Colourful plates, fresh seafood, indulgent flavours… Portuguese cuisine is having a moment on the world stage. And where better to try it than in Lisbon, where a diverse culinary scene proves there’s more to Portuguese food than piri piri chicken. In the first of our Where Chefs Eat series, we recruit the help of Chef José Avillez, the man behind six restaurants in Lisbon – Belcanto, Barrio do Avillez, Mini Bar, Cantinho do Avillez, Café Lisboa and Pizzaria Lisboa – to give us some insider tips on his favourite epicurean locations in the city, and what to try when you visit.
You are one of Portugal’s most celebrated chefs. How does your life in Lisbon, and your upbringing in Cascais, inspire you as a chef?
I grew up in Cascais, near the sea and surrounded by pinewoods. The strong memory of being close to the sea is a part of me. It defines me. Pine nuts and codium (a seaweed) are some of the flavours that remind me of my childhood. I remember eating salicornia, a plant that grows on the beach, as a child. Today, I often use it in my recipes. When I grew up, I fell in love with Lisbon, a magical city that once was a capital of the world. The inspiration I get from the history, the energy, the artists, the landscapes, the people and the river is incredible.
What do you think makes the local food scene so exciting?
Lisbon is a great destination for food lovers. Portuguese cuisine is tremendously rich and varied, and we have very high quality products. For me, the top ingredients are fresh fish and shellfish from the Portuguese coast – I think our fish is the world’s best. Talented local chefs are creating innovative restaurants with delicious and diverse food, which is making Portuguese cuisine more visible. This new wave of well-travelled, educated chefs and restaurateurs is changing the dining experience.
If a visitor wants to sample traditional Portuguese cuisine in Lisbon, where would you recommend they visit, and what should they order?
Cheeses and cured sausages at traditional grocery store Manteigaria Silva; ‘Dip in the Sea’ (a sea bass dish with seaweed and shellfish) at Belcanto; giant red shrimps at Bairro do Avillez; and Pastel Lisboa (one of the most wonderful minced beef pastries you will ever taste) or Pastel de Nata at Café Lisboa. For an unforgettable dessert, try the citrus and egg sweets at Belcanto.