Lisbon. Long on our list, this ancient city predates Paris, London and Rome. It has been occupied, fought over, destroyed by earthquake in 1755 and was even a neutral haven for spies and refugees during WW 2. But today it is one of the most captivating cities in modern Europe with a reputation well earned for the arts, museums and great food. More on that later.
Our arrival in mid May was a bit less than fabulous. The Airbnb we rented was up six flights of steep, narrow stairs and TAP lost our luggage on the way from Rome. In the next seven days, I counted 19 trips up and down those stairs. My aging knees thought it was twice that judging by all the noises they were making. By now Ellen has caught a vicious cold which she will hand off to me a few days later. Her luggage arrived that night, mine took two more days.
We were located in old town, a hilly area with cobblestone streets but full of restaurants and bars. We headed downhill towards the seafront the first day having heard about the Time Out Market. What a great concept! The editors of Time Out Magazine Portugal select only the best vendors of food in every possible category. The 24 restaurants stands and 8 bars have been curated by a panel of their experts aiming to be the best in each category. And, they are.
I immediately gravitated to Ground Burger - 100 % Angus beef with buns baked all day in their kitchen. Ellen went for tuna tataki and shrimp tempura at Confraria. Both meals amazing sitting at the open counters in the middle of the hall. But, the bacon cheeseburger I had was, hands down, the best burger I’ve ever had. In Lisbon! Every stand sells ice cold Super Bock draft which suits a burger best. In a hall adjoining is a fabulous market for fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. Time Out Markets have opened in Miami and Chicago with Boston, Chicago, Montreal and London all opening in the 24 months.
Our friend Birgit arrived from St. Tropez the next day. Thus began a whirlwind tour of Lisbon starting with walking back down the hill and the open top bus tour. While we stop at sites like Belham Castle, Barrio Alto, etc., the museum line ups in the heat of the day are too daunting. We have cold beers by the water and head, where else, Time Out Market for a burger. In the evening we find that they next street over leads to a spectacular hotel, SVC Verride. VERY 5 star, it does have a stunning rooftop terrace offering 360 degree views of the city.
There is a world renowned known chef in town, Jose Avillez. A 2-star Michelin chef he has 10 restaurants in Lisbon including the stunning Belcanto. But, we can’t get in. Fully booked. However, a very smart girl on the phone suggests another; Beco Gourmet Cabaret and they have one table available. Located at the back of one of his other restaurants you enter through a secret door in a book case to a stunning, high ceiling room with a stage at one end and several Juliette balconies scattered on both sides.
The food is amazing, designed to surprise and every dish does just that. For example, a bouquet of red roses at your table and a pair of gold tweezers at each setting. The centre of each rose is made from apple and lychees coloured to match the surrounding real rose perfectly. Desert is roasted strawberry and beetroot ice cream, a string of pearls is actually chocolate, etc. And the show is wonderful. The lead guy and three girls sing and dance all over the room. They did everything from Sinatra’s ‘My Way‘ to ‘Earth Wind and Fire‘. Great, great show!
Birgit returned to France the next day and we ventured out on the town again to another Alvillez restaurant, Pizza Lisboa. This time a simple, plain spot with decent, but not great, pizza. And yes, we’ve already been to ‘Time Out‘ for another burger.
Our last day we venture out of town to our friends Nancy and Per Jenster’s funky country house in Colera outside of Sintra. I say funky because they bought it ‘as is‘ from a dead woman’s son. She had lived there all her life and the place is packed with oddities and religious symbols. Interesting by day, must be spooky at night.
Per and Nancy made us a delicious lunch and took us to Cabo de Roca, the westernmost part of Europe. On high cliffs, the winds are constant and strong. The barriers on the cliffs are rudimentary with warnings not to cross. Of course, the busloads of Chinese tourists do and we wonder if it’s worth it to wait for someone to take flight landing some 200 feet below in the surf. Naw. Too cold and we have to get to Cascais.
This little beach town is a hot spot, a mini St. Tropez once populated by royalty and Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Pretty cool spot we have a few beers by the waterside and take the 30 minute beach train back to the Lisbon waterfront. Of course, the Time Out Market is right across the street and a burger awaits. Later that evening we went to another well known restaurant, Aqui Ha Piex for dinner. Nice place, food just okay. Seemed to be a trend in Lisbon for us. Despite its foodie reputation, the meals we had was hit and miss.
In the end Ellen thought Lisbon was great. I will admit there is a great vibe but the Airbnb fiasco made me not want to go out and not want to come home. Plus, the food was inconsistent at best. If you go, do more research. There is a lot to see and it is a lively, interesting place to visit.
Lisbon Where & What
Time Out Market the 24 restaurants stands and 8 bars have been curated by the editors of Time Out aiming to be the best vendors of food, wine, etc. in each category.
Beco Gourmet Cabaret is located at the back of Restaurant Bairro Do Avillez behind a hidden passageway. It’s a dinner-and-a-show and only those with a ticket are allowed in. It feels like the clubs of the 1920's and 1950's with about 20 tables. The tasting menu of 12 different “moments” is always a surprise.