Some of our readers have asked for advice as to where to go in Portugal for good-quality pastries and sweets. So we thought that now that the holiday season has started, and coronavirus notwithstanding, we should share some of our favourite locations.
Every Portuguese town or village has at least one or two really good locations for sweets. It might be a bakery, a café, a tea house or sometimes a kiosk, but they are there to be found. A good tip is to look for grandmothers: the higher the ratio of grandmothers to staff, the better the place is likely to be. Fancy decoration and posh signs or shop windows are no guarantee of quality. Grandmothers, however, know the lie of the land and have high standards. And hey, if it’s good enough for fussy grandmothers, it’s good enough for me!
Today we will discuss three locations only. There are hundreds more that could make the list (read previous paragraph) but these three are all special in their own way.
The first is a place that served as inspiration to the Gold Rush. When we were considering starting a business, this presented the ideal format: a business that aggregates superb production from all over the country under one roof. It is the splendid Casa dos Ovos Moles em Lisboa. Run by a group of dedicated women with a love for the marvels of Portuguese confectionery, they use suppliers from all over the country, and stock some very rare sweets, of the type made by somebody’s old aunt in a remote village on the verge of extinction – one that left good memories is Fidalgo, from Évora. The outcome is a charming little shop in Chiado, where one can get lost in that beautiful world of baroque sweets made in baroque convents by posh nuns. It’s a delight, and more than well worth a visit (or two!) when in Lisbon. When you get there, don’t worry about choosing; just get one of each, and do it for England.
The second is a location in Alcobaça, home to one of Portugal’s most extraordinary religious buildings, and an important agricultural centre with long-standing royal connections. Welcome to the spectacular Pastelaria Alcôa. Alcôa is a bakery which makes all their products, and has a focus on that old tradition of confectionery that… you guessed it, was developed in convents! Extraordinary quality, superb presentation, and great choice of treats make Alcôa stand out, and they have been well recognised for their efforts, winning plenty of awards. We single them out because, contrary to other locations, some of comparable quality elsewhere in the country, they make some confectionery that is usually not found commercially, including our most adored treat ever: Encharcada. We plan to dedicate a future blog entry to Encharcada alone, but let’s just say that it will be on our last meal on this Earth, and theirs is excellent (though still not as good as our mother’s). Pastelaria Alcôa also have a subsidiary in Lisbon, so don’t worry if you are only travelling for the weekend, you can still savour their delights.
Finally, when contacting some potential suppliers in the region of Coimbra, the Gold Rush came across several mentions to a place in Tentúgal, hailed by some of the competition as a reference for pastries in that particular part of Portugal. Well, if even the competition praises them, they must be quite something. So we visited. And it was A M A Z I N G ! ! ! We are talking about A Pousadinha, a roadside café/bakery on the old road linking Coimbra to the coast. Driving past, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another of those desolate and barren establishments so common along Portguese roads, were it not for the number of people congregating there on a Tuesday afternoon (and the number of awards they have won over the years). And when we tried the cakes we understood why: there was nothing that wasn’t at least excellent, with most verging on the spectacular. We would happily kill for the Lacinhos do Convento (Little Convent Bows). We bought over two dozen varieties of pastries for er… scientific purposes, and they lasted for less than two days! So if you are in that part of the world, make sure to be hungry when you drop by.