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PORTUGAL: Eating in Lisbon

Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, boasts one of the longest histories, warmest climates and bustling nightlife of any major European city, along with a dramatic location, sprawled along seven hills overlooking the river Tagus and Portugal’s west coast. Famed for its year-round sunshine and beauty, Lisbon’s grand architecture dazzles and its old-world charm mingles with chic streets, galleries, lively nightlife and a bustling centre. It is also one of the most affordable capitals in Europe, perfect for a city break or short haul escape.  For more information, see

Below is a list of ten eateries in Lisbon which offer something unique:

  • Belcanto: Awarded its second Michelin star last month, Belcanto is a haute cuisine restaurant managed by prestigious Portuguese Chef José Avillez. Guests can enjoy new Portuguese cuisine in a sophisticated atmosphere that still provides the former romance of the Chiado district, where the restaurant is located.
  • D’Bacalhau: No visit to Lisbon is complete without trying one of the many ways cod is prepared and D’Bacalhau, located in Parque das Nações, gives diners a wide choice of options: grilled ("bacalhau á brás"), with cream ("bacalhau com natas"), with a touch of olive oil ("bacalhau à lagareiro").
  • Bica do Sapato: This is Lisbon’s hippest restaurant to see and be seen. Located in a renovated riverfront warehouse in front of Santa Apolonia train station, it features contemporary Portuguese dishes in a minimalist setting.
  • Ministerium: A three-in-one bar, restaurant (cantina) and a night club. Featuring a wide variety of sandwiches, steaks, salads, cheeses and desserts, Ministerium Cantina’s Chef Nuno Bergonse combines "youth" and "ambition" in his creations. At weekends, chairs and tables are removed to welcome the best local and international DJs and their electronic beats.
  • Duetos da Sé: Gastronomy and arts meet at this restaurant located next to Lisbon’s Cathedral (). While enjoying the eatery’s tapas-style snacks and its Portuguese mains, guests can take great delight in piano recitals, and jazz and fado performances, amongst other activities.
  • The Decadente Restaurante & Bar: One of the most popular restaurants in Lisbon for both locals and visitors alike, offering brunches, lunches and dinners. It specialises in serving affordable, locally produced fare in a cosy dining room. Furniture from the 70s, design magazines from that decade, soft music and charming staff all add to the charm.
  • Flores do Bairro: This is a bistro-style eatery that reinterprets regional Portuguese cuisine in a quirky but refined way. The restaurant, located on the ground floor of Bairro Alto Hotel, offer great views of Luís de Camões Square and Rua das Flores, right in the heart of Lisbon.
  • Maria da Mouraria: One of the best ways to grasp Lisbon’s culture is by having a truly Portuguese meal while witnessing a fado performance. This restaurant and fado house is located in the former house of Lisbon’s first fado singer, Maria da Severa, and offers pure Portuguese food and fado performances.
  • Mini Bar Teatro: This is Chef José Avillez’s first gourmet bar in Lisbon. Located in São Luiz Theatre (Chiado), its menu features cocktails, wines, beers as well as varied gastronomic experiences full of flavour.
  • Confeitaria de Belém: Located close to the landmark Jerónimos Monastery, this bakery, famous for its pastéis de Belém, is a must on any Lisbon trip. Legend has it, only three people in the world have the original recipe for these sweet egg-custard tarts, dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The tradition at the bakery is that the tarts should be eaten in pairs.


Sonoma’s wine-country gems

Years ago, I did some work in Healdsburg, visiting often and quickly falling in love with the place. It was mostly rustic—a Mexican cafe, standard-issue Chinese restaurant, very good Italian place, and a rough-and-tumble bar that served hot dogs, along with a powerful Kahlua cocktail known as a “Mudslide.” When a brewpub opened, we flocked to it, not because the food was that good, but because it was new (and the beer was good. Probably still is—it’s still there). Best of all, it was a great jumping-off place for surrounding towns and original, often funky cooking.

          The central plaza really is a plaza, and has been named as one of America’s best town squares. Now, it’s rather more gentrified than when I was hanging out there, lined with boutiques and other retail opportunities, no dogs allowed, and no more Mudslides. But it’s still a great place to start exploring, and some of the rustic spirit of Sonoma remains in the restaurants there and in nearby towns. Jack Sonni has just published an offbeat cookbook reflecting that lovely fact. He’s a former guitarist with Dire Straits who found refuge in Sonoma, and “Gatherings” is a celebration of that, six pocket-sized books bundled together, each featuring recipes for a full meal--appetizer to dessert-- along with cheese choices, a cocktail recipe, and wine recommendations (local, of course) from half a dozen chefs.

          They’re terrific, and really reflect the original spirit of Sonoma, as well as his personal motto: “Life’s short—live well now.” I’ve included a recipe over in the “Eating In” section. Order online from


“We’ll always have Paris,” said Bogart to Bergman in Casablanca, and for some of us, that’s an enduring sentiment. Reading Julia Child’s wonderful final book, “My Life in France,” brings back a cascade of memories, of discoveries gastronomic and certainly otherwise, and even brought me back again to “Between Meals,” A.J. Leibling’s passionate, eloquent love letter to Paris: “If I had compared my life to a cake,” he wrote, “the sojourns in Paris would have represented the chocolate filling. The intervening layers were plain sponge.” He liked a restaurant on Place Gaillon; 80 years later, with a new owner, so do I.


Not far from the Tuileries and the Louvre and taking advantage of its corner space with a hedged-in triangular patio that’s a pleasure to eat in when the sun’s out, is this sleekly understated, elegantly chic restaurant, owned by Gerard Depardieu. Inside, it’s done up in leather and suede and dark wood, in shades of brown and gray. Depardieu is often there, messing around in the kitchen—he’s an accomplished cook, and has even published a cookbook, terrific recipes but a hymn to cholesterol. The specialty is fish: langoustine ravioli, a carpaccio of tuna with Provencal olive oil which would make any sushi chef proud, red mullet fricassee with anise, scallops with truffle sauce, and Merlan Colbert, which is a whole whiting breaded and fried in clarified butter, and delicious. Some of the recipes are Depardieu’s own, such as rabbit terrine in aspic (allegedly his favorite breakfast), and a four-meat slow-cooked stew. In the middle of the main dining room is a steel cabinet full of wine, some from his vineyards in Anjou (quite a good Rosé), some from the extensive Bordeaux vineyards of his business partner, Bernard Magrez. It’s not cheap, but not bad value. Across the street, they’ve taken over a small café, renamed it L’Ecaille de la Fontaine—relatively inexpensive, informal, small, seafood with a southern French/Italian accent, more emphasis on Italian wine.
Open: Monday through Friday, lunch and dinner. La Fontaine Gaillon, Place Gaillon, Paris 75002 (2d Arrondissment); tel: +01 47 42 63 22
Nearest Metro: Opera

 Liebling also wrote, “Paris is foreign to no literate person.” It’s still true, and provides some of the best armchair travel—Paris seems to be magic for writers: Besides Between Meals, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is still thoroughly fascinating (interestingly, both men, and later Julia Child, all recalled quite a bit of Colette-spotting—the long-lived author of the Claudine and Cheri novels apparently ate out all the time, and even had her own regular table at Tour d’Argent). Three thrillers set in Paris are terrifically evocative: In the Blue Light of African Dreams and The Forger by Paul Watkins, and of course Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. The most charming recent book remains Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik, one of the few meditations on the City of Light that includes children. If you’ve missed any of these, you can easily order them through the Amazon links on my Books page.

Bubbling up: When we go to Paris, we take Eurostar, easily the best way to go (and now that the British link is complete, quicker by 20 minutes, now less than 3 hours). Part of the pleasure is our point of departure, the completely re-done St. Pancras Station, which boasts "The Longest Champagne Bar in the World." The station is wonderful, quite majestic--someone standing near me once said, "It’s like being in an old movie!" and it is. The bar’s pretty nifty too, open all day (10 a.m. to midnight), starting with a Champagne breakfast, all-day posh snacks, and afternoon Champagne Tea (not exactly a misnomer--you can have both). 




The restaurants below are the ones I always return to. Their food combines regionality with inventiveness and skill, wine lists are well-chosen, prices are at least good value, and service is hospitable.



A recent visit to Venice gave us some reassurances (old hangouts still going strong) and some surprises (even off-season, the city was packed with young Chinese tourists taking up the slack, to the point where restaurant reservations were essential), and our favorite fancy kitchenware shop had disappeared. Among the old favorites, Enoteca Ai Artisti on the Fondamenta della Toletta in Dorsoduro was better than ever. Discoveries included Locanda Montin, around the corner from Ai Artisti, traditional but comfortable, with good cooking and a short but well-chosen wine list (and a lovely garden for dining in the summer); CoVino, a small-14 seats-wine bar with a simple, inexpensive menu focused mainly on first-rate home-style cooking-casseroles and sauteed dishes predominate, and the incredible bargain price is 36 euros for three courses-a short but splendid wine list, and very cheerful atmosphere. It’s on the edge of the Castello district, right around the corner from its deservedly well-known parent, Al Covo, which has a fabulous wine list to go with its excellent seafood. In the listings that follow, I’ve deleted Da Ivo, which we always liked until it got too expensive for what it was, a problem compounded by being George Clooney’s choice for his last meal as a bachelor, which seems to have been broadcast around the world-they’re swamped. Addresses:;;;


A couple of centuries ago, many restaurants in Venice offered deep-fried fish right off the boat, as a cheap and easy take-away. At this attractive and cozy restaurant, there is still a dish of frittura di pesce, a mix of various fried fish, and as good as it gets in Venice, but there’s a lot more, all fresh, expertly cooked. Much of the daily-changing fish is grilled, with imaginative vegetables (broccoli flan, zucchini marinated with basil, radicchio and tomato confit, for example). Start with a plate of salt-cod quenelles and sweet-and-sour shrimp on polenta, followed by baked sea bass with fennel cream and olives, or a salad of crunchy mantis shrimp with artichokes and then a dramatic presentation of lobster and eggplant tossed with pasta made with squid-ink. The wine list is well-chosen and long, a showcase of Veneto and Friuli specialties, reasonably priced. Irrepressibly cheerful owner Irina Freguia is usually on hand to advise and encourage. (She also operates the splendid café at the Palazzo Grassi museum, on the canal in San Marco.) Vecio Fritolin, Calle della Regina (Rialto) 2262—actually in the Santa Croce district, near Campo San Cassiano; telephon +39 041 522 2881+39 041 522 2881. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday. Reservations essential.



Very small (10 tables), slightly cramped, thoroughly informal, very cheery, welcoming, popular with locals, and my personal favorite. The variety of inventive dishes emerging from the tiny kitchen is astonishing–baked clams with ginger, grilled razor clams with garlic, crunchy sauteed baby shrimp in their shells on creamy polenta, grilled vegetables in a tangy wine sauce, and a variety of perfectly grilled fish; the menu, which is recited by the waiter, changes every day. The wine list is broad and carefully chosen, with a rotating selection of nine fine wines available by the glass or medium or large carafes. Osteria alle Testiere, Calle del Mondo Novo 5801, Castello. Tel & fax: +39 041 522-7220. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner Reservations essential.


Despite its name, this very popular two-floor restaurant is thoroughly Venetian–gnocchi with scampi so light they almost float off the plate, wholewheat spaghetti with duck sauce, John Dory fillets with a sharp caper sauce, sea bass with clam sauce, turbot baked with cardoons, and frittura della Serenissima, a platter of lightly battered and fried fish and vegetables, rather like tempura on steroids; leave room for the rich ice-cream cassata on dense raspberry coulis. The wine list is all-Italian and quite encyclopedic, with an abundance of  very good values. Fiaschetteria Toscana, San Giovanni Crisostomo 5719, Cannaregio. Tel: +39 041 528-5281+39 041 528-5281. Open Wednesday through Monday for lunch and dinner. Reservations essential, best to go early, before the crowds, when things get too hectic.



We’ve had good vacations at cooking schools, especially in Italy. Most offer room and board and local excursions, and prove to be good value as well as great fun. Those offered at wineries provide that tasty extra dimension, including wine-tastings in their programs. Here is a selection of notable cookery courses, and some further sources:


Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany. Wonderful wine, lovely people, good classes, a view to die for; the restaurant’s terrific too. Information available directly at


Tasca d’Almerita, Tenuta di Regaleali, Vallelunga, Sicily. Perhaps the best of Sicily right here. A variety of classes, or even just a wine-tasting lunch. Splendid. Information available direct at


Villa Lucia, Vorno, Tuscany (just outside Lucca). Information from Luxury Destinations, c/o Rhode School of Cuisine, 3 The Street, Frensham, Surrey GU10 3DZ; telephone +44 (0) 1252 790 222+44 (0) 1252 790 222, or


Tasting Places books La Foresteria Serego Aligheri, a pretty estate north of Verona, and a variety of courses from Piedmont to Sicily, with several London chefs as guest instructors. Phone +44 (0)208 964-5333+44 (0)208 964-5333; USA Freecall 1-877 69524691-877 6952469, or


Gourmet on Tour books many courses and schools, notably Capezzana, Coselli School, and Villa San Michele and the Cipriani, which feature well-known guest chefs: Berkeley Square House #2F, Berkeley Square, London W1J 6BD. Phone +44 (0)207 396-5550+44 (0)207 396-5550, USA Freecall 1-800 504-98421-800 504-9842 or


Some of the most luxurious possibilities are classes at five hotels in the Relais & Chateau group: Hotel Villa del Quar, near Verona; Relais Il Falconiere, outside Cortona in Tuscany; Il Pellicano, on the southern Tuscan shore at Porto Ercole;  La Posta Vecchia, on the coast near Ladispoli, north of Rome; and Il Melograno, outside Monopoli in Puglia. Check them out at