Isn’t it interesting how a country like Portugal has so many dishes centered around preserved, salted cod (bacalhau) hasn’t actually taken up smoking fishes? Unlike Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands or the UK, smoking food in general was never part of Portugal’s culinary bloodstream. Thankfully, The Moustache Smokery has been filling in that gap with some first rate dishes featuring smoked meat or fish and now a homemade smoker was made from a metal barrel by some new friends of ours and taken for a test drive this Sunday at Quintal, with memorable results.
“Quintal” is a terrace bar above the Ateneu de Lisboa, which is an old, defunct atheneum which now also houses the fantastic bar Primeiro Andar. Having entered a side street of Rua das Portas de Santo Antão next to Avenida da Liberdade, you’ll have to climb many stairs in order to finally arrive at a beautiful, peaceful terrace with trees, a bar, plastic tables outside and fenced in on the right, a couple of ducks and a noisy rooster. Much like the rest of the Ateneu, the place has a slightly eery feeling of “faded glory” to it, what with the former empty swimming pool in the back and the beautiful mess that is the gathered equipment in the back room.
Now, this is not an article about Quintal as a bar, but rather how the glorious terrace of Quintal served as a space for a brilliant meet up last Sunday, organised by Jens, Thomas, Shawn and Margaret. As we walked in, everything about the whole set up screamed “campsite”: an improvised washing station where you wash off the plates yourself and the one plate electrical stove on top of a table. There’s a big electric oven in the back where Flammkuchen, bagels and bread were baked, all of it pretty fantastic. Shawn was the baker that day and a truly masterful one if you ask us. He had previously also helped set up the wood-fired oven of RDA, another one of these community spaces, in which they bake some nice pizza’s every Sunday.
So, this is a bit of a free for all, anything goes kind of arrangement where you have to get your hands dirty if you want some food. If you can live with so much improvisation and be open to other people, ideas and languages, guaranteed you’ll have a jolly good time. In our case it meant that we lost track of time and stayed until 9 pm. In the meantime we had helped out with cleaning, doing the dishes and learned from Shawn how to shape and bake bagles (from kneeding the dough in the right shape to poaching them in some malt water before dipping them into some seeds and baking them). It’s a low-profit, communitarian project that doesn’t let itself be commodified and doesn’t exist for anything other than bringing people and great food together at extremely low cost prices.
And great food, we had plenty of. The previousy mentioned bagels came out beautifully: all gnarly, crusty and golden with seeds sprinkled on the outside and wonderfully doughy and flavorful on the inside. The Alsatian-German specialty of tarte flambée/Flammkuchen where a bit doughier than we both like them to be, but the caramelized onions, crème fraiche and the chunks of smoked fish on top were a delight. As was the bread by the way. Shawn blew us out of the water with his doughy, flavorful dark bread which also had a beautiful even rise. It actually contained grains (barley and roasted barley) left over from a porter beer brew. A rare find here in Portugal, have to say.
All of this was perfectly accompanied by the local “a.m.o. beer” which we tried a couple of variations of. Unlike so many other artisanal Portuguese beers, it wasn’t watery at all but instead full of flavor and well balanced. A particular highlight for both of us was the American Pale Ale with its lovely, flowery hops whereas the British brown ale had more caramelized and sweet malts and offered a beautiful counterpoint for the salty fish. By the end of the afternoon, it all started to feel like we were the privileged witnesses of some amazing improvisational jazz piece with the barrel-smoked fish doing the lead vocals.
Oh the fish. The smoked fish. We had never had fresh fish straight out of the smoker like that and it was heaven. Thomas had been smoking various fishes for over four hours: there was the particularly juicy mackerel, some mindblowing trout and the sweeter horse mackerels. The cream dressings as accompaniments were all that these fishes needed and the smoked cheese that afterwards appeared from the barrel was nothing less than an awesome surprise. For those who have never had it: smoked ricotta (requeijão) is truly a food lover’s delight: creamy, slightly denser and drier than in its fresh taste, a lovely smokey, yellow crust and so good with just a slice of bread. I could even put it on pizza or make gnocchi out of it or something.
Now, we have eaten in this city all over, have tried many different things, but this was a real highlight, both on a culinary and social level. The organisers want to get together every weekend and start smoking the hell out of whatever else it is that they can get their hands on and that’s good news for everyone, really. The promise of having some actual nice springtime or summer weather – implying, not as soaking wet with rain as it was that day – and sitting there long into the evening nibbling food and drinking wine and making friends is something that’s gonna keep us coming back again and again.
P.S. In the spirit of raising awareness and making sure that wonderful initiatives like these continue to happen: the Ateneu de Lisboa could possibly be sold in order to be turned into a luxury hotel – which is of course exactly what this city needs. I’m sure you can hear us sigh desperately behind our computers right? In case you haven’t done so, use your voice and sign the petition here.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
When: Most Sundays, from 2 or 3 pm onwards.
Where: Quintal, Rua Portas de Santo Antão 110. At least if stupid people don’t decide to turn it into a luxury hotel this year. Which they might, because they probably are really stupid.
Telephone number: Just go there. You don’t have to book in advance. There’s no such thing.
Website: You’re kidding, right? Maybe check http://www.meetup.com if you really must know and cannot handle surprises, in which case you just shouldn’t go there.