The best of both worlds

Azeitonas Bel Canto-F

Portugal is a country with century-old traditions. But it is also a place where a new generation is creating the future.

Consider the fruits of the Olea europaea, commonly know as olives. If you visit a Portuguese farmers market, you’ll find delicious olives cured in traditional ways. But if you dine at Belcanto, José Avillez’s wonderful restaurant in Lisbon, you’ll be served three invented olives. The first, a spherical olive that explodes in the mouth, is an homage to Avillez’s apprenticeship at elBulli. The second is a delicious black olive in a light crunchy tempura. The third is an inverted dry martini: the liquid is olive juice and the “olive” is a sphere of gin.

Which do you prefer, tradition or modernity? In Portugal you don’t have to choose.

Belcanto is located at Largo do São Carlos in Lisbon, tel. 21-342-0607.

Belcanto’s philosophy


Georg Friedrich Hegel described the evolution of human ideas as involving a thesis, followed by an antithesis, and then by a synthesis that reconciles the two. Believe it or not, these concepts are useful to explain the cuisine of Belcanto, a fantastic Lisbon restaurant owned by chef José Avillez.

The modernist cuisine of restaurants like elBulli is the antithesis of traditional Portuguese cooking. Avillez combines the two in a delicious synthesis that is both familiar and surprising. He serves olives bursting with flavor, golden eggs, seafood immersed in the smell of the sea, manta rays transformed into Pollock paintings.

The Michelin inspectors were so impressed with Avillez’s culinary dialectic that they awarded Belcanto a star. We suspect Hegel would agree.

Belcanto is located at Largo do São Carlos in Lisbon, tel. 21-342-0607.

Cherishing the mackerel

A cavala, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2012.

Fernand Point’s famous cookbook, Ma Gastronomie, includes two mackerel recipes. But in Portugal this fish, known as “cavala,” has never been popular. When fish mongers find mackerel mixed with other fish, they often give it away.

We worry that our national indifference toward the mackerel might make it swim to France in search of recognition. Luckily, chef José Avillez decided to pay tribute to this wonderful fish at his restaurant, Belcanto.  His recipe starts with a traditional “salmoura”: the fish is soaked in water, salt and sugar. It is then sliced and marinated in an infusion of rice vinegar and green apples. Finally, the mackerel is seared and served with delicately pickled vegetables.

If you go to Belcanto, please order this delicious dish. Help us keep the mackerel on the Portuguese coast!

Cavala Belcanto

Belcanto is located at Largo de S. Carlos, 10 in Lisbon. Tel. 213-420-607.