Four years ago, in my architecture office in Lisboa, we started to work on a restoration project of a historical building in the northern section of the city. The Bensaúde manor was built during the final years of the 19th century, surrounded by an estate in Paço do Lumiar, an old hamlet that was absorbed by the growth of the city. The manor has had a series of eminent proprietors and was designed and altered by some of the most notorious Portuguese architects of the 20th century.
It is presumed to have been designed initially by Ventura Terra, one of the most renown architects of the turn of the century. Then, in the twenties, Raul Lino intervened, expanding the house and laying out plans for great decorations on several rooms of the manor. Mural painings, painted ceilings, boiseries (panelling), azulejos (tile works), decorated fireplaces and wrought iron designs were added all over the manor. In the sixties, França Ribeiro designed the expansion of a façade, to make room for an extra compartment and a terrace.
In the more recent years, the manor has been under the guise of public institutions, presently IAPMEI, who mobilized efforts to see this built heritage renewed and used again. A great part of the preservation work is to keep a building occupied. The vigilance gained from having people daily interacting with a historical building is what can save it from deterioration.
The preservation of Raul Lino’s paintings and tiling was a complex task of the project, and was assigned to a specialist crew who had to delicately redo some of the paintings, based on the ones that were intact, clean and refit the wall tiles, preserve the wrought iron works and repaint and polish the fireplaces.
Taberna do Vilarinho is a restaurant at the base of the castle hill in Lisboa. The menu is traditional portuguese cuisine with a focus on special delicacies. This means for starters, you’ll be recommended some juicy cabeça de xára (slices of slow-cooked pig’s head), somewhat similar to galantine. If you’re in for a safe choice, the bacalhau à brás (cod-fish with scrambled egg and straw-cut fries) much enjoyed in Spain, or the borrego com batata doce (roasted lamb sided with sweet potato). But if you keep on with the staff’s recommendation, you’ll go for the samos de bacalhau com grão (cod-fish swim bladder stew with chickpeas), an organ used by many fish to control depth. It’s kinda spongy and squishy and all the fluids add to the thickness of the sauce, but you can really taste the cod-fish flavours there. Would eat again!
The manager was a friend of ours, so we got to hang out in the small cosy restaurant after the doors were shut. Bottles of wine were popped open and leftover deserts were served. That’s when we got the chance to taste pêra bêbeda (drunken pear – a pear dipped in port wine), the delicious and sugary tarte de ameixa (plum pie) and the surprisingly refreshing ananás de coentrada (pineapple with coriander).
More people arrived, friends, and friends of friends. All of a sudden, there was a party! The cell phone connected to spotify went around as everyone added a song to the playlist in some sort of “who plays the coolest song” competition. The accuracy of the sketching quickly waned as it was getting in the way of more dancing and drinking. As the evening drew to a close and everyone started to get the munchies, the chef, who also doubles as a jazz drummer, discreetly slid to the kitchen and brought back plates with heavily spiced raw tuna slices. Not quite sashimi, actually much better!
Here’s a place to definitely come back to.
In the story of going on holidays to Portugal, food is, of course, one of the main characters.
In Lagos, O Lamberto is the unofficial family cafeteria. It’s outside the city centre, so the few tourists that ever get there want to get there. The highlights there come mostly from the sea, such as the grilled squid or the octopus salad. Going for something grilled here is playing on the safe side. Don’t forget to squeeze lemon all over it.
A Oficina was a new place for me. A friend took us there for a snack session. It lays in a town in the outskirts of Lagos with a fitting name – Mexilhoeira Grande – “The Great Mussel Picking Place” (?!). Yeah… Anyway, the house specials: olives with pickled carrot, goat cheese, bucho (a sliced blood sausage), feijoada de buzinas (cowries with beans), parafusos (shrimp wrapped in pastry, deep-fried), tiras de lula panadas (deep fried breaded squid stripes) and the ubiquitous snails. These came with twisted metal picks that brought a tear to my eye! Everywhere, these traditional picks that make the job of pulling the snails out of their shells have been replaced in restaurants all over by common wooden toothpicks. It was a joy to use one of these again!
For desert, we shared a slice of delicious cookie cake (Marie cookies dipped in brewed coffee, piled together with a buttery cream) and Morgado, a delicacy from Algarve. It’s made of almond paste, eggs and squash jam (Gila) and was heavenly prepared.
Sol e Pesca is a former bait and fishing shop in the semi-prostitution slash new-hip area near Lisboa’s shore known as Cais do Sodré. Its concept is unique (as far as I know): preserves of different Portuguese brands are served in their own oil, with some herbs, bread and drinks. This keeps the place from the restaurant status, while serving a satisfying and delicious meal. Looking at the menu, you just want to have a taste of all of them!
Lisboa’s outskirts are peppered with suburbs of different shapes, sizes and styles. They range from forest parks to densely packed residential districts, from slums to industrial areas, from bourgeois waterfront mansions to medieval towns that have been absorbed by the city’s ever expanding grid. Queluz is one of those suburbs. It is home to Queluz National Palace, built in the 18th century as a summer home for the royal family. It is but a dwarf variation of the great Rococo palaces of Europe like Versailles. Right next to it rests a tiny urban settlement of old houses and narrow streets. I’ve always admired how in Lisboa great buildings of power are offset by projections of the humbleness of common people. Another example of this is the National Parliament of São Bento and the vernacular buildings that face it. It is in that space between that most political oriented demonstrations of Lisboa have their final checkpoint.
Then, there’s Magoito, a village by the beach in Sintra. Still close enough to be a candidate for the title of suburb of Lisboa, but far enough for people to feel as if they are spending holidays away from the city, if they happen to sleep over. The farthest people in it were engulfed in a thick sfumato of dust and iodine, and the smell of the salty water was instantly invigorating. The sun was hidden behind clouds, so we had to be extra careful not to get burned without noticing. The layers of blue and grey almost melded on the horizon and the body-boarders peppered the waves. The sand was not yellow nor white but in shades of brown and shadowy brown – contrasts lowered by the wind and the clouds. I always get drowsy in the first days of going to the beach.
During the match between Holland and Costa Rica, there was, of course, time for more snails and bifanas and beer.
If snails had headlines, today’s would have sounded like this. Their deaths were not our direct responsibility, mind you, but were indeed warranted by our craving!
Portuguese have the knack of snacking hundreds of tiny delicious beings such as snails and fish eggs. Snails are rendered edible by being boiled in different herbs and vegetables, such as onion, garlic, mint or chili, and of course, their own goo! They should be washed down with beer. Fish eggs are boiled, cooled and turned into a yummy salad with onion, garlic [glitch in the matrix], parsley and olive oil. Octopus can also be turned into salad in the very same way, but the octopus must be frozen before being boiled, lest it turns into rubbery unchewiness.
Our waiter was telegraphic in his requests from the kitchen, seasoned by many years of the same orders being asked for. Few words, few letters even, were used to convey the message to his colleagues: “um caracol, uma manga, fino, café” (one snail – meaning a tray of them – one mango – meaning a mango flavoured ice-tea – fino, a shorter word for a small beer – coffee).