[LISBON] — There are lots of great restaurants in Portugal, but I’m just going to talk about two must-visit restaurants in Lisbon that I recently went to. Restaurante Prado and Horta dos Brunos. Two fantastic and completely different experiences.
When I was in the beach town of Comporta, Yasmine, a very tasteful Belgian Instagram friend direct-messaged me this tip:
And then, when I was in the far rolling hills of Alentejo, my friends Neil & Lisa texted me: “We went to that Horta dos Brunos your friend recommended. Wow. Fantastic. So full. Can’t walk.”
When I finally arrived in Lisbon, I knew I had to go and made reservations. When I got in my Uber and the non-English speaking driver saw the destination on his phone, pointed and said “Oh, very good. Very good.”
I knew I was in for something special.
So, Table for One it was. I felt bad to take up a whole table in the little place, so I booked an early table at 6. “I have a reservation for only one person.”
“Mister Dan?” But instead of shunting me to some dank corner, the sole waiter Antonio — who I had heard so much about — greeted me like royalty and ushered me to the best table in the room, and not some narrow table for two, but a big broad table that could seat four. The white table cloth cleared of everything but me.
I planted myself firmly on a banquette with a prime view of the culinary landscape in this tiny room. A busy table in the corner looked like they’d been going since lunch, flush faced and giggling more as time passed.
A big burly man in sunglasses and a dark suit came in, spoke to Antonio, looked around…. left, then right… then actually under a small table-clothed table in the middle. I did not know what was going on. He went back and opened the front door. A finely dressed older gentleman came in and sat down, placing his two phones on the table, which he worked purposefully the rest of the evening. He looked like a player. Antonio nodded like a great bow. The bodyguard went back outside and stood in front of the glass front door, smoking a butt, his big shoulders stiff in silhouette. About every ten or twenty minutes or so, he’d come back in, look around, nod to the boss, then go back outside and light up another butt. This was fascinating, my mind reeling with thoughts of mafioso.
Antonio came over to me, gave me the same bow. “So, what do you feel like eating tonight?”
The dining room isn’t big. I was early for Lisbon late-dining standards, so I was early save for a few other early arrivers and one table that looked they’d been there since lunch. It felt cosy, familiar. Like a small trattoria in Rome. Wine bottles and port, stacked to the ceiling. I settled in for the night.
I never saw a menu. Antonio simply asked “What do you like to eat?” A teeny open kitchen is behind me, you can hear the pots and pans clanging. Chef Pedro Filipe (above) is everywhere, magically bringing each dish out to the wow of the table. After delivery each dish to me: “You like? I make something special for you.”
After ordering my Negroni, Antonion asked what I liked to eat. “I was told by a friend who was just here to order the tuna, then the steak.” “Ahhhh yes, perfect choices. Those are the dishes we are known for.”
“For a Starter, I bring you another special dish. You like scrabble eggs? Very special. I top it for you with a very special cut of meat from the interior.” “Definitely.” Little did I know it was probably six eggs, as delicate and fluffy as a Michelin chef. I was stuffed right away. “Yeah, that’s a lot of protein.”
I was thinking I’d have an early dinner and go to bed early, a ridiculous 6am flight looming over me like a vulture. Little did I know what was up next.
This went on for hours, not the quick in-and-out I’d planned for my 6am flight. I could never be happier. Course after course. Wine after wine. I kept looking at my watch but finally gave up. This was one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had. And then, almost cruelly, already stuffed and pleasantly plowed, Antonio busts out the 20 year old port. “Oh you must, it’s a digestif!” My slurred conversations with my solo diner neighbor became more animated until finally, I had to pull the plug. “I’m sorry, but I must get up in four and a half hours…”
Horta dos Brunos is in an out of the way neighborhood that most tourists don’t go, you don’t just stumble upon it, so definitely make reservations (which are very easy to do online). After a day of wading through the disappointingly huge throngs of tourists in Baixa, it was nice to be somewhere… real. Skip a big lunch and leave room for a lot of food. You will eat a lot of food. And love every bite.
The mafia guy and his bodyguard where still there when I left, hours later….
I was hot, I’d driven the busy road up from Evora, dropped the car at the airport and cabbaged in to my hotel. It was 2:30. I hadn’t eaten. I was hangry. 👹 After checking in to the delightful The Lisboans, Mario there told me their sister restaurant next door was good and famous and I could get a ten percent discount. Perfect for what I’d needed. And the Mr and Mrs Smith site I booked through said the restaurant was great.
I walked in, the girl looked at me annoyed and with a clip: “Yes?” “A table for one?” “We were about to close for the afternoon, let me check with chef.” Now smiling, she said “Okay, come with me…”
It was bright outside, my eyes were still adjusting. I was rushed at the door. In a flurry, I sat down. And and then I looked up. Oh wow, this place is cool!
This used to be an old cannery, abandoned for decades when the new owners found it. Vines had grown through the rafters, nature taking it back. So that was what inspired the decor.
The snippy girl now was not, a big smile and friendly casualness warmed the whole room. I read over the menu, but I was confused, recognizing nothing. I asked for her recommendations.
“Yes, it’s a crazy menu, with ingredients that don’t normally go together, but everything is incredible and surprising.” She ordered for me. She was absolutely right. Beef tartare wrapped in grilled kale? Mushroom ice cream with pearl bulgar and dulce caramel?? Seriously? “You must try it. Trust me.” Okay!
Prado means “field” and the star chef wanted to make this place totally ingredient-driven, hyper local, hyper seasonal. It’s the most surprising combination of ingredients I’ve ever had.
Prado means “field” and the star chef started this place when he was 26, back from a hot stint wowing London. He wanted to make it hyper-local and hyper-seasonal. Here’s a sample of his menu, which was different slightly from the one I had… I have no idea what 80% of these ingredients are:
Here’s a mention of Horta dos Brunos in Esquire. You can book online reservations at Horta dos Brunos and many other restaurants on The Fork. Very easy. And book as far in advance as you can. Here is Horta dos Brunos website. And here’s their review on TripAdvisor.
Here’s where Horta dos Brunos is. An easy Uber there, or about a 30 minute brisk walk from Central Baixa:
Here is Prado’s beautiful website. And Prado’s TripAdvisor review. And a great article on Prado from Wallpaper. And beautiful pictures on Petite Passport’s site. And a review on Prado on Portugal Confidential’s website.
This is a perfect list of Lisbon’s best restaurants by Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes of Chiltern Firehouse.
Other restaurants I’ve heard are must-visits: Cervejaria Ramiro. Everyone raves about it. No reservations, so expect a wait. Here you can download the best recommendations from the nice people at The Lisboans. Everything is good on there, read the descriptions. Here’s The Guardian’s great roundup of hot new Lisbon restaurants, including Prado. And a beautiful roundup of cool designed restaurants in Lisbon on The Spaces.
Here’s a fantastic overview of Lisbon’s Best Restaurants from the UK edition of Conde Nast Traveller. And a good article in Bloomberg about famous Portuguese chef’s returning home and opening their own restaurants. A foodie guide to Lisbon from NatGeo Traveller.
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