If you’re not a regular reader, you might sometimes get the idea that we are sophisticated people in search of nicely dressed up food in stylish restaurants and get very angry when it is not. Thing is: the price has to match the quality, so when we pay a lot, we have high expectations. “Tambarina” might be ideal for those who keep their wallets tight shut, but make no mistake, it’s got heart and soul to spare. And you will leave with your belly full of comfort food and your head bobbin’ with Cape Verdean music.
“Tambarina” derives its name from the Cape Verdean name for tamarind fruit, a slightly sour fruit and the trees that produce it grow aplenty in the Cape Verdean islands are also rich in tamarind trees. There really isn’t much to say about this place: interior design, style, aesthetic concept: forget all of that for a minute. It looks like a tasca (one of those cheap Portuguese restaurants that serves as a meeting point for people of the neighborhood and filling if not always very healthy traditional food), what with the long tables with paper table cloths to protect the real tablecloths underneath and bottles of alcohol stacked up against the wall behind the counter in which the desserts are on display. It delivers substance over style in spades and doesn’t take time for formalities. The restaurant offers a bunch of typical Cape Verdean dishes, such as roast mandioca with beef, bean stews (“feijão pedra” and “feijão congo”) and chickpea stews (“cachupa”). It’s home cooking and doesn’t really care whether it looks pretty or not.
Not that it needs to: I can definitely say that I have never had a chickpea stew that is as nice as the one they have here. The stew is made with freshly soaked chickpeas – NOT out of a can and the chickpeas are perfectly cooked, just over al dente: they give way but still have a bit of a bite to them. The stew offers some truly intense flavors of either meat or fish, depending on what variety you choose. It even comes accompanied with two fried sunny side eggs, which is not really necessary, but if you’re gonna fill up on protein, you might as well do it properly.
Another must have here is the “muamba”, an intensely flavored chicken stew with chicken so tender it’s falling off the bone. Our very sympathetic waitress assured us that you are supposed to eat it with “funji”. Granted, “Funji” doesn’t look pretty and it is a bit of an acquired taste: a gloopy puree made of manioc (also known as cassava) and has virtually no flavor at all. Like rice or pasta, it soaks up the flavors of the dish you’re having it with beautifully and it’s the ideal pairing with “muamba”. Mix in some of the roasted chili sauce you get as an accompaniment and the dish will sing to you like the band that was playing there last night.
Here, there’s live music four days a week and it doesn’t have even half an ounce of the pretentiousness of some other Cape Verdean, much more upmarket places in town. The music came from a band consisting of two fantastic guitarists and one pianist who also provided the drums with the electronic keyboard. Around the band, in the back room and in the dining room, there were a handful of people dancing. By midnight, the concert was over and the schnaps (“ponche”, made from sugar cane and not for the faint hearted) merrily made its round among musicians and bar crows. We had two. To accompany the light, delicate mango mousse which wasn’t too sweet and had an intense flavor of mango. After last week’s mousse disaster, it was divine.
That’s it, it was 10 euros per person for a couple of drinks, two main dishes and one unforgettable mousse we’d gladly walk all the way down to São Bento for just to get another bite. And that goes pretty much for everything else here on offer. It’s low key, budget friendly, tasty and you’re most likely gonna have a great time meeting people, talking, eating and drinking. And that is exactly what truly good food is all about.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: Mon-Thu: 12h00-16h00, Fri-Sat: 12h00-16h00, 20h00-2 Everyday 9h00-2h00, live music from Thursday until Sunday. Most chances of having a party and dancing the night away would probably be on Friday and Saturday when either you queue up outside or book a table.
Address: Rua do Poço dos Negros 94, 1200-109 Lisboa
Phone Number: +351 210127556 / 213951111