This week, after a short break in the North of England, we reminisce about some locations for good food in Portugal. Not so much for the quality of their desserts, but because they have great food, not least seafood and fish. Coincidentally, they all have good desserts too, obviously, but that is not why we go there in the first place. We could mention many more locations, from north to south, but these are special to us, and all worth a visit when passing by. Our three recommendations are all in central/northern Portugal; we will offer some more recommendations for southern Portugal in a later blog.
The first is an old classic, a no-frills fish dig where you can look your victim in the eye and let it know that you are going to eat it. Sounds a bit brutal, but hey, you should have swum faster, mate! Pick your fish from an ice tray on arrival and the chef will grill it for you outside, on the street, among the parked cars. We are talking about O Lusitano, in Matosinhos, just north of Porto, by the fishing port (which goes some way to explain why their fish is beyond excellent). It is conveniently located on the the way into town from the airport, so it is perfect for a welcoming lunch or departure meal, just to set the tone. O Lusitano is run by two sisters and their chef husbands, and in the 20 years we have been going there has never disappointed. Particular favourites are grilled baby squid and grilled goraz (blackspot seabream). Everything is served with salad and delicious oven-baked potatoes. Contrary to other restaurants, here they decided to focus on the fish, and buy their desserts in. And they are as good a reason to visit as the fish, because they source them from specialists from all over the region. Their pudim do abade de Priscos, a translucent marvel made with too many eggs, too much sugar and lard (!) is second to none, and their other puddings are superb too. But it’s the fish that gets the biscuit, so to speak. Ah, and the warm welcome we always receive. We are talking kisses and hugs, as if we were family, which, given how often we have been there, we probably are.
The second of our restaurants is a hybrid between a fine dining restaurant and a port-side joint. It was packed when we visited on a weekday in January, which is a very good sign. The fish was of course outstanding, the sides were excellent, really excellent, and the puddings were very good. But here two things stood out: the first was the starter, a fish roe salad that was so good we ordered it again, to the astonishment (and delight) of the waitress, and the second was the perfect orange juice. Now, why should we waste time discussing the orange juice? Well, when I ordered the fifth or sixth orange juice, the waitress, who by this point was already an old friend, explained that the owner, Joel, takes extra care with every single item and ingredient that is used at his restaurant, and personally chooses every supplier; so he only buys oranges from the absolute best around. That is standards for you. The meal was, of course, a triumph, and we will return to Tasca do Joel, in Peniche, as frequently as we can.
Our third choice is a riverside restaurant in the Douro valley, run by celebrity chef Rui Paula: DOC. The views are great, as everywhere else in the Douro region, though nobody goes here for the views. The food is great by any international standard, the service is über-attentive and the restaurant has gained a reputation for quality in an area that doesn’t lack good food. We have to admit that we don’t even remember what we ate, except a starter with foie gras that was so divine that we wanted to order it again for dessert. The Gold Rush was stopped in his tracks by his partner, who usually has immense patience for our idiosyncrasies, but on that day decided to draw the line at that. So I just ordered some dessert. And I regret it to this day.