On my first day in Lisbon, I sampled Portuguese wines from the Douro and Alentejo regions at the Wines of Portugal tasting room on the Royal Square (Praça do Comércio-Terreiro do Paco) just across from the Pousada do Lisboa, (a Small Luxury Hotel affiliate), where I was staying. The wines in the waterfront showroom were displayed according to individual regions, just as the restaurants in the food court venues are separated according to menus.
That evening, I met a colleague at the Palácio Chiado, a stunningly restored eighteenth-century palace, which served as a residence, library, museum, and Institute of Decorative Arts before falling into disrepair. It reopened in 2016 as an opulent food court, with seven different wining and dining spaces, including the city’s most beautiful sushi bar, which is also claimed to be the best.
Within the double wooden door entry of the aristocratic mansion, guests receive a “card” on which all purchases are tallied before entering the casual ground-floor space with its long bar and table seating. Behind that lounge, there are market stalls where guests order self-service: steaks from the Meat Bar, healthy options (vegan, no gluten, no dairy) at Local Chiado, and traditional codfish recipes from Bacalhau Lisboa.
The upper level is reached via an ultra-posh black wrought-iron staircase, flanked by generous quantities of marble and gold leaf, grand murals, frescos, a heraldic coat of arms and a stained-glass window. One bar is centered under an ornate and painted vaulted ceiling. I ordered from the lengthy wine list with surprisingly low price tags for such a chic, cosmopolitan setting: Mingorra Bruto 2011 from Alentejo, just 6.50 euros! In the adjacent Delisbon Bar, guests perch around a glass-topped case, where they can point to order charcuteries, breads, and cheeses. Alternately, there’s a wine and tapas pairing created by celebrated chef Vitor Sobral, who designs TAP Portugal menus, along with a team of Michelin-starred Portuguese chefs.
Afterward, we walked along the streets of the Chiado neighborhood — where sidewalks are decorated with mosaic tiles — to Bairro do Avillez, the chic, multi-venue restaurant recently opened by José Avillez, who earned two Michelin stars at Belcanto. The diminutive neighborhood offers a series of interior eateries and a mercearia (grocery store) with a charcuterie and cheese selection. The adjacent dining room boasts an enormous mural on white-tiled wall featuring brightly painted pigs grinning at the abundance of produce, condiments, bread, wine, cheese, and whole fish on a table. My friend had dinner plans but introduced me to the hostess, who led me to a high-top table within an indoor passageway, called The Taberna. I sipped Douro wine, watched platters of petiscos (tapas) — beef croquettes and linguiça sausage bread, plus prawns, octopus, and cod pass by — and studied the traditional Portuguese menu. I ignored tuna, beef, pork, and steaks and ordered coal-grilled mushrooms and asparagus alongside smoked eggplant caviar and sundried tomatoes and topped with a drizzle of yogurt dressing spiced with cumin, peppermint and cilantro. I ordered bread and was served flaky cornbread, Azores-sourced butter, and a bowl of marinated olives. Seafood reigns in the Páteo, a large, arched-walled and glass-topped courtyard with sailing ships hanging from the ceiling and, serendipitously, on my second trip to Lisbon, in May, colleagues had reserved a table, there. Seated at a round table near the open kitchen, I relished garlicky shrimp topped with jalapeños and parsley that was served in a copper pot — the single largest, sweetest prawn among many that I ordered on that trip. (I never saw Beco, another exclusive restaurant there, perhaps because it’s in a hidden passageway.)
I also visited the Time Out Market, twice, which the folks at the magazine reconstructed within the original Lisbon marketplace Mercado da Ribeira. The Time Out staff selected each of the local purveyors and chefs who represent the region’s best. The first time, I arrived as a side-car passenger after a tour during which the English-speaking cyclist-guide zipped around and up and down some of Lisbon’s seven hillsides and purchased fresh croquettes at the croqueteria and perfect Portuguese pastéis de nata at the custard tart factory. I returned when I discovered that the railroad station — from which I traveled to and from the seacoast village of Cascais — was directly across the street. I ordered a “signature” seafood Francesinha de atun (a tuna, beef, crab meat, onion, and shrimp dish) by Marlene Vieira, the only female among the top chefs in Time Out’s stable. Although it was overly sauced for my taste, I divided it among the new “friends” who shared the community table, and they loved it unabashedly.
There is much to love in Lisbon, from topography to Beaux-Arts (and contemporary) architecture; from ceramic azulejo tiles, art museums and fado music to the fabulous food courts, which offer multiple opportunities to sample the city’s culinary excellence.