Belmiro

Belmiro is the kind of restaurant that is increasingly hard to find in Lisbon. It does not prepare food to look good on Instagram. It does not seek originality for its own sake. Instead, it cooks classics of the Portuguese cuisine with good-quality, seasonal ingredients. 

The restaurant is named after Belmiro de Jesus, an old hand who’s been a chef at places like Salsa & Coentros. Belmiro is famous for his mouthwatering “empadas,” small pies with delightful fillings. And he is a virtuoso at cooking partridge and hare. He prepares them with rice, in “açorda,” with beans, and much more. The menu is seasonal, it changes to reflect what’s fresh in the market. If you can’t decide what to choose, a good rule of thumb is to order anything cooked in a “tacho” (a saucepan). 

We like to go to Belmiro with friends and ask the chef to prepare a few entrées we can all share. Accompanied by some good bottles of wine, the meal always turns into a party. 

Belmiro is located at Paço da Rainha 66, Lisbon, tel. 21 885 2752.

Casa da Volta

A close friend called us with a lunch invitation. “Meet me at my house, and we’ll drive together to the restaurant,” he said. “Where are we going?” we asked. “A place in Cascais that is worth getting to know,” our friend answered. That is how, on a warm winter Saturday, we visited a small village near Cascais called Areia. 

The restaurant occupies the first floor of a spacious house. It is managed by a charming young Iberian couple, Vera Rente from Portugal and Javier Marquez from Spain. They met in Barcelona, where Javier apprenticed as a chef. 

Vera told us that when she brought Javier to visit Sintra, he started dreaming about having a restaurant in this region. In late 2019 they opened Casa da Volta

Our meal started with an elegant “Ajo Blanco,” a white gazpacho made with almonds that came with green grapes and delicate shrimp from the coast of the Algarve. Large slices of rustic bread allowed us to scoop up every ounce of the delicious soup. 

Soon we were tasting another delight: lightly grilled slices of a fish called Sarda dressed with a green piriñaca sauce that perfectly harmonized with the fish. 

The service, orchestrated by Vera, is seamless. Much thought and care go into crafting every detail of the dining experience.  

Our culinary journey continued with brioche and shrimp served in American sauce. It is lovely to see this traditional sauce, invented by the French chef Pierre Fraysse em 1860, come back into use. 

We were trying to elect our favorite dish when the choice became harder with the arrival of a majestic blue lobster cooked with mushrooms and spinach.  

And there were more marvels: a perfectly cooked mullet, so fresh we could taste the sea. And then hearty slices of deer paired with parsnip. 

The meal ended on a sweet note with a warm almond cake with a soft inside and a crumble made from banana and passion fruit.

We asked Javier how they endured the Covid period. “We were lucky because we could cook with amazing produce and live in this region that is paradise,” he replied. That sentiment sums up what Casa da Volta is: a place where a young couple is cooking the food of paradise.

Casa da Volta is located at Rua São José, Areia, Cascais, Click here for their website.

Dining by candlelight at Quinta Dona Maria

We arrived late in the afternoon and waited outside the imposing marble gate. Before we could say ‘abracadabra’ or some other incantation, the gate opened, welcoming us to Quinta Dona Maria, a magnificent wine estate in Alentejo. 

Isabel Bastos came to greet us. We walked with her to the palace’s chapel and sat down to hear her recount the story of Quinta Dona Maria. The estate was a gift from King John V to Dona Maria, a lady of the court with whom the king fell in love. Dona Maria left no descendants, so the property was sold in a public auction upon her death. The Reynolds, a family of merchants from southern England, purchased it. They renamed the estate Quinta do Carmo in honor of an image of the Lady of Carmo they bought for the chapel in 1752. The estate currently belongs to Júlio Bastos, Isabel’s husband, who descends from the Reynolds family. 

Júlio’s grandfather started producing fine wines on the estate. The project was so successful that in a blind tasting with the Rothschilds held in the late 1980s, the wines from Quinta do Carmo tied with Lafitte Rothschild. Impressed by this feat, the Rothschilds proposed Júlio Bastos a partnership. But the two winemakers had different objectives and approaches. Júlio is passionate about the old vines planted with the traditional varietals of Alentejo, most of all Alicante Bouschet, a varietal brought by the Reynolds from France to Alentejo. The Rothschilds wanted to replant the vineyards with French varietals that could appeal to the international market. Eventually, the two parties separated. In this process, the Rothschilds kept the brand Quinta do Carmo, so Júlio renamed his wines and estate Quinta Dona Maria. 

We walked to the wine cellar to see the 18th-century marble tanks where the grapes are still crushed by foot treading. The tanks were brimming with grapes that were starting the fermentation process that transmutes earthly grape juice into heavenly wine. Isabel served us an enticing rosé with pleasing fruit notes and refreshing acidity. Next, we tried a delightful white Viognier that shows how much this French grape shines in the soils of Alentejo. The tasting ended with pomp and circumstance provided by two sumptuous Dona Maria red reserves from 2005 and 2008.

It was time to go to the palace. The large door creaked as it slowly opened to show us rooms lit by candlelight that made us feel like we were back in the 18th century. Júlio joined us for dinner. His love for the land, food, and wine of Alentejo were evident throughout the meal. 

The dinner, prepared by Filipe Ramalho from Páteo Real and Beatriz Tobinha, the palace’s resident chef, was a memorable feast. It started with Filipe’s famous tart made from chestnut-flower sausage, pears cooked in wine, quince marmalade, and chard. Then there was a slew of appetizers: tomato and watermelon salad, roasted peppers with bacon, slices of the brilliant sausages made at Salsicharia Canense, plates with savory Alentejo cheeses, and chickpeas with pickled codfish salad. A rich white Dona Maria reserve delicately aged in oak was an enthralling gastronomical companion.

Next came the main dishes: cação (a fish popular in Alentejo) in coriander sauce, pheasant in escabeche sauce and marinated carrots, and duck croquettes with black garlic mayonnaise. A splendid Dona Maria red reserve from 2017 made from old vines complemented the food with its festive taste of berries and hints of spices. 

The dessert was an almond and pumpkin tart paired with the famed Júlio B. Bastos Alicante Bouschet, named after Júlio’s father. The wine’s acidity, tannins, and fruit sing to the palate in perfect harmony.

Glancing at the watch, we saw the two hands pointing to midnight. We knew from fairy tales that it was time to leave. We thanked Isabel and Júlio for their warm hospitality and drove back to our hotel. We slept peacefully but woke up wondering: was the dinner at Quinta Dona Maria a dream? 

Click here for the website of Quinta Dona Maria.

Enchantment at Ceia

Standing in the shadow of Lisbon’s old pantheon, we knock on an inconspicuous door that opens into a courtyard erected in 1728. On our right is the entrance to one of Lisbon’s most hallowed dining rooms: a restaurant called Ceia. Those who’ve been here before experienced much more than superb food, exquisite wines, and courteous service. We had an enchanted evening.  

João Rodrigues, Ceia’s owner, is an alchemist who knows how to transform a meal that nourishes the body into a celebration that nurtures the soul. He gathered a star team, headed by chef Diogo Caetano and sous-chef Tiago Silva, and trusted them with precious ingredients: pristine organic produce freshly picked at Herdade do Tempo in Alentejo.

Ivo Custódio, the sommelier, greets us with an old acquaintance: a white wine made by Luís Mota Capitão, the iconoclast winemaker of Herdade do Cebolal. We enjoy the wine and the conversation with the other guests. Then, Ivo invites us into the dining room. We gather around a long wooden table to hear him explain that the meal is a journey through Portugal’s culinary and enological landscapes.

The voyage starts at the bottom of the ocean with tuna tartare on crunchy seaweed crackers, seaweed sponge cake, and gooseneck barnacles. An Atlantis rosé made with Negra Mole on the Madeira Island enhances the sea flavors.

We rise to the ocean’s surface with the taste of briny oysters paired with tart apples from Alcobaça and seaweed ice cream. The oysters come with a magnificent 2014 white wine from Colares, a small region near the sea where the vines, planted in the sand, survived the phylloxera scourge that decimated Europe in the 19th century. Made by Chitas (the nickname of an old producer called Paulo da Silva) it is a complex wine that fascinates and delights.

We arrive at the beach with a delicately cooked turbot seasoned with smoky olive oil powder and served in a Bulhão Pato sauce. It is so delicious we barely resist the urge to ask for seconds. 

But we find new joys in the lowlands where a sourdough bread fermented for three days and a cornbread baked with dried fruits await us. They come with Amor é Cego, a piquant oil made from Galega olives. There are also plates of luscious butter from Pico, an island in the Azores archipelago.

Ivo serves an elegant 2012 red from Quinta de Lemos in the Dão region. It is made with Jaen–a grape varietal brought to Portugal by pilgrims who traveled to Santiago de Compostela. Like the wine, the conversation flows freely around the table.

In the plains, there is rabbit served with an ice cream made from escabeche, a traditional sauce prepared with vinegar and olive oil. Kompassus, a sparkling wine made from Baga, a red grape from Bairrada, refreshes our palate. 

We climb up the mountain with a roasted purple cabbage dressed with a pennyroyal and champagne sauce. It comes with Sousão, a vibrant red wine from Vale da Raposa in the Douro valley. 

At the top of the mountain, we taste pigeon and potatoes from Trás-os-Montes served with a fermented garlic sauce. There’s also a mystery box with a delightful croquette and a scrumptious Philo-dough cup filled with sorrel leaves. 

Ivo serves a celebratory Breijinho da Costa, a fortified wine made in Setúbal with purple muscatel grapes. The meal ends with sweet fireworks: a noisette pave, petals of roasted peach, thyme ice cream, and lemon curd. And there are mignardises: a traditional Abade de Prisco pudding, coconut biscuits, cinnamon and strawberry truffles.  

Everybody lingers around the table feeling a sense of camaraderie. Then, we say our thanks and goodbyes and walk into the warm night in a state of enchantment. 

Ceia is located at Campo de Santa Clara, 128. Lisbon. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

A codfish restaurant

If you’re yearning for codfish, we know a restaurant that will satisfy your lust. Called Sal na Adega, it is part of Adega Mãe, a winery in Torres Vedras that belongs to Ribeiralves, a company famous for its salted cod. 

Sal na Adega has a spacious dining room that overlooks serene vineyards. A large round window gives us a glimpse of the kitchen’s hustle and bustle. 

You can accompany the meal with any wine from the winery’s shop by paying a modest cork fee. The menu lists many meat and fresh fish preparations, but the star offering is salted cod. Codfish usually pairs with red wine, but if you’re feeling adventurous, we suggest a white wine made from Vital. There are only a few wineries making wine with this grape varietal. The results are exciting, and the wine is a great companion for the fish.

Our meal started with codfish cakes, a litmus test passed with flying colors–the cakes were crispy, rich, and flavorful. Then we tried a trio of cod preparations. First, a codfish loin topped with crunchy prosciutto and onion in a vinegar sauce called escabeche. Second, grilled codfish neck, the most succulent part of the fish because of its abundance of collagen. It is an epic preparation, up there in the pantheon of best codfish we have ever tried. Third, a delicious codfish in coriander rice.

The dessert menu includes many temptations and one irresistible choice: the famous bean pastries from Serra da Vila in Torres Vedras. 

The meal ends with a pleasant surprise: a 10 percent discount on the wines purchased at the wine shop. We went to Sal na Adega for the codfish, and came back with some great wine.

Sal na Adega is located at Estrada Municipal 554, Torres Vedras, tel. 261-950-105.

Howard’s Folly

It is great fun to visit Howard’s Folly in Estremoz. The restaurant, winery, and art gallery are a joint venture between Howard Bilton, a British financier, and David Baverstock, a legendary winemaker. 

After studying enology in his home country, Australia, David worked in France and Germany. Before returning home, he vacationed in Portugal and met his future wife, Maria Antonieta. He returned to Australia to work in the Barossa Valley, where Maria joined him. But Maria was homesick, and in 1982 the couple came back to Portugal. David worked in the Douro valley until 1992, when he became chief winemaker at Herdade do Esporão in Alentejo. He felt at home in the endless plains that reminded him of Australia. His thirty harvests at Esporão helped establish Alentejo as an important wine region.  

Howard’s Folly is an exuberant place. It occupies a large building that was once a “grémio da lavoura,” an agriculture association. There is art everywhere. Sewing machines turned into miniature tractors bought in the local market, pig sculptures, and much more.

David shows us the winery with its colorful walls painted by a graffiti artist. Freshly picked grapes are arriving to be sorted, crushed, and cooled with dry ice. 

We head to the restaurant. The food, prepared by chef Hugo Bernardo, is Portuguese with a whimsical British twist. The butter has a strong umami taste because it is mixed with Marmite, a salty yeast extract popular in Britain. 

David opens a delightful white wine called Sonhador (dreamer), made from old vines planted in the hills of São Mamede in Portalegre. It is an excellent companion for the codfish and chips that soon arrived at the table. Then we try the Winemaker’s Choice, a velvety red that pairs beautifully with a delicious shitake mushroom salad.

Lunch ends with a glass of 1991 Carcavelos. The wine, produced at Quinta dos Pesos by the Manuel Bulhosa family, was stored in barrels and almost forgotten. David and Howard convinced the family to sell them some barrels so that David could make a blend. The result is spectacular.  

David retired from Esporão and was planning to take it easy. But Ravasqueira convinced him to join them as chief winemaker. And that is lucky for us. We’ll be able to enjoy many more of David’s harvests to come!

Howard’s Folly is located at Rua General Norton de Matos in Estremoz, tel. 268 332 151.

How do we tell the king?

We used to buy jams endorsed by the British monarchs, figuring that centuries of sampling jams at tea time gave them the practice required to select the cream of the jam crop.

We quite liked the British jams until one fateful lunch at Toca da Raposa in Ervedosa do Douro. A sampling of jams arrived without fanfare at dessert time. When we tried them, we experienced a whole new level of deliciousness!  

What makes these jams so sublime? Their fruit comes from the Douro valley, a place where the scorching summer heat and a wealth of soil micronutrients create unique conditions that intensify aromas and flavors. And each batch is handcrafted by Dona Graça, a legendary cook, and her talented daughter, Rosário. The two leave nothing to chance, shunning the use of preservatives and making adjustments small and large to ensure that the results are perfect. 

There is an orange jam chockfull of strips of orange rind that delight the palate and an orange and hot pepper jam with the ideal combination of sugar and spice. There are jars of jam brimming with perfectly ripe whole figs; a surprisingly delicious zucchini jam; amazing jams made with must from grapes used to produce port wine; jams made from a rare peach variety that grows amidst the vines, and much more.

The jams favored by his royal majesty pale by comparison with the wondrous jams from Toca da Raposa! The question is: how do we tell the king?

Toca da Raposa is located at Rua da Praça in Ervedosa do Douro, tel. 254 423 466.

Dinning with Marlene

When we dined at Marlene Vieira’s new restaurant, appropriately called Marlene, the place was packed. But, like a star performer, Marlene made us feel like she was cooking just for us, often coming to our table to chat about the food she served. 

The meal started with a variation on one of her classic themes, the “filhós de berbigão” that she serves at Zun Zum, her more casual restaurant. This time, the filhós, a star-shaped shell made from fried dough, was gloriously stuffed with foie gras, reineta apple, and a Madeira-wine gel. 

Next, came a trompe l’oeil preparation. It looked like cheese topped with prosciutto. But the cheese turned out to be an egg cooked at low temperature that, mixed with the prosciutto, created a festival of umami sensations.

We were taken to the sea by a delicate combination of violet shrimp from the Algarve accompanied by a gazpacho made with the shrimp’s head, topped with a percebes tartlet. 

Then, we returned to land with two crusty loaves of bread, one made with wheat and rye and the other with white corn. They came with fragrant olive oil made in Trás-os-Montes at Quinta de São Miguel do Seixo. 

The next menu entry was a delicate part of the codfish called cocochas seasoned with parsley and pine nuts. We reached the mid-point of our culinary journey with tasty white truffles and morel mushrooms stuffed with requeijão

They were followed by a ravishing sole dressed in an asparagus sauce, butter, and caviar. We reached the climax with a savory pudding made with an eel broth seasoned with saffron and topped with the eel’s skin. It is sublime!

Dessert was a delightful pine nut mousse with apple granita and pineapple from the Azores. The petit fours were lovely: merengue with a strawberry cream, tangerine leaves, and macaroons stuffed with almonds and eggs.

We’re lucky to have a chef like Marlene Vieira, who studied the past to invent the future of our culinary tradition!

Marlene is located at Av. Infante D. Henrique, Doca do Jardim do Tabaco, Lisboa, tel. 351 912 626 761, email marlene@marlene.pt.

Lunch at a royal courtyard

We drove to Alter do Chão in Alentejo to have lunch at Páteo Real, a restaurant headed by a young chef called Filipe Ramalho. Páteo Real means royal courtyard, a reference to the castle of Alter do Chão, which stands proudly in the restaurant’s backyard. 

After working in fine dining for seven years, Filipe wanted to put the new techniques he mastered at the service of the traditional cuisine of Alentejo. When he learned that Páteo Real was for sale, he drove there on a Friday and closed the deal by Monday. 

But this new beginning was tough. The locals suspected the restaurant would charge high prices for small portions of pretty food. Visitors were few and far between. One year later, it is difficult to get a reservation–the restaurant is full of visitors and locals. And for a good reason: its food is a delicious evolution of the traditional cooking of Alentejo. 

We sat in the courtyard under large white umbrellas that protected us from the exuberant Alentejo sun. A waiter filled our glasses with “O Nosso,” a pleasant white wine from Serra Papa Leite. The meal started with Filipe’s signature dish: a tart cooked with farinheira sausage made with chestnut flour, topped with pears cooked in wine, quince marmalade, and chard. This unusual combination is so harmonious that it will likely become a classic.

A plate of sliced sausages followed the iconic tart. Alentejo’s sausages are generally excellent, but these are exceptional. They come from Salsicharia Canaense, an artisanal producer with whom Filipe collaborates. Their products also starred on the following two plates: cabeça de xara (a pork preparation) served with pickled purple onions and coriander pesto and delicately smoked bacon served with roasted red peppers, olive oil, coriander, paprika, and large capers.

Next, we tried some delightful duck croquettes served with puffed rice and coriander mayonnaise. The savory part of the meal ended with duck livers seared in brandy and combined with thinly-sliced fried potatoes. It is an explosion of flavor. “When we recommend duck livers and the clients hesitate, we offer a money-back guarantee,” said Filipe smiling. “People are always surprised at how good it is.”

The dessert was a delicious tart made from almonds and pumpkin jam. We loved the arch and rhythm of the meal. It kept our palates interested and left us deeply satisfied. It is a royal honor to dine in Filipe Ramalho’s courtyard!

Páteo Real is located at Av. Dr. João Pestana 37, Alter do Chão, tel. 960 155 363.

Marlene Vieira’s Codfish Recipe

The Portuguese culinary tradition does not come from palace kitchens. It comes from the cooking of humble people who, in every season, took the best ingredients that nature offered and prepared them using recipes perfected over centuries. The food presentation is often rustic, but the taste is delicious because everything is harmonious and natural.

Many chefs are reinventing the cuisine of Portugal. But the truth is that there’s no need for reinvention. What we need is an evolution, the creation of new recipes that, like clams Bulhão Pato and Caldo Verde, bring joy to the dining tables of Portugal. Easy to say, but who can do it? 

We know one chef who can: Marlene Vieira. Her Zun Zum and Time Out restaurants are indispensable stops in any culinary tour of Lisbon. Her food is creative, not because she wants to surprise or shock. Marlene’s originality stems from her ability to intuit new, delicious ways of preparing Portugal’s great food products. 

Marlene started cooking at age 12. Her father, who owned a butcher shop, took her on a delivery to an Oporto restaurant that served French-inspired food. The chef invited Marlene to sample what they were preparing, and she was hooked. She loved the taste, the refinement, and elegance. Marlene spent holidays and school vacations helping out at the restaurant. She relishes the organized chaos of a professional kitchen, and cooking proved to be an ideal outlet for her bountiful energy. 

At age 16, Marlene went to culinary school. She graduated as the best student and stayed as a teaching assistant, while working as a pastry chef at a boutique hotel. Up to this point, all her cooking had revolved around French techniques. 

At age 20, a friend invited her to work at a Portuguese restaurant in New York. For the first time, Marlene had to cook traditional Portuguese food. She remembered fondly the food that her mother and grandmother prepared, but she did not know how to cook it. More than three thousand miles away from home, this young chef started to study the cuisine of Portugal. And for the first time, she realized that she had a role to play: embrace Portuguese cuisine and make it her own.

Marlene returned to Portugal inspired to learn more about traditional cooking. She continued to work in fine dining, but her cooking became more and more Portuguese. A breakthrough moment came when Time Out magazine chose her dish featuring a large shrimp called “carabineiro” served with an almond brulée as the year’s best recipe. This dish has the hallmark of Marlene’s cooking: it draws on combinations of ingredients and techniques that are hard to envision but feel utterly natural once you try them. 

We asked Marlene whether she could share a recipe with our readers. She generously gave us a codfish recipe. 

Portugal has many codfish recipes, but only a few have stood the test of time, like those of Brás, Zé do Pipo, and Gomes de Sá. Perhaps one day, this recipe will be known as Codfish Marlene. Enjoy!

Codfish Confit with Sweet Potatoes Gnocchi, Low-temperature Egg, and Pea Emulsion

Ingredients for four people

600 grams of codfish filets

2 garlic cloves

1 laurel leaf

400 grams of sweet potatoes

5 eggs

100 grams of flour

70 grams of onion

70 grams of leaks

300 grams of peas

Microgreens for garnish

3 deciliters of olive oil

200 milliliters of whole milk

Sea salt

Preparation

Pre-heat the oven at 150 ºC.

Clean the codfish fillets, removing the bones. Divide into 12 portions. Smash the garlic, leaving the skin. Place the garlic, the codfish, the laurel leaf, and 2 dl of olive oil on a tray. Set aside.

Place 4 eggs in a pot with water. Heat the pot until the temperature reaches 63.5 ºC. Use a thermometer to control the temperature and keep it steady for 45 minutes. Once the time is up, place the eggs in an ice bowl to lower the temperature.

Cook the sweet potatoes with the skin on. Let them cool, peel them, and make a purée. Mix in a bowl the flour, the purée, and one egg. Blend until the mixture is homogeneous. Make small cylinders and cut them into gnocchi. Bring water and salt to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the gnocchi, cooking for 3 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain the remaining water by placing the gnocchi on paper towels.    

Slice the onions and leek. Put olive oil, the onion, and leek in a pot and let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes in low heat. Add the peas, season with salt, cover with milk and cook for another 15 minutes. Blend the mixture with a hand blender and strain.

Place the codfish in the oven for 10 minutes. Heat a frying pan with a bit of olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the gnocchi and let them cook—season with salt and pepper. 

Heat up the eggs in tepid water for 10 minutes. Remove the eggshell.

Warm the pea emulsion and blend with a hand blender until it makes foam. 

Serve on a deep plate, placing the gnocchi at the bottom, then the codfish and the egg. Finalize using the pea emulsion and some microgreens. 

Click here for Marlene Vieira’s website.