Getting a reservation at the recently opened Lisboeta (an affectionate term for someone hailing from Lisbon) restaurant on Charlotte Street is as tricky, as buying the tickets for Harry Stiles concert, so I feel particularly grateful to chef Nuno Mendes for the pleasure of dining at his new restaurant with my family recently. Pandemic has been difficult for people, as well as various industries, with hospitality being hit particularly hard, but the silver lining is that many of us now have renewed appreciation for dining out, quality of ingredients, ambiance, customer service – and for those people who provide it.
What is palpable at Lisboeta is the informality and warmth of the team working there – be it the front of the house, or behind the scenes. Waiters are charming & offer helpful insights into Portuguese cuisine and each dish on the menu; chefs cook the food with smiles, rather than a grim, stressed facial expression; the sommelier helped us choose exactly the wine we were looking for to match the dishes we were planning to eat. I also noticed the mix of generations in terms of age working at Lisboeta – working in perfect harmony, assisting each other, keeping an eye on things and possibly learning new skills at the same time too. A testament that speaks volumes about Nuno Mendes, both as a person, as well as the chef and what he thinks makes for a great working environment. I think it’s also a subtle lesson to other restaurants and businesses, showing how integral the tractions between generations is to democratic society and how each person contributes to the success of the business that they work for, bringing their unique skillsets to the communal work table.
The decor of the restaurant is done in tasteful, bright colours – vivid blues, greens, greys, enhanced by gold metal hardware and wood elements. There is also beautiful lighting, lots of natural light upstairs, in part thanks to a skyline over the staircase, green plants and beautiful painting and images that are a story in themselves, enhancing customer’s cultural experience in getting to know Portugal not only through cooking alone.
The counter on the ground floor is buzzier ( you can get lunch and dinner there, as well snacks and drinks during the day), tables upstairs offering a more calm & subtle dining experience ( again, bookings taken for lunch and dinner ) – be it for romance, friendship or a family meal. There is also a private room for ten guests in the basement for a more special, intimate experience – i only glimpsed it on the way to the bathroom, which is also located in the basement.
As to the food, the flavours and recipes pay homage to Nuno’s country of birth and particularly to his grandmother’s cooking that continues to inspire Nuno and his team, bringing past perfectly into the culinary present. Each dish on the menu – from small plates to bigger dishes to be shared – is so memorable, I am still re-counting food caudalies on my tongue days later.
The dishes on the menu are divided into several sections. There are four delicious Cocktails (I tried White Port & Tonic, a light, slightly bitter drink that is a perfect aperitif before the food arrives on the table), which you can have alongside Snacks, Charcuterie & Cheese. Then you have PETISCOS (Portuguese-style small plates that are designed to be shared), followed by TACHOS & TRAVESSAS, which are pots & platters for two to share. Many ingredients, like acorn-fed Alentejo pork & large, flavoursome prawns come from Portugal, helping to truly showcase Portuguese food in London, but plenty of other ingredients are sourced from British producers, like the bread & butter from the Coombeshead Farm.
Asparagus Alhada arrived like a work of art plated for display – vivid greenery enhanced by seasonal garlic sauce so delicious, a second order was promptly placed. Mushroom Acorda, a dish with which Nuno pays homage to the cookery traditions of the land of the rising sun, an earthy delight, with the egg yolk playfully fought over by the spoons. Beef Tartare, smokey, dense, spiced with chorizo & accompanied by oily bread and house pickles, was so good, I scooped it up into my mouth with eyes wide closed, savouring the layers of flavours. And Arroz de Marisco was such a perfectly executed choir of flavours & herbs, with an added spice kick courtesy of the squeeze of the prawn heads that were brought on a separate plate, truly puts this remarkable dish into a culinary hall of dish fame.
And of course the meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert, so save the space for some sweet treats with a Lisboeta twist. We chose the Tarte de Amendoa, almond & butternut tart with olive oil that was dense and not too sweet, a moorish experience that can be perfectly coupled with a single expresso & Farofias, which is a Poached Meringue with Orange & Cinnamon. The latter most surprising interpretation of the meringue – soft layers were spooned with such gusto, I didn’t have the time to capture it on camera until the plate was almost squeaky clean.
Lisboeta is a perfect representation of passion and an experience worth sharing with those you like or love, a page in the book of memories that will reignite a spark in the eye, a happy rumble in the belly and the acknowledgement that a great restaurant is a sum of many parts. A mix of talent, culinary traditions, hard work and a perfect harmony of individual contribution of each and every single member of staff. Nuno & team Lisboeta, you represent cosy comfort of a delicious culinary hug that stays in the mind for all the right reasons.
Lisboeta, 30 Charlotte St, London W1T 2NG