No other capital in Europe can rival Lisbon‘s obsession with and abundance of fresh seafood. As the Atlantic washes its shores via the River Tagus (or Tejo), you can get to a beachside fishing village in half an hour, or simply cross the river by ferry. More to the point, every street corner of this bewitching capital seems to offer lip-smacking piscine fare at ultra-affordable prices.
One of my long-standing mantras is: the best is not always the priciest. This proved oh so true when I sampled one of those hole in the wall eateries so typical of Portugal. A menu scrawled on a whiteboard outside featured the dish of the day, arroz de polvo marinhero (seafood rice with octopus). Yes! that’s me, so in I zipped to a last empty table out of a total of six.
Shelves of wine-bottles, a wall-hung TV, plastic tablecloths and lurid mauve mats set the scene. On the tiny counter a leg of cured ham and an expresso machine sat above an assortment of fresh pastries. In the kitchen just behind, a middle-aged couple scuttled between pots and pans, seconded by a genial, balding waiter.
Sipping from a little jug of vinho verde (2.50€) I awaited my joy. And yes, it was delicious, a generous, sloppy risotto (above) of chopped octopus, prawns and diced tomatoes, all perfumed with fresh coriander – and a mere 5€. I’ll reveal the address though can’t guarantee that rice dish (next day it was grilled sardines). Remember your dictionary too. Tasquinha O Poeta, rue de Sao José 64, off Avenida da Liberdade (metro Avenida).
Further down that same street, closer to Rossio, is an old classic (above) which I tried on a previous visit: Solar dos Presuntos, rua das Portas de Sto. Antao, 150. Fish tanks, professional waiters, well-heeled Lisboetas, photos of celebs plastering the walls, this is the real deal for anyone in search of top quality, traditional fish dishes and white tablecloths. Count on about 40- 50 € for a meal.
On the same street, at the beginning of the touristy, pedestrianised stretch (at no. 104) is Solmar, an ageing seafood institution which I’m including purely for its 1950s design.
Forget the food which now has a terrible reputation, but the interior could be a mid-century modern theatre-set. The huge mosaic of underwater life on the back wall is matched by multi-coloured stools and vinyl chairs. I’ll say no more – if you’re passing by, take a peep inside – but DON”T EAT THERE!
Lisbon commands the sea, so don’t miss chugging across the broad river on a ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas (they run several times an hour) to get a whiff of it. Here, a short walk from the ferry, is an entire main street (above) lined with tempting seafood restaurants. Some are touristy and over-priced, but not all. At the lower end of the price scale there’s the old-fashioned Cabrita, at no. 87, where a plate of grilled sardines from the outside grill will set you back 6.50€, though other dishes are marginally more. It’s simple, friendly and unpretentious – as per their grill below.
A few doors along at no. 17 is the more upmarket Solar Beirao where tanks of fresh creatures include some ferocious and meaty crabs (below). It’s been going for over 20 years, and has a faithful local following, so booking is essential. The mariscada especial for two (20€ each) is a mountainous shellfish bonanza, though both the shellfish cataplana (a kind of stew) of prawns and clams (15€), and the pork with clams, are luscious.
If it’s views of Lisbon you’re after, on leaving the ferry turn right to walk along the quay for 10 – 15 minutes past derelict warehouses until you see the Miradouro Boca do Vento – a look-out point reached by elevator. Just behind is Lisbon’s answer to Corcovado – a towering statue of Christ, also with an elevator. Almost in its shadow are two riverfront restaurants: Atira-te ao Rio, and Ponto Final (below) both of which command fantastic panoramas. The first is more attuned to tourists (with cocktails on offer), the second is more traditional serving excellent seafood on bright yellow tables. It’s a dreamy spot at night overlooking the twinkling lights of the city – but needs booking as space is tight (Ponto Final tel: + 351 21 276 0743).
Finally, a new venture by what has to be Lisbon’s quirkiest, friendliest tour-agency – We Hate Tourism Tours. This is Lunch in our Street, a chance to eat with two chirpy Lisboetas, chat about the pros and cons of tourism, drink vinho verde and Alentejo red, laugh, joke and stuff yourself with fresh food (including fish of course) cooked by local suppliers in their street. It costs 30€ per person for 3 1/2 hours, which includes a guided walk – altogether yet another of Lisbon’s fantastic value offerings.