Since the pandemic, thousands of Brits have traded pie and mash for pastel de natas, swapping their life in the UK for a stint in Portugal, the European capital of remote working. But for those of us who are contractually tied to our Blighty-based desks, openings like Lisboeta are – thankfully – bringing Portugal to us (at least via our tastebuds).
The brainchild of Lisbon-born chef Nuno Mendes, whose CV includes turns at Bacchus in Hoxton, Viajante in Bethnal Green, Maos in Shoreditch and the Chiltern Firehouse, the fancy celeb hangout in Marylebone, the much-hyped Lisboeta opened its doors in March 2022.
Located in a smart, three-storey townhouse in the heart of restaurant-land (Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia), Lisboeta’s warmly lit interior, which features light wood and an earthy palate, provides a casual, welcoming feel. A crowded gallery wall on the upper floor reminds me of the RA’s Summer Exhibition and adds a welcome burst of colour, while the lengthy limestone bar on the ground level is the perfect place to throw back a white port and tonic.
The effect is reminiscent of the relaxed style and atmosphere of Lisbon’s many acclaimed restaurants, and is just one of the many ways that Lisboeta is, at least in Mendes’s own words, a “love letter to Lisbon”.
I’m seated on the first floor, by the gallery wall and a large sash window, and although every table here is occupied I can’t help but feel some “fomo” at not being part of the hubbub downstairs. I make a mental note to request a bar stool on my next visit.
Eating and drinking
The food menu is split into three sections: snacks, charcuterie & cheese; petiscos (Portuguese-style small plates designed to share); and tachos & travessas (larger pots and platters). For a table of two, a recommended order is two items from the snack section, two or three small plates, and one pot/platter to share – and then dessert, of course.
As we decide what to order, my friend and I nibble on the “couvert” (a play on the carby cover charge often included on the bill in traditional European restaurants). Here, Coombeshead farm bread is served with a dish of olive oil and another of whipped pork lard “unto” – a millennial pink pâté which I could have easily eaten unaccompanied with a spoon, had I not been in a fancy restaurant. The dip is delightfully smooth and smokey, but a rather small portion for two people sharing.
For our petiscos, we opt for the cured mackerel on toast, which, along with roasted green peppers and white onion, adorns two slender eggy soldier-shaped slices of buttery toast. This dish might be my highlight, with the sharp mackerel perfectly complemented by the sweet onion – and it’s gone far too soon in two crunchy, crumby bites.
A warm vindalho empanada is up next – a Goan-inspired pork pie that is far less spicy than its name suggests. The size of a lychee, this crumbly snack is not suitable for sharing (although it would make a perfect canapé at a wedding). At £4 a mouthful, this dish is far from good value for money – but the delicious flaky, buttery pastry and gentle yet flavourful spices make it a Lisboeta must-order.
Another highlight is the aged bavette steak which comes perfectly pink and thinly sliced and is served with broccoli and an onion, garlic and pork “pica pau” sauce. On the strange side, but by no means a poor choice, is the “Bacalhau à Brás” – a beige mess of confit cod and onions buried under a mass of crunchy fried matchstick-like potatoes. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does.
The cured amberjack from the Azores islands, served with orange and onion, is not to my taste, as I find the orange overpowers the flavour of the thin slices of fish. Disappointing, too, is the “Arroz de Marisco” – a heavy red prawn and seafood rice dish served in a kitchen saucepan. The heads of the prawns are brought over separately by our charming Portuguese waiter, who recommends we squeeze the juices over the rice. We enthusiastically oblige and expectations are high as we take our first bite. Neither of us expects the sauce to taste so sweet, so Ketchup-like, and we don’t make much of a dent in the pan.
Lisboeta’s showstopper dessert, Mendes’ take on a classic pastel de nata, which features pork fat custard and port wine caramel, has sadly sold out, but we do sample the other three desserts on the menu. By far the best is the “Bolo de Bolacha”, a traditional no-bake Portuguese biscuit cake with buttercream, coffee and ice cream. It’s the perfect way to bring my energy – or sugar – levels back up after my rich, carb-heavy main courses.
For traditional Portuguese dishes (but sadly with central London, rather than Lisbon, prices), Lisboeta is an authentic and atmospheric spot. While my experience was definitely more hit than miss, there were a couple of dishes that weren’t to my taste – but that definitely wouldn’t stop me from returning.
Lisboeta, 30 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2NG
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