Since the pandemic, thousands of Britons have swapped pie and mash for pastel de natas, trading their lives in the UK for a trip to Portugal, Europe’s remote working capital. But for those of us who are contractually bound to our Blighty-based offices, openings like Lisboeta bring us – thankfully – to Portugal (at least via our taste buds).
The brainchild of Lisbon-born chef Nuno Mendes, whose CV includes stints at Bacchus in Hoxton, Viajante in Bethnal Green, Maos in Shoreditch and the chic celebrity hangout Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, the much-hyped Lisboeta has opened in March 2022.
Set in an elegant three-story townhouse in the heart of the restaurant district (Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia), Lisboeta’s warmly lit interior, which features light wood and an earthy palate, offers a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. A crowded gallery wall on the upper floor reminds me of ARs summer exhibition and adds a welcome splash of color, while the long limestone bar downstairs is the perfect place to kick back a crisp white port.
The effect is reminiscent of the laid-back style and atmosphere of Lisbon’s many well-known restaurants, and is just one of the many ways that Lisboeta is, at least in Mendes’ own words, a “love letter to Lisbon”. .
I’m seated on the first floor, near the gallery wall and a large sash window, and even though all the tables here are occupied, I can’t help but feel a certain “fomo” about not doing part of the hubbub downstairs. I make a mental note to request a bar stool the next time I visit.
Eat and drink
The main menu is divided into three sections: snacks, charcuterie and cheese; petiscos (small Portuguese-style plates designed to be shared); and tachos & travessas (larger pans and trays). For a table of two, a recommended order is two items from the snack section, two or three small plates and a pot/platter to share – and then dessert, of course.
As we decide what to order, my friend and I snack on the “coverage” (a play on the carby cover charge often included on the bill at traditional European restaurants). Here, Coombeshead farmhouse bread is served with a dish of olive oil and another of whipped ‘unto’ pork lard – a millennial pink pâté that I could have easily eaten alone with a spoon, if I hadn’t been in a fancy restaurant. The dip is deliciously smooth and smoky, 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 thin slices of buttery toast in the shape of a soldier. This dish might be my highlight, with the sharp mackerel perfectly complemented by the sweet onion – and it went way too soon in two crunchy, crumbly bites.
A hot vindalho empanada is next – a Goan-inspired pork pie that’s a lot less spicy than its name suggests. About the size of a lychee, this crumbly snack is not to be shared (although it would make a perfect canapé at a wedding). At £4 a bite, this dish is far from good value – but the delicious buttery puff pastry and mild but savory spices make it a Lisboeta staple.
Another highlight is the aged flank steak which is perfectly pink and thinly sliced and is served with broccoli and an onion, garlic and pork “pica pau” sauce. On the odd side, but by no means a bad choice, is the “Bacalhau à Brás” – a beige concoction of candied cod and onions buried under a mass of matchstick-shaped crispy fried potatoes. It looks like it shouldn’t work, but it does.
The dried amberjack from the Azores islands, served with orange and onion, is not to my liking, as I find that the orange overpowers the flavor of the thin slices of fish. The “Arroz de Marisco” is also disappointing – a rice dish with red prawns and seafood served in a cooking pot. The prawn heads are brought separately by our charming Portuguese waiter who advises us to squeeze the juice on the rice. We engage with enthusiasm and expectations are high when we take our first bite. None of us expect the sauce to taste so sweet, so ketchup-like, and we don’t do much in the pan.
Lisboeta’s star dessert, Mendes’ classic take on pastel de nata, which includes pork fat cream and port caramel, is sadly sold out, but we taste the other three desserts on the menu. The best by far is the “Bolo de Bolacha”, a traditional Portuguese no-bake cookie cake with buttercream, coffee and ice cream. It’s the perfect way to restore my energy – or sugar – levels after my high-carb main courses.
For traditional Portuguese dishes (but unfortunately with central London prices, rather than Lisbon), Lisboeta is an authentic and atmospheric place. While my experience was definitely more hit than miss, there were a few dishes that weren’t to my liking – but that certainly wouldn’t stop me coming back.
Lisbon30 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2NG