Porto – Where to Eat and Drink
Chocolataria das Flores
Located on Rua das Flores, a popular street leading onto the banks of the Duoro, Chocolataria das Flores, a tiny patisserie, beckons with the delicious smells of butter and chocolate. You can get a wiff of the scent of baked biscuits, caramels, tarts and more, well before you even come into sight of this place. The window display is usually filled with wrapped gifts, sweets in jars and such. These are pretty, but wouldn’t have been enough to entice us, if it weren’t for the scent of baking cake. There’s a lot more than meets the eye inside this Chocolataria.
The lady that runs it is a woman who learned the craft in her kitchen. She heads the small bakery with two young women trained in the fine arts of pastry making at the Cordon Bleu equivalent in Portugal. The pastries are a tantalizing mix of tradition and novel cuisine. Like every thing in Porto, the goodies here were unique in that simple, effortless way the Portuguese are so good at. We particularly loved their twist on the traditional Pastel de Nata.
Unlike the French and Italian, the Portuguese do not place tradition above all else. Even traditional recipes are free to change and are adapted in as many wonderful ways as can be dreamed up. Here, the ladies at the Chocolataria combined the traditional custard of the Pastel de Nata with chocolate and local port, and believe me, this was even better than the original recipe.
ODE Porto Wine House
A charming, unpretentious restaurant, serving farm to table food with a flair, ODE Porto Wine House is definitely worth a reservation. When we called, they were almost booked out save a slot at opening time. I was worried the place might be a tad pretentious – you couldn’t simply enter, someone had to open the door for you – but it was far from that. Inside, the atmosphere is homely, cosy and calm – the opening page on the menu invites all diners to set their mobiles on silent and be fully present for the dining experience.
The waiters are knowledgeable and helpful and the food is absolutely stunning. Perfect portions, perfectly cooked. They also have an extensive wine list of regional vintages that didn’t break the bank and paired well with the meals served. The food was simple and elegant, bringing to the fore the traditional Portuguese ingredients used. There are no tricks here, only classic ways of cooking mixed with contemporary methods and novel pairings of flavours. ODE Porto Wine House is a great example of fusion cooking which has been part of the long Portuguese culinary tradition since the dawn of European exploration.
A hole in the wall bar along the Duoro, Botequim Nostalgic stood out with its rustic atmosphere and a well stocked bar filled with vintage memorabilia. We first stumbled on BN in spring, before the crowd of the tourist season. Had we been here in the full heat of summer, we might not have noticed it, as its small terrace was almost crowded out by the tables and chairs from neighbouring bars.
BN is run by a bunch of enthusiastic guys who know their gin and make a huge, mind boggling array of gin and tonics, some on the menu, some not. Despite its screamingly hipster vibe (the owners have the obligatory beard, and everyone wears suspenders), Botequim Nostalgic has roots that go back to the early 1900s. As the story goes, it was owned by the grandmother of the current owners, two brothers, who used to sell coffee and snacks to the workers and seamen who toiled on the banks of the Duoro. The shop has now been passed on to her grandsons, and instead of fueling the mornings of sun and sea hardened dock workers, it livens up the days and nights of Porto’s hip, young denizens and tourists from all over the world.
Whenever we’re in Porto, this bar is our first port of call. Their G&Ts are the best welcome drink I can think of, and the food they serve is great, too. Simple, traditional fare presented in a fun and contemporary way – exactly what this city is all about.
This was the bakery recommended to our travelling companion, Phil, by Maria, the mother of our Air BnB owner. There is no better recommendation than a local taking you there, and we stuck it to religiously for our daily cake. It was just around the corner of our apartment, which made it even better.
Established in 1878, Padaria Ribeiro has been serving Porto’s inhabitants since, and serving them well. The bakery boasts a wide selection of breads, cakes and pastries, all made to the finest quality. Everything here is perfect, dense when it should be, flaky when it’s called for, always buttery, always golden. After buying our Saboriccia’s selection of Portuguese tinned sardines, Phil made a headway for Padaria Ribeiro, hoping to make it before closing time, to get rolls, bread and pastry to have with the wonderful array of food we’d bought. Although he got there immediately after closing time, there were still patrons in it, despite the late hour. Elsewhere, he might have been shooed away, but the lady at the counter gestured for him to come in quickly. Most of the pastries and cakes had been bought up by this time of the night, but what remained was still a pretty good selection. We got some mini empadas (small meat pies wrapped in a flaky pastry), buttery rolls and of course, the ubiquitous Pastel de Nata.
Located on the same thoroughfare as Café Majestic, Saboricca is a deli stocking the finest products from the country. Wine, cheese, meats, tea, olive oil, grains and fresh fruit are all on offer here. The entrance to Saboriccia is small an unassuming, and we would have passed it without a second glance if it weren’t for the fresh fruit on offer by the door. Once inside, the store boasts a huge selection of products, cheese and fruit in front, uncountable flavours of tinned sardines and shellfish in the middle and a room at the back lined with shelves of port and wine.
When we entered, a tasting was taking place. I think this was more a permanent feature of the shop rather than a coincidence of the moment. There was a huge wooden table laden with bread, olive oil and the award winning jams of Meia Dúzia. This was no ordinary tasting. After we sampled a few different ports, the owner introduced us to a drink popular in Porto in the summer months. Port and tonic. We were each given glasses, provided with beautiful, gnarly lemons and stems of mint, and bottles of artisanal tonic. The drink was a refreshing mix of all these things, topped with a grind of pepper. We left the shop laden with food and drink and cancelled our dinner reservation, choosing instead to stay in and sample the wide variety of local produce we procured.
We stumbled upon Vinhas D’Alho by chance. We had been walking along the main thoroughfare of the river for a bit, looking for a place to eat, but every place we looked at that served traditional Portuguese food was filled to to capacity. We almost gave in an walked into a random restaurant that seemed nice enough and served steak (at least the meat would be local), but decided to walk down a few more doors. That was when we found Vinhas D’Alho, near the edge of the restaurant strip along the Duoro.
The food was very memorable, I think mostly because it was simple. We had braised boar cheek and tripe with beans. It doesn’t get more traditional that that, I think. The ambience was nice and modern and the wine selection both good and reasonable. If it had not been so impossibly warm that afternoon, we even may have sat out on the terrace, which overlooked the river.
The Café Majestic carries over the splendour of the Belle Epoque into contemporary Porto, bringing along with it the charm, class and beauty of the era. Decorated in the Art Nouveau style, the Café Majestic became a landmark for the city in 1921, and turned Santa Catarina Street into the place to be for the finest members of society. Nothing has changed since, and the Café continues to retain its old world charm, coupled with a tradition of service that feels right out of the turn of the 20th century. Stepping into the Café is stepping into a time warp, taking you back to a time where dining out was an experience that connected one to the heart of the city.
Everything was perfect, from the preservation of the Café’s history to the food and drink served. The menu, although steeped in tradition, was also novel in its own way. We had the classic Francesinha sandwich, which was made perfectly – there are debates as to what is the original Francesinha sandwich, but like all Portuguese food, reflecting the country’s melting pot culture, we decided that there probably wasn’t an ‘original’ one. That said, the Café Majestic’s version is absolutely decadent, and is, in my books, as close to the real deal as you’re going to get today, if not better!
Cantinho Do Avillez
Started by the Michelin star chef José Avillez, Cantinho Do Avillez mixes haute with casual, serving up wonderfully creative dishes in their laid back canteen style restaurant on Mouzinho da Silvera street in Porto. The restaurant’s ambience is relaxed and chic, and the menu is simple with surprising twists.
On the menu was the popular flaked cod served with LT egg and “exploding” olives, classics like deep fried green beans, tempura style, with tartare sauce (did you know it was the Portuguese that gave the Japanese “Tempura”?), 21st Century Professor style eggs (onsen eggs or eggs cooked sous vide, served with bacon and other crispy garnish) and the most perfectly done desserts. The primary style of cooking was molecular cuisine done simply. Traditional ingredients and recipes cooked to perfection, with the occasional flair, like the tuna confit or the mojito foam on the fruit salad.
Galeria de Paris
We found Galeria de Paris by chance. It was one of the few places we didn’t have a dinner reservation for. Its welcoming ambiance, with live piano music, low golden lighting coming from retro copper lamps, and Disney memorabilia from the pre-war period, enticed us in. As usual, the service was friendly, and the food no-fuss and prepared very well.
The dishes are are simpler than other restaurants in Oporto, like barbecued octopus with salad and potatoes, or steak cooked in a casserole, but they do these simple dishes very well, and if you are looking for a solid meal out in a relaxing atmosphere with live music, then Galeria de Paris will hit the spot.