Where to Eat in Lisbon: 10 Top New Restaurants
Okay, Europe’s “best-kept secret” may now be anything but. Yet Lisbon’s ever evolving (and improving) restaurant scene is keeping the city exciting. It’s also spreading beyond the tourist center and into neighborhoods that might not have been worth a visit before but certainly are now.
This alphabetical list is not thorough (and it will be even less so when Michelin-star chef Nuno Mendes returns home from London to oversee the food and beverage at the hotly anticipated reopening of the Bairro Alto Hotel). The boom in Portugal’s capital has meant that someplace fantastic and different has opened nearly every week. Rather, it spotlights restaurants that are experimenting, pushing boundaries, and redefining what makes for fine—and fun—dining now.
The iconoclastic Ljubomir Stanisic is arguably the best chef in Portugal who does not yet have a Michelin star. That may change with the new incarnation of his flagship, 100 Maneiras. He doesn’t believe in fine dining but in “dive dining,” as in a deep dive into an immersive experience. The tasting menu, which is tellingly called “the Story” traces Stanisic’s journey from a teenage refugee leaving war-torn Yugoslavia to a master of the Portuguese kitchen, with classic and adventurous renderings of both cuisines.
The curious name is no coincidence. Chef André Fernandes wanted his restaurant to call to mind both the Atlantic and the world atlas. With Portuguese roots, he began cooking and traveling when he was 16, in Brittany. He worked with Alain Ducasse, then passed through Michelin-starred kitchens and gourmet restaurants in Barcelona, Germany, Zurich, the Caribbean, Bora Bora and Rio. Then he toured around Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea. All those influences show up on his plates—he loves unexpected contrasts and surprise pairings. But it was years of private-cheffing in Costa Rica, where he would often cook on a beach or in the rain forest, that his love affair with nature began. Thus he works only with Portuguese products and the short menu changes frequently, with the seasons.
French-born (but from Portuguese stock) Alexis Bourrat and his Hungarian-British wife, Agnes Bourrat, came to Lisbon from London with hopes of putting their years of hospitality experience to work as consultants. That didn’t quite pan out, but what happened instead is better: their eclectic restaurant BouBou’s (get it?). It’s clearly a labor of love, with one or both of them working the floor every day, conveying a spirit of love and friendship for their guests. The menu reflects their identities as citizens of the world. The menu, which is was devised by the couple and Alexis’s younger sister, Louise—who in her early 20s has already worked in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse, the Mandarin Oriental London and Chile—ranges over all sorts of flavors. The oysters come with yuzu and huacatay (a kind of Peruvian mint) rather than the typical mignonette. Grilled prawns come with ginger and koshu (a Japanese spirit). Octopus is served with dashi and aioli.
A longtime favorite of in-the-know travelers, the Santa Clara 1728 hotel is known both for its elegant simplicity and its leisurely, delicious breakfasts around a communal table. But that table was going unused after noon. That changed last summer, when the owner recruited chef Pedro Pena Bastos to cook lavish tasting menus for dinners that are open to the public but feel more like intimate, exclusive dinner parties. Each evening is limited to 14 guests, and the leisurely tasting menus consist of many exquisitely prepared and presented dishes (think tweezers), and can stretch over many hours, once you count the cocktail (kombucha) hour in the backyard garden.
Despite occupying some prime real estate with views over historic neighborhoods and the castle, Epur began life as a showroom for high-end kitchen supplies. Thankfully, chef Vincent Farges, who earned a Michelin star at Fortaleza do Guincho, just outside Lisbon, had a better idea. He chose it for his return to Portugal (after a stint in the Caribbean) and his first stand-alone restaurant, a showplace for local ingredients and stripped-down cooking. The name is a made-up word that suggests purity. Farges is one of those chefs who gets prime ingredients and the gets out of their way. He spent a year traveling the length of Portugal to find his suppliers, and he changes the menu daily to reflect what vegetables and proteins are at their absolute peak.
The mission statement is telling: “Erva restaurant offers unpretentious food without concoctions. We do not want to camouflage the natural taste of the food.” The name, which means “herb,” offers another clue. And so, this new dining room in the Corinthia Hotel emphasizes contemporary Portuguese cuisine, local ingredients from small producers and simple flavors that speak for themselves. There are “snacks” like marinated shrimp, avocado and chicken skin. Then playful takes on Portuguese ingredients, such as horse mackerel with Algarve salad of tomatoes and beets. The most popular dish is the roasted lamb with aligot potatoes. The chef is also quite proud of its grilled octopus, and there are two well-thought-out vegetarian dishes on the short menu.
Before Picamiolos came along, nose-to-tail wasn’t a thing in Lisbon. Sure, there’s some tripe and the occasional pig’s ear. But hardcore offal? People generally found it awful. Not restaurateurs Ricardo Santos and Leonor Brito, who became intrigued by the idea after dining at José Júlio Vintém’s Tomba Lobos in the Alentejo, a restaurant known for using the whole animal. They made a big bet, with a restaurant that spans two floors and seats 140 people. Sometimes the concept becomes a play on words: hearts of artichokes and romaine, as well as extremities of tuna (belly) and squid (rings) But to really appreciate Picamiolos, you need to go for it. There are starters of slightly seared lard petals with garlic and lemon, a recognizably grilled pork snout, and lamb sweetbreads with garlic—fitting for a restaurant whose name roughly translates as “stick the brains.”
“We don’t serve any food we wouldn’t eat or any drinks we wouldn’t drink,” says João Sá, the young chef here. He and his kitchen brigade treat guests in their “sala” (room) as they would at their tables at home. It turns out that an astonishing number of menu items are made in house, especially considering the restaurant’s small size—it has only about 36 seats. There’s a whole lot of fermenting going on: the artisanal bread made with miller’s flour, kombucha, kimchi and more. Of the roughly 20 small plates on the menu, roughly half are vegetable-forward, if not vegetarian or vegan—a welcome addition to the Lisbon dining scene. The simple menu descriptions belie the complexity of the cooking that goes into them—though unlike at some fine dining restaurants, this is food to savor, not merely to admire. The most labor-intensive dish is a “croissant,” which a sous-chef spends minutes making, by rolling see-through-thin slices of potato. It’s served with wild mushrooms and black truffles.
The rooftop restaurant at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade has been a local go-to for a while, but until recently, it was a somewhat dowdy affair, with fado for the tourists and a forgettable menu. No longer. That changed with the November opening of this groovy Art Deco restaurant that puts the space to much better use. It’s the latest project from star chef Olivier da Costa, the man behind K.O.B., Guilty, Yazuka First Floor and Avenida. He also created the Seen concept in São Paulo, Brazil. There’s a significant Brazilian cool factor. Seen’s menu is inspired by local ingredients and authentic Portuguese and Brazilian gastronomy. There are Waygu-style beef, fish and seafood from the Portuguese coast, and typically Brazilian ingredients like hearts of palm and cassava. Local chef Ivan Muhongo is bringing Olivier’s ideas to life.
The new restaurant from chefs Filipe Rodrigues and Hugo Gouveia has only one mission: to serve unique pieces prepared with fish and a lot of creativity. As the name suggests, the sea is the source of much of the goodness. The fish—including Portuguese staples like sardines, horse mackerel and cuttlefish—is all national, but the technique is Japanese-ish. I’m fairly certain no one is serving seared-sardine sushi in Tokyo. The space is charming and intimate, with only 23 seats and a very specific decorative style—a centerpiece is the carcass of a bluefin tuna that weighs some 350 pounds and measures nearly 8 feet. Go for the tasting menu: the courses come in rapid succession and the cost is gentle.
Two more new-to-me and off-the-radar favorites: Kanazawa, where chef Tomoaki Kanazawa (who was invited 25 years ago to be the chef of the Japanese embassy in Lisbon) turns out sophisticated sushi for just eight guests at a time, and Sr. Lisboa, where the young owners and chefs are clearly having a lot of fun with typical Portuguese cooking—and naming: my favorite dish translates as “promiscuous cauliflower,” I suppose because it turned up in several forms on the plate.