Right now, Lisbon is one of the most exciting places to eat in Europe. London chef and Lisbon native Ana Gonçalves is one half of the creative culinary duo TĀ TĀ Eatery, responsible for some of the most thrilling food in London right now, including some truly innovative takes on East Asian cuisine at Mr Ji in Soho. With a strong connection to Lisbon and its dynamic restaurant scene, we asked her to share her favourite spots in the city she’d recommend to Londoners. Her words follow.
In Lisbon, one funny thing is that they always serve you toasted bread with butter at restaurants, which is a good thing but it’s also a bad thing because from the point of a restaurateur, you don’t want to fill people up. But the bread is so good – they put it on the table and each time you tell yourself you’re not going to eat it, but there you go – dipping it in one of the sauces, dipping it in the crab shell. It’s literally your spoon for the sauces.
That’s the thing about Lisbon – every single meal there’s bread on the table. You either start with it, you clean your plate with it, or you finish with it.
When I go back to Portugal, I’m usually in Lisbon or out on the West Coast. When I’m in Lisbon, I usually hang out with Meng [Zijun, TATA Eatery co-founder and Ana’s partner] and we usually end up staying with friends who are downtown. I always have this dream of going back and opening something in Lisbon – I think it’s a love relationship, for sure.
Here’s where I like to go when I’m in Lisbon.
Always Start With a Portuguese Custard Tart
My perfect day starts with an early flight, and I’ll arrive before lunch and go to Pastéis de Belém to have their custard tarts. For me, that’s the place – they make the best Portuguese custard tarts, which are unique and in their own category. You can see the large crowds gathering for takeaways or waiting to be seated – it can feel overwhelming at first, but the staff are very experienced and move you very fast.
I love the nostalgia because I always used to go with my parents; my dad’s shop was in the next town, and every weekend my dad would get a box.
The custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém are incredibly consistent. The shop’s been there around 100 years – I can’t remember exactly – and it’s always the same. There’s no variation – there’s a secret recipe, I don’t know how many people have that recipe. I’ll have that and an espresso.
Pastéis de Belém, R. de Belém 84 92, 1300-085 Lisbon. Learn more here.
Experience The Best Seafood Lisbon Has to Offer
Afterwards, you can walk over to a seafood place in Belém, probably a ten-minute walk from Pastéis de Belém, called Nunes Real Marisqueira.
It’s a marisqueria, which is a seafood restaurant. I grew up eating in marisqueiras once a week, and here you can really experiment with the best that Portugal has to offer. It’s the kind of restaurant where the seafood is on display – it’s usually sold per gram or per unit, you just ask them – so you have all the prawns and a big aquarium with lobsters, spiny lobsters, crabs, and more. Everything comes fresh off the boat, or they have everything in those big aquariums – apart from the carabineros, because they come from Mozambique.
At Nunes, my favourites from my last visit were the baby squid done two ways, deep-fried or pan-fried with lemon, and the juicy sweet prawns – camarão alistado (literally, ‘listed prawns’). They’re boiled for thirty seconds and shocked in water – we were literally peeling the head and eating it, and Meng was eating the legs because it was so tender and juicy. You can even eat the shell. It’s so amazing.
Like most marisquerias, Nunes is expensive but it’s also consistent. When you see the crowd there, it’s not like young people just casually dropping in – it’s an older crowd and they’re definitely dressed up for Portugal because the setup is always a little bit fancier and there are a lot of waiters. They want to make sure that they give you the perfect experience.
Nunes Real Marisqueria, R. Bartolomeu Dias 112, 1400-031 Lisbon. Learn more here.
Be Sure To Plan An Evening at Prado…
One of the first things I do when I know I’m going to Lisbon is to call up my friend who works at Prado. It’s a modern nose-to-tail Portuguese restaurant by my brothers Ines Pereira and António Galapito – ToZé to his friends – and is the restaurant that you need to visit in Lisbon.
We always go there. The restaurant is very homely and just feels like more of a London kind of vibe in terms of service, which is what we’re used to. It’s a nose-to-tail restaurant but there’s also a lot of seafood, because he’ll get whole fish which he breaks down, same with his pigs. ToZé will never buy a rack of lamb – he buys the whole animal and breaks down the whole thing and serves it. It’s a casual place, but the price point is higher than average.
We always overorder and get the whole menu, and we usually try and bring a few people. You want to get the classics like the beef tartare wrapped in cabbage leaf – I think he’s been doing it since day one. There’s also the pig’s trotter dish, and amazing desserts – mushroom ice cream with barley, which has been on forever and is always very consistent. If you’re going as two, you want to aim for 2-3 dishes per person with desserts to share.
Prado, Tv. Pedras Negras 2, 1100-404 Lisbon. More info here.
…And Consider These Excellent Modern Restaurants, Too
I also like Tasca da Esquina, a small plates and tapas place by the very famous and old school chef Victor Sobral. It’s a mature restaurant where you can have the Portuguese classics done in a modern way, like perfectly cooked pork livers. It’s a great introduction to Portuguese cooking with a more sophisticated tone.
And then there’s Taberna do Calhau, from my dear friend and architect Leopoldo Calhau. He brings the food of Alentejo to Lisbon, and the menu is a very personal approach to the Alentejo traditions and flavours done in a more delicate way. There’s also an extensive wine list and inside, and a beautiful typical tavern with dishes to share.
Tasca de Esquina, R. Domingos Sequeira 41C, 1350-119 Lisbon. More info here.
Taberna do Calhau, Largo das Olarias 23, 1100-376 Lisbon. More info here.
Be Sure To Grab a Bifana While You Stroll The City
Bifanas do Afonso is also very close to Prado and is this little tasca serving bifanas, the famous Portuguese pork sandwich. Through the window you can see the massive pot of cooked pork steaks swimming in a sauce made with pork fat and garlic. Order a bifana for four euros and a beer.
I love that the bread is soft, and it’s dipped in the sauce before being stuffed with a generous amount of thinly sliced meat slices – one last squeeze of Savora mustard and you’re set. Whilst you are waiting for your bifana, you can also have one of the fried snacks like a patanisca de bacalhau, a little fritter of salted cod, coriander and egg white.
Usually, the places that sell bifanas are called tascas which also sell fried things, like samosas, croquettes, rissoles and so on. They’re very casual and don’t even usually have seating. And then you can order a bifana or sometimes a prego, which is the steak sandwich, fried in garlic and put in bread; and usually there’s beer. You go there because you know you’ll be served and spend five euros – sometimes even less – and you get it to take away. Older guys will go there to hang out at the end of the day. But it’s just a really cheap place where you can get your food in under a minute.
I usually send people to this place because there’s a lot of touristy stuff to see nearby and then you just go there and have a quick lunch and you’re just so happy because it’s so delicious and satisfying and cheap.
As Bifanas do Afonso, Portugal, R. da Madalena 146, 1100-340 Lisbon.
Glimpse At The Lisbon of Years Past At a Time-Honoured Classic
One of my favourite places in Lisbon is Gambrinus, a Portuguese institution founded in the 30’s. The menu and vibe feel like that era – the waiters, bartenders and kitchen staff are in their sixties and have worked there since they were kids and just stayed. At the bar you can get the best meat croquettes in town, fried to order – a rarity in Lisbon – and very classic cocktails.
The restaurant serves Portuguese food served in a French way, and you’ll have dishes like salt crust seabass, and they’ll open it tableside for you; but you’ll also have a very Portuguese salad, too. There’s also the bar, which is also so cool to see – it’s popular with old-timers knocking back old-fashioneds and martinis like it’s still the 30’s.
You can visit the bar for a steak sandwich and freshly fried croquettes. But it’s just the whole vibe. Sometimes you’ve got to focus less on the food and just enjoy the vibe. And you can see very working-class people go there for a snack and a coffee, but also gentlemanly couples – city type people – because you can also have clams at the counter. We usually go there before going out for dinner, or for a drink after a meal.
Gambrinus, R. das Portas de Santo Antão 23, 1150-264 Lisbon. More info here.
And Enjoy Innovative Cocktails From The City’s Best Bartenders
Constança Cordeiro spent many years working abroad before coming back to Lisbon to launch Toca da Raposa, a cool cocktail bar that focuses on seasonal local and foraged ingredients. The whole concept is very daring for Lisbon.
She worked with bartender Matt Whiley (Scout) at the old Viajante bar at the Town Hall hotel in London. They worked together for two years but she’s well known, and she opened in Lisbon. She focuses on seasonality, and she forages a lot – it’s crazy how much she forages – and it’s a cute place, beautifully designed. There’s so much marble – Portuguese people are big on marble – and her dad is an architect.
The drinks are very contemporary, and she does her own distillations. It’s a little like Tayer + Elementary in London in some ways.
There’s also Nuno [Mendes]’ rooftop bar at the Bairro Alto hotel – we’ve had drinks there and it’s very classic. The views are really nice, and the design is beautiful.
Toca da Raposa, R. da Condessa 45, 1200-302 Lisbon. Learn more here.
Bairro Alto, Praça Luís de Camões 2, 1200-243 Lisbon. More info here.
Or, Keep It Simple With Homestyle Portuguese Cooking
In Lisbon, there’s two places that I like for homestyle Portuguese cuisine, where you can pay €15 and eat like a king.
One is called O Zé da Mouraria. There are two locations, one of which is downtown, where they do really big portions. If you go as two, you should only order for one – try to go with a group. They also do a tasting menu, but with normal portions.
For example, there’s a cuttlefish dish which they’re very famous for – it’s chunks of cuttlefish, gently cooked with garlic and olive oil and probably a little wine. And they cook the potatoes separately and they put it together and then they bring it to the table in the cooking vessel. It’s huge. That dish, you can easily share between three people. Also, try the grilled salted cod with potatoes and chickpeas. The food is very rustic, with simple and friendly service.
I also like O Velho Eurico, a modern tasca. They do things right – it’s an honest place taking simple, traditional dishes and elevating them. The cooking is simple and tasty, and it’s very popular with tourists due to its location. I’d recommend trying the bacalhau à brás and my favourite, the cabidela, a dish of blood chicken rice.
O Zé da Mouraria, R. João do Outeiro 24, 1100-292 Lisbon. More info here.
O Velho Eurico, Largo São Cristóvão nº3, 1100-179 Lisbon. Learn more here.
And Last But Not Least, Piri-Piri Chicken Worth The Trip
Somos Um Regalo in Cascais, in my opinion, does the best Piri Piri chicken. This place has been there for years and it’s a staple for Franguinho da Guia, which is the smaller chicken speciality in Cascais.
Somos Um Regalo, Av. Vasco da Gama 36, 2750-509 Cascais. Learn more here.