As I type this, I’m sat on our balcony in Lugano, which significantly cooler than it was the day I left for Lisbon at just 18ºc – after a seemingly endless summer of 34ºc days. I’ve just returned from a fantastic trip to Lisbon undertaken with the main intention of my mother purchasing a flat there.
As I had such a lovely week and it’s still exempt from the ridiculous English quarantine at the time of writing, I thought I’d share a list of some of my (mainly food-related) highlights from the trip, partly for my own future reference as I’ll no doubt be acting as my mum’s personal interior designer. Apologies if I go a bit heavy on the adjectives here – there are only so many ways you can describe good food, and I’ve tried to vary it a bit!
I must note that I owe a debt to the Lonely Planet guide in curating this list, as many of these restaurants / attractions are mentioned therein – and as a side note, I’d always recommend purchasing the LP guide before visiting a place. While their recommendations sometimes have a slight price-raising and commercialising effect on outlets, I have yet to be led egregiously astray by them, unlike our old pal TripAdvisor.
We stayed in the penthouse suite (which was the same price as getting two rooms) at Torel Palace, decamping to an also-beautiful two bedroom suite on the final night as the penthouse was unavailable. I would definitely recommend this charming little hotel, with gorgeous interiors and sweeping views over the city to rival even the famous Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara. At the time of our stay, admittedly part-way through a pandemic, prices were also very reasonable (although my opinion on this is obviously skewed by Switzerland).
One small complaint is that the wifi was abysmal, and the staff seemed powerless to help with this. We had to go to the main hotel to get WiFi which was a tad annoying. Otherwise, no complaints and if you’re looking for a lovely, stylish and pretty reasonably priced stay, this is the one.
Ubers are pretty cheap here, and we took a lot of them. Were we not in such a rush all the time I’d have given public transport a bit more of a chance, as I’ve heard that it is excellent. Be warned that because of Covid, the maximum number of passengers in a standard Uber car is 2, and the maximum for an XL is 3, which does rather complicate things.
Vegetarianism is yet to meaningfully penetrate the local restaurant market (aside from specialist vegetarian restaurants, of which there are several, but none of my companions wanted to attend them), but I was well-catered for nonetheless, even if it required going off-menu.
Lunch & Dinner
Gambrinus – $$$$ this is a classic opulent and old fashioned (in the best way) eatery which has been around since the 1930s. It’s menu corresponds to this, perfect for your mum whose food taste is stuck in 1978 (again, in the best way)! The waiters here are total professionals. A highlight of the meal was the crepes suzette (pretty spenny at €30, but worth it for the spectacle) which was boozy, delicious and accompanied by a bonafide theatre performance by our excellent waiter. My own dessert, a chocolate mousse, was also gorgeous and a bit cheaper at €8. Go for the old fashioned atmosphere and quality classic dishes, served up in a truly artistic way. Wine was fabulous and the list started at around €20 (cheap by Swiss / HK / London standards but that’s a fair amount to spend here).
O ze da Mouraria – $$ straight out of the lonely planet guidebook, this is about 15 minutes’ stroll from Mercato Santa Clara. It serves heaving portions of traditional fare, with a focus on fish and meat. See pictures of the steak sharing plate for two for an example (I swear that’s enough fries for about 10 people). While it has local patrons and feels authentic (and don’t get me wrong, it’s still great value) I think the prices have been adjusted somewhat for the lonely planet interest (fair enough).
They very kindly made me an omelette and salad, which must’ve contained about 10 eggs, as a vegetarian off-menu option, but this was quite expensive for Lisbon at around €16 (though again, it could’ve easily been shared between two or more). Total cost with wine and beer was about €60 for lunch. I’d definitely return in any case because it’s a fun and vibrant spot and I love the cute saloon doors!
O ze da Mouraria, R. João do Outeiro 24, 1100-341 Lisboa, Portugal
Clube de Journalistas – $$ this would be a favourite of the trip for the atmosphere alone, but the food was also worth a visit. It’s set in a beautiful old building over several floors. Provided the weather permits (I get the impression that it usually will), it’s wonderful to sit in the garden which is lit up with fairy lights. Upon arrival we were each given a complimentary glass of cava, which was a nice touch. They have plenty of interesting vegetarian options – a miso caramel aubergine dish was one I’ll certainly be taking inspiration from. We even got given free canvas bags for life on the way out, and I love a freebie!
Clube de Journalistas, R. das Trinas 129, 1200-857 Lisboa, Portugal
1300 Taberna – $$$ located in LX factory (fun fact: pronounced Elle Shish in Portuguese), the former manufacturing premises of a fabric company, this warehouse-chic (God, who am I) restaurant serves gorgeous contemporary dishes. The highlight for me was the carob pasta with wild mushrooms. Tom rated the codfish, mother loved the octopus, and every other dish I saw leave the kitchen looked equally enticing. Desserts were also fantastic, particularly the chocolate hotcake. It’s a bonus that you get to explore the numerous other bookshops, vintage stores, boutiques, bars and restaurants on the premises. We actually enjoyed the food so much that we went twice, although the service was better the first time than the second.
1300 Taberna, Lx factory india Avenue, R. Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisboa, Portugal
Solar Dos Nunes – $$ this restaurant is actually about 7 minutes’ walk from LX factory so could be tied in with a visit to the attractions there. Dinner here was certainly a highlight of the trip. With super charming interiors and a lovely terrace, the setting is sublime, the walls plastered with years and years’ worth of glowing newspaper reviews and the smiling faces of celebrity patrons. The food was equally wonderful. While as a vegetarian I had to go off-menu, the staff were more than happy to oblige when I asked them to simply use their creative license to make whatever they felt would be best, and had a delicious risotto. While I didn’t taste them, the steak and fish dishes certainly looked good and received glowing reviews. It’s almost a given that wine will be great when you’re in Lisbon and this was no exception. The desserts were ENORMOUS, fresh, rich and glorious. Make sure you book, as despite the slightly random location under a bridge, this is obviously a very popular spot.
Solar Dos Nunes, R. dos Lusíadas 68, 1300-366 Lisboa, Portugal
Taberna Rua das Flores – $$ an ever-changing blackboard takes the place of a printed menu at this cosy Chiado spot, with the exception of a handful of mainstay classic evergreen dishes. Again I went off menu as the one vegetarian dish didn’t particularly pique my interest, and they served me the opposite of a dish you’d expect at a Portuguese tavern – a tofu and noodle salad. This was fantastic, unlike many European takes on Asian food, and was a welcome change from the very classic Portuguese cuisine we’d been consuming for the bulk of the week. Tom said the pork was some of the best he’d ever had. As with pretty much everywhere, the wines were lovely too.
Taberna Rua das Flores, Rua das Flores 103, 1200-194 Lisboa, Portugal
O Piteu – $ this is one that you absolutely must book if you don’t want to be disappointed – luckily, the folk we were with know the owner so swung us a no-booking table, but even this took a bit of waiting. If I were to return (in time I hopefully will), I think I’d prefer an outdoor seat, as the square in Graça on which the restaurant is set is beautiful, and by night has live music performers (but not the horrible awkward cheesy type). The interior is also nice in an unfussy way – here, it’s all about the food, and they certainly don’t scrimp on the portions. Bread is served up front with a gorgeous soft Portuguese mountain cheese. As with most Portuguese restaurants we visited, there’s a heavy emphasis on meat and seafood, but I was very happy with my custom-made noodle dish with a side of friarelli (I don’t actually know its Portuguese name but that’s what they call this in Italy). The enormous fries and rice accompanied dishes pictured came in at about 10 euros per plate, and the photos speak for themselves!
O Pitéu, Largo da Graça 95-96, 1170-165 Lisboa, Portugal
Foxtrot – $$ I would compare this to Panda & Sons in Edinburgh, a lovely old fashioned cocktail bar with a prohibition feel. I don’t tend to go in for cocktails, but I must admit that my pornstar martini was fabulous. I imagine it gets a bit more lit later on but as an honourary boomer I was here at about 7 so no comment.
Foxtrot, Tv. Santa Teresa 28, 1200-405 Lisboa, Portugal
Park – $$ a very cool rooftop bar set in the unlikely location of the top floor of a car park (which I daresay, in the humble opinion of this gentrifying yuppie, would make a great residential block). The views are sweeping and fantastic. It’s important to head there before 8pm, after which only restaurant patrons are allowed to enter – we didn’t try any of the food but from online reviews it “leans toward healthy cuisine”, which sounds good to me.
Park, Calçada do Combro, 58, Bairro Alto, Lisbon
Le Chat – $$ with a large terrace and stunning views over the river Tagus, this is a beautiful spot for sunset cocktails. Those we had were very nice.
Le Chat, Jardim 9 de Abril, 1200-736 Lisboa, Portugal
Cafes / Breakfast
The Mill – $$ because of the ongoing pandemic, the breakfast at our hotel was slightly more limited than it normally would be, so we decided to go out for brunch one day. We chose The Mill mainly because it was open at 9am unlike every other ‘breakfast’ spot, and boy am I glad we did. I had the corn fritters with avocado and a side of kale + an additional poached egg, and Tom had a breakfast bagel. Coffee was fantastic. You’ll feel like you’re in Melbourne but for the classic Lisbon trams passing by. Get here early to get a table.
Alongside their lovely brunch dishes, The Mill sells gorgeous pottery handmade in Portugal, which would make for a wonderful gift for a friend back home.
The Mill, R. do Poço dos Negros 1, 1200-335 Lisboa, Portugal
Fauna & Flora – $$ this place has a similar vibe & style of food to The Mill, and is equally popular. I didn’t personally eat here, though I did have a gorgeous coffee, but my mum did twice in a single day, and highly rated both her pancakes (mid-morning snack) and her roasted mushroom dish (lunch – the woman can put away a lot of food without gaining weight). It’s on a very pretty street and sits directly opposite a second hand store, which is obviously a giant bonus for me!
Fauna & Flora, Rua da Esperança 33, 1200-655 Lisboa, Portugal
I’m embarrassed to say there was precious little in the way of cultural activity on our trip. To be fair, it was a somewhat difficult to fit in amidst a flurry of flat viewings, and to be honest walking around Lisbon is a cultural adventure in itself. Nonetheless, there were a handful of ‘attractions’ that impressed us…
Oceanário de Lisboa – €15 entry during august. This is a bit far out of the main town and possibly a controversial entry as the tide seems to have turned against such attractions, but this is a quality one where animal and environmental welfare seems to be a prime concern. The aquarium also occupies a prime spot right on the waterfront, from which you can cycle / walk / take a douchey scooter (Tom’s favourite and my least favourite mode of transport) closer to town. This would obviously be a great place to entertain kids, and boyfriends! We didn’t go on it but right beside is a cable car over Lisbon, which would make for a nice day trip tied in with the aquarium.
Oceanário de Lisboa, Esplanada Dom Carlos I s/nº, 1990-005 Lisboa, Portugal
Mercado de Santa Clara – on Tuesdays and Saturdays only. They call this a “flea market” for a reason – I wouldn’t be surprised if you caught fleas from some of the stuff here. I’d say it’s a good 95% junk, albeit interesting junk that’s fun to gander at, mixed in with some genuinely interesting antiques. The setting is stunning regardless of the wares on sale, atop a hill by a church overlooking the river, and the vibe is very fun. Stop for a coffee at Copenhagen Coffee Co. to feel like a true force for gentrification. I’m sure we got totally ripped off on the one thing we did purchase but tourist numbers are down at the moment so I’ll let that slip…
Mercado de Santa Clara, Campo de Santa Clara, 1100-472 Lisboa, Portugal
Belem – this is an area, not a specific attraction, but it’s a little outside of the city centre and it’s coming down with beautiful and interesting attractions, so is certainly worth a gander if only to try the famous Pastis de Belem. Use the FreeNow app to hire an e-bike and cycle there and back for the best views.
Buying Property – $$$$$$$$ my mum’s chosen method of evading the dreaded Brexit, and a great way to see the interior of the city’s buildings. Should you be interested in purchasing in Lisbon, I have an excellent contact for you who will help you with all of the admin and kindly show you some great spots in the city, so get in touch with me to get her contact details. Thank you, Xana!
A note on Covid-19
Of all the places I’ve travelled to during this pandemic (admittedly more places than is normal to travel to given the circumstances), Lisbon was one of those which took the most preventative measures. While life certainly goes on and none of the joy has been sucked out of this glorious city, people are sensible in a wonderfully unfussy and pragmatic way. Masks are worn inside all shops without complaint, hand sanitiser is everywhere, and staff are diligent but polite in enforcing rules. I felt totally safe everywhere we went.
To think that the UK would add somewhere like this to their quarantine list while their own population pulls a Karen over wearing masks is beyond me, but that’s a story for another day…
Let me know if you check out any of the above, or if you think I’ve made any glaring omissions – I’m no local, but I hope to get to know Lisbon better in future!