Portugal has the highest concentration of cafés per head of population in the European Union. I can verify this fact after walking the entire Portuguese-Spanish border and finding that I was never more than around 10km from a place that could rustle up a decent meal. However it is not only the quantity of places offering food in which Portugal excels. The recent awarding of a record 23 Michelin Stars to restaurants around the country show that its quality is on the up too. Here is our round-up some of the best restaurants in Portugal right now, from gourmet establishments to bargain backstreet diners.
Awarded two Michelin Stars yet again this year, The Yeatman in Porto hits the heights both literally and metaphorically. Its dining room surveys the glittering lights of city’s riverside Ribeira district below. Within, a fleet of waiters see to your every whim. The sublime fish tasting menu includes a fair representation of the Atlantic, from sea urchin to eel to tuna and turbot. Each dish is paired with one of the restaurant’s legendary collection of 80 varieties of wine or port.
A Casa Guedes will fill you up for a fraction of the price of the Yeatman, and you couldn’t find a more humble abode than the no-frills café bar next to Porto’s pleasant Jardim de Marquês de Oliveira. But I challenge you to find a tastier pork sandwich than here, with or without melted cheese, for under €10.
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For Michelin-Star quality Portuguese food at affordable prices, you can’t get much better than Lisbon’s Mini Bar. Run by Michelin-Star chef José Avillez, the restaurant is tucked into the wonderful folds of the Art Deco Teatro de São Luis and serves up a suitably theatrical menu of off-the-wall but delectable dishes. Think seaweed ice-cream cones filled with tuna tartare or ‘exploding’ olives, all served up, not as courses but in a series of memorable acts.
It seems appropriate that this year, a Japanese restaurant – Midori – became the first place specialising in ethnic cuisine to be awarded a Michelin Star in Portugal. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade with Japan and even introduced tempura to their menu. Now, chef Pedro Almeida has bought the best of Japan’s flavours to the wooded hills around Sintra, the summer retreat close to Lisbon once favoured by the Royal Family. Choose from the seven- or nine-course tasting menu and enjoy oriental delicacies such as mackerel tataki with crispy tomato and gazpacho, turbot with bell pepper nasu dengaku or smoked tuna nigiri with muxama tuna. Try and leave room for the sake jelly with white chocolate, Greek yoghurt cream and lychee sorbet.
In high season you need to book well in advance to bag a table at Noélia & Jeronimo, a modest-looking restaurant on the waterfront in Cabanas, outside Faro. Chef Noélia takes traditional Portuguese ingredients and adds a dash of creative flair to produce dishes which are both imaginative and sublime: the likes of octopus fritters, John Dory with coriander rice or tuna with ginger rice. It’s said that Portugal’s top chefs like to dine here, so you’ll be in good company.
Go out of season and the chances are you’ll have the wonderful little cove beach of Praia da Caneiros near Portimão to yourself. Wedged on stilts right on the sands is Rei das Praias, one of the country’s loveliest beach restaurants. It’s an upmarket affair serving the beautifully presented fish and seafood for which the Algarve is renowned. Start off with oysters or clams in garlic sauce, then try the succulent fish baked in salt or the fish cataplana, a seafood broth cooked in a giant wok.
The view from Rei das Praias (and the seafood) helped onto our list of the best restaurants in Portugal © Rei das Praias
Often with Portugal it’s as much the restaurant’s location that makes it special as the food. Head to Choupana in Vila Nova de Milfontes when the tide’s up and you feel not so much next to the Atlantic as part of it, with the waves crashing up right against its awesome waterside terrace. The catch of the day is prepared on a little outside grill and is as fresh and invigorating as the sunsets, which are almost inevitably gorgeous.
Tapas isn’t as much of a big deal in Portugal as it is in Spain, though the country's tapas-like starters should not be missed. Adega 25 Abril is a rustic-style diner in the backstreets of Beja in the Alentejo. Its walls house a medley of old agricultural instruments. Its starters could make a meal in themselves: think pungent sheep’s cheese, chouriço, small black olives and local crusty bread. Order a selection of these with a red Alentejan wine and you’d barely need a main course, though its grilled meats are always cooked to perfection.
Header Image: Dinner is served at Midori © Midori