting but the proof is in the pudding as they say and on that dreadful night, the pudding bordered on the inedible.
Things started off well though. “Pachamama” offers homemade sour dough bread as an appetizer, accompanied by good quality olive oil and a nice kind of pesto dip. According to Nora as close to real German bread as you’re ever going to get in the sponge bread riddled country that is Portugal. Then there is the wine, which like everything else here on the menu, is organic. We had a glass of red wine from the Douro (rich, smooth and velvety) and a glass of the herby, drier more complex red wine from the Dão for around 4€ a glass. You cannot go wrong with this one, so we thought.
Our expectations were soaring but came crashing down in cinder and smoke as soon as we took a bite of the starter, two raw tomatoes filled with a strange tasting, creamy sauce that had a vague hint of pesto but was actually way too heavy for its own good. In it, there were bits and pieces of a badly cooked, tough octopus which was miles away from being the sweet, tender piece of seafood it can actually be. Whatever flavour the octopus might have had, was completely obliterated by the pesto sauce – and the out of season, most likely greenhouse organically grown raw tomato added… well, nothing.
“Pachamama” prides itself in using only organic ingredients and changes the menu everyday according to what is available on the market but uses tomatoes in wintertime and slices of raw cabbage (could that really have been a salad?) dressed with something like raspberry vinegar or puree to accompany the octopus pesto disaster. So far, so totally not seasonal. It was weird. Even weirder then was the fact that my main dish, a filet of white fish called “dentão”, a kind of croaker fish “Sesimbra style” was cooked to absolute crisp perfection in brown butter. It sat on top of a pea-onion broth and the dish as a whole maybe wasn’t mindblowing, but would definitely warrant a return visit from us.
All would have been forgiven if only Nora hadn’t ordered the multi-grain tagliatelle (a noble invention but very difficult to get right in terms of flavour and texture) with a vegetarian bolognese sauce. The pasta was impossible to roll around your fork and really, if you cannot do that with your pasta, then why order the dish at all? Piled on top was a horrid excuse for a bolognese sauce. Has the chef actually ever been to Bologna to taste the gooey, dark, intense meat tomato stew that it actually is?
The sauce was bordering on the acceptable: at least it tasted of something that had some tomatoes waving at you from the horizon. There were no small chunky bits as you might get in a traditional bolognese. No garlic, no onions, no carrots, no deep dark red wine flavored tomato sauce, no happy food critics. The dish might have been somewhat okay, had it not been accompanied by dried soya chunks (also known as meal makers): an absolute disaster of flavorless and tough pieces of styrofoam. Now, let’s get one thing straight here: organic or not, charging around 13 euros for some badly cooked pasta, a rather loveless tomato-like sauce with tasteless, tough as old boots soy chunks, is exuberant. Or just a rip off.
As you might have guessed after so much inconsistency: we were scared. However, the worst is still to come and out of sheer curiosity we, like the two guinea pigs that we have become for you, dear readers, decided to take a dessert. One. To share. Because we were really scared. We went for what we thought would be a safe option: the 100% cacau mousse, a dish that we will long remember for all the wrong reasons. Before we dive into it, let us, for scientific purposes, first have a look at what normal people associate with a chocolate mousse:
Then there is this one from “Pachamama”:
Wobbles like a soup. Looks like a soup. So it must be… Well, what actually? A grainy, lumpy, horrid tasting cream of nothingness, a vague hint of cacau, sweetness but not dark, gooey sweetness, just weird sweetness. Grains, maybe soft tofu, maybe other UFO’s (unidentified floating objects). It tasted like something Baldrick from the brilliant “Blackadder” series might conjure up. No apologies from the waiting staff, no questions as to why we did not like it (but then again, where to start?). They didn’t even bother to ask whether we wanted something else instead.
One of the best desserts we’ve actually had last year was the soft tofu chocolate pudding from “In bocca al lupo”, an organic Italian restaurant, where the chefs do have a palate. It’s not impossible people, you just need to care as much as they do. “Pachamama” derives its name from the Inca goddess who embodies the fertility of Mother Earth but unfortunately, with food like that, the name ends up being nothing more than just a highly problematic culturally appropriated name.
The fact that “Pachamama” calls itself an all biological restaurant might explain the more upmarket prices, but then you also need the food to match it. No need to say, we both felt extremely sad – and uncomfortably heavy and full – having spent about 26€ per person for a shared appetizer, bread, two glasses of wine, two main dishes and one disgusting dessert. They even go as far as calling themselves the first biological restaurant in Lisbon, which is at least a doubtful claim. “In bocca al lupo” also serves all organic food (granted, the craft beers might not be) and exists since summer 2014 and “Pachamama” only since April 2015. Not to get in a slamming match here, there might have been other restaurants even before them we don’t know of (and we’d love to hear that from you, dear readers, in the comment section below). In any case, the claim is at least as shady as the restaurant itself.
After having discovered one of the best restaurants of Lisbon with a very seasonal menu last week, we were hoping to find its meatless, mostly vegetarian equivalent in “Pachamama”. Yes, the service is friendly (one of the owners, Miguel Abreu, was extremely involved, at least in the beginning) and the bread and the wine were nothing less than awesome. Most everything else wasn’t, including also the white décor, white plastic tables and chairs and ugly hospital floors. The nice paintings from the local street artist RAM on the wall and the old stones hint at the start of a promising concept, but its actual, awkward execution just falls flat. Practical as we are, we have visualized our experience at “Pachamama” in a graph for you:
To be honest, we really feel very sad to write this because owner Miguel Abreu was really passionate about what they were doing and we really had high expectations considering the great wine and fantastic bread and all. It is possible that the owners just lack the background (they used to work in a bank) and don’t know enough about food to be critical enough to enforce the consistency the restaurant would need. We can only say that you really only should go to “Pachamama” at your own risk. You might get lucky. Or have your evening ruined. It’s anyone’s guess.
P.S. A message of general interest. I understand the need for and the commercial appeal of making a vegetarian bolognese sauce, but you can also make it in such a way that it is not boring, as proven here in this video from the German vegan star chef Attila Hildmann with tofu – we do like tofu if cooked like this –, or in our own recipe, which doesn’t even involve tofu or soy, just a deep, rich stew of vegetables bursting with umami. We care. We share. No need to thank us, just treat us to a glass of wine should you run into us in a bar or restaurant somewhere. But it’s most likely not going to be in “Pachamama”.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: Mon-Thu: 12h00-16h00, Fri-Sat: 12h00-16h00, 20h00-2h00
Address: Boqueirão do Duro 46
Phone Number: +351 21 598 7650