The wonder of photography

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In the 19th century, photographers were sorcerers who could conjure life-like images that were exhilarating. Today, photos are so common that much of the wonder of the early days of photography is lost.

We were curious when we heard about Silverbox, a studio in Lisbon that specializes in portraits taken with an old photographic process. The studio is located in an elegant early 20th-century building. We entered the ornate iron elevator and pressed the key of the 4th floor to embark on our trip to the past of photography. Rute Magalhães, who runs the studio with Filipe Alves, was waiting for us.

Rute and Filipe are architects who fell in love with alternative photographic processes. After trying different methods, they specialized in wet collodium. This technique, invented in 1851 by a sculptor called Frederick Archer, was widely used between 1855 and 1880. Rute and Filipe mastered this difficult process after years of experimentation under the tutelage of Quiin Jacobson, an American authority on early photographic processes.

To take a photo, Rute and Filipe coat a glass plate with collodium and then immerse it in a silver nitrate solution that makes the plate sensitive to light. Before the collodium dries, they place the glass plate in a view camera and take the exposure. The plate is then bathed in a fixing agent and washed with water. The result is a precious image that is exhilarating.

Silverbox is located on Rua Braamcamp, nº88 4 esq. in Lisbon, email info@silverbox.pt, tel. 915074612 /218057735. Click here for their web site.

 

Cave 23

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Dinner at Cave 23, ink and watercolor on paper, Fernanda Lamelas, December 2016.

Ana Moura, the young chef at Cave 23 in Lisbon, was born in a family of gourmands who planed vacations around restaurant outings. Her father, António Moura, runs a jewelry firm that produces sumptuous pieces of handcrafted filigree. Her mother, Fernanda Lamelas, is an architect and a talented watercolor painter.

It is easy to find traces of parental influence in Ana’s food: there’s an architectural quality to the presentation and an intricate detail that makes each dish look like a piece of jewelry. The hake, as white as a pearl, came adorned with a spirulina mayonnaise, dressed with a bouillabaisse sauce, and accompanied by pennyroyal, mustard, curry leaves, Alentejo bread, manga and white truffles. The cheese tart was encrusted with a ruby-red muscatel gelatin, delicate milk paper and honey foam.

Ana’s cuisine is centered on the flavors of the Portuguese cuisine. She uses foreign ingredients—Indian bread, Japanese roots, Vietnamese puffed rice—but only to make local ingredients shine brighter.

A passage through Arzak, a famous Basque restaurant, left Ana with a taste for bold flavors. She served us a large shrimp paired with bone marrow, the two flavors enhancing each other. The sublime crab soup was made with broth reduced for two days.

The menu features creative combinations of flavors that work well together: the rabbit rice came with persimmon, the crab meat with a radish bisque, the shrimp with a mousse of arugula and Azores cheese.

Cave 23 is a new star in the firmament of Lisbon restaurants. Our dinner was an intense, memorable experience; we can’t wait to go back!

Cave 23 is located in the Torel Palace (Rua Câmara Pestana, nº 23). Click here for the restaurant’s website.

 

The Portuguese Tea Company

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Portugal played a leading role in the trade with the Far East after Vasco da Gama discovered the sea way to India in 1498. One of the commodities brought from the orient by the caravels were the dried leaves of a plant called Caméllia sinensis. The Portuguese called these leaves and their infusion chá, after the Cantonese word chàh. Their Dutch rivals preferred a word from China’s Fujian province: tea.

When Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess, married Charles II of England in 1662, her trousseau included a basket of tea leaves. She used them to throw tea parties at court. These parties were such a success that drinking tea became a fashion that endures.

Two centuries later, Wenceslaus de Moraes, a Portuguese diplomat who lived in the orient, wrote a poetic book called The Cult of Tea. His goal was to introduce Europeans to the ancient art of serving tea.

Despite these historical connections, Portugal didn’t have a purveyor of fine teas until an Argentinian called Sebastian Filgueiros came to live in Lisbon. Trained as a tea sommelier, he decided to create the Companhia Portugueza de Chá (the Portuguese tea company). The company’s logo combines the profile of Catherine of Braganza with the word Lisbon handwritten by Wenceslaus de Moraes.

Sebastian travels often to the Far East in search of new producers. His favorite teas are the Darjeelings from India and the old black teas from China. But he is very proud of the teas made in Portugal. He’s been able to source two wonderful teas from Azores. The first is a delicate white tea made in cooperation with a research institute. The second is a rare Oolong from the Gorreana plantation. Sebastian sells a fragrant earl grey produced with bergamot oil from Alentejo and his own tea blend called Lisbon breakfast.

When he talks about tea, Sebastian has all the time in the world. And there’s a lot to talk about, from the harvest and oxidization of the leaves, to the way each tea is prepared and served. He speaks softly, as if the secrets of tea are for our ears only. It is worth listening because on the shelves of his store lies a world of tantalizing aromas and flavors waiting to be discovered.

The Companhia Portugueza de Chá operates in Rua do Poço dos Negros, 105, near Chiado, tel. 21-395-1614.

 

Lisbon wakes up

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Rossio, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, December 2016.

We envy the early risers. They see Lisbon wake up, dress in pale blue light, put on a cinnamon fragrance and get ready to enchant its visitors.

 

 

We’re often asked about the drawings used on our blog. They’re the work of architect Rui Barreiros Duarte. For the first time, he’s selling a few original drawings like the one on this post. The sizes are around 60 cm x 40 cm and the prices around 200 euros. If you’re interested, email apprbd@gmail.com .

A poetic lunch in Alfama

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We got lost in the old Alfama neighborhood on the way to a new restaurant called “Os Gazeteiros.” It is difficult paying attention to where we’re going when there’s so much to appreciate: quaint streets, beautiful tiles, ornate doors and ancient windows. GPS systems are befuddled by the confusing street names and the locals give conflicting directions. It is all so that Alfama can keep its secrets.

We called the restaurant to apologize for being late and we were reassured in a charming French accent that this was not a problem.  When we arrived, we learned that we had spoken with the chef, David Eyguesier.

David explained that lunch was a three-course fixed menu inspired by seasonal, organic products. He then retreated to the kitchen that overlooks the small dining room to work on our meal.

A fragrant aroma preceded the arrival of the first course: a vegetable rice cooked with garlic confit, accompanied by slivers of black pork sausage, baby watercress, and an arugula ice cream. The flavors were delicate, the combination harmonious and inventive.

We asked David where he learned how to cook. “The name of the restaurant is the answer,” David replied smiling. “Gazeteiros are students who skip school to have fun. I’ve never been to culinary school. It’s ironic that the restaurant is located on Rua das Escolas Gerais (General Schools street).”

“So, how did you end up opening a restaurant in Alfama?” we asked, curious. “I fell in love with a woman who brought me to Lisbon,” he confided. “I always cooked for friends and I was inspired by the quality of the Portuguese produce. There are amazing products that sell for a fraction of what they would cost in Paris. Opening a restaurant to cook with these ingredients was a natural idea.”

David returned to the kitchen and we sat back enjoying the sight of the colorful trams that pass periodically right by the restaurant.

The second course was a culinary poem composed of seared sea bream, radishes pickled in cider vinegar, noori and fish broth.

The dessert was a sumptuous trio of pears marinated in ginger syrup, a walnut crumble, and a cream of “requeijão” infused with vanilla, verbena and thyme.

Alfama has a new secret: a restaurant run by a culinary poet. Reserve a table before the word gets out.

Os Gazeteiros is on Rua das Escolas Gerais, 114-116, Lisbon, tel. 218-860-399, 939-501-211

 

A food tour of Lisbon

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Pedro Rebelo has collaborated with our blog from the beginning, suggesting restaurants to try and ideas for posts. He is a fabulous cook. We’re lucky to have been invited to many of his culinary feasts and we love the recipes he shares on his blog, Pasto. Pedro’s food is not just delicious—it surprises and delights.

After researching food tours in Italy and France, Pedro teamed up with Franziska Shroeder to organize their own food tour of Lisbon, Portugal on a Plate. They invited us to go on their tour and we gladly accepted.

We met in an elegant esplanade in Praça São Paulo. Sipping an espresso accompanied by a crunchy pastel de nata, we asked Pedro and Franziska what was the plan. “We cannot spoil the element of surprise,” Pedro answered smiling. “All we’ll say is that the heart of the tour is Madragoa, a neighborhood full of character seldom visited by tourists.”

We don’t want to give away their secrets, but we can tell you that the tour is a feast for all senses. We learned about Portuguese food, history and culture surrounded by the sounds of Lisbon: the river Tagus splashing its waves on the shore, the old trams gliding on their tracks, the church bells marking the passage of time.

There was so much to see: pristine fish and colorful produce in the farmers market, salted cod and other delicacies in traditional grocery stores, ancient buildings and quaint streets.

We experienced the scents of the herbs and spices used in local cooking and the aroma of coffee beans roasted by the last artisanal producer in Portugal.

Every few minutes there was a new culinary sensation, from the classics of the Portuguese repertoire to the cuisine of places like Goa, which were once part of the Portuguese empire. There were finger foods like “tremoços” and interesting wines made with passion by small producers.

The tour includes an initiation into the art of drinking tea. It was great fun to try the different teas brought from China by Portuguese navigators and introduced to the British court by a Portuguese princess, Catarina de Bragança.

You can sample the cuisine of Lisbon on your own. But it is a much richer experience to have insiders guide you to the flavors and aromas of a great culinary tradition waiting to be discovered.

Click here for more information about the Portugal on a Plate food tours.

 

Our walking tour of Lisbon!

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We love showing Lisbon to our friends. It is a joy to stroll through streets where so much history was written, admiring the old architecture, visiting interesting shops, stopping by beautiful cafés for coffee and pastries. So, when VoiceMap invited us to record a voice-guided walking tour of Lisbon, we didn’t hesitate.

VoiceMap is a new company that produces GPS-based walking tours. To go on a tour, all you need is a smart phone. You can download the tour in advance and use the maps offline.

Their app shows you a map with your current location and where you should go next. The audio is synchronized with the map, so you can walk at your own pace while your guide tells you about what you’re seeing. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the place you are visiting.

Our tour is about the relationship of Lisbon with the Tagus river. We start at Chiado, by the iconic Brasileira coffee shop, and stroll down to Baixa, the area of downtown Lisbon that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. On the way, we tell you about everything from myths and legends to royal gossip. We show you the architecture and the views of the Tagus river that inspired so many poets. And we end the tour with a celebratory drink in the most beautiful esplanade in Lisbon. Come join us!

Click here to download our VoiceMap tour of Lisbon.

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