The mass influx of UHNWIs has had an influence on more than just prime real estate prices. Over and above the Golden Visa, a residency-by-investment programme, very popular with Chinese and Americans, and more recently, Brexit refugees, affluent Europeans looking for advantageous tax breaks have moved their fiscal residence to Lisbon, and in many cases their families and their lives, through the Portuguese government programme called Non-Habitual Resident programme aka NHR. With British and French relocating and sending Lisbon’s prime real estate prices soaring from excess demand, Lisbon’s real estate and restaurant scene has undergone a makeover to cater to the ever-demanding international crowd.
Portuguese cuisine celebrates the produce, much like in Italy, where freshness and simplicity reign supreme, from oysters that are shipped to Brittany in France, to clams “à bulhão pato” so good it makes it impossible to eat them any other way, or in any other country (I have tried in Spain and Mexico – disaster in the latter), to grilled fish so fresh only a diver asking you what you want to eat could beat it.
As Portuguese, we thank the Atlantic Ocean for being as chilled as it is for at least five reasons: the dramatic views; the quality and abundance of fish; for keeping our skin in place from sheer thermal shock; the fresh air that keeps us healthy; and for keeping an added five million people that prefer lukewarm water at bay.
The Portuguese typically favour flavour over ambiance and authenticity over fancy lighting and they take their food far more seriously than you would expect. Spoiled by our environment, we expect nothing but the best beaches, seafood, and our fish to be tasty and tender… the simple joys of life, courtesy of the Atlantic Ocean. While we still have our traditional favourites, we too are pleased to see some local chefs rise to fame from José Avillez to Henrique Sá Pessoa, via Francisco Mendes to name a few, although local and foreign newcomers are keeping them on their toes.
The one you should know by now:
Mar do Inferno
My all-time favourite. For those of us who are from here, part of the charm of our long-standing local, let’s be honest, is the satisfaction of checking in with the owner, Dona Lurdes who sits at the entrance of the restaurant and knows you by name, and being greeted by the gentlemen waiters who have been there for as long as the restaurant itself. Despite no longer being a spring-chicken, they still call you ‘menina’ (little girl). This restaurant perched on the Atlantic’s cliffs next to the Boca do Inferno, became overly popular when it was ranked in the top 10 tables of Portugal some years ago. It has many competitors down the coastal road to Guincho, off the coast of Lisbon where the Portuguese go for their seafood lunches in the company of their beloved ocean. Although some of their neighbours have upped their game and might enjoy an even more privileged setting suspended over the ocean, Mar do Inferno is still the best of the best. Whether you eat sapateira (spidercrab) or clams, percebes (the rather phallic-looking seafood) or peixe ao sal (baked fish covered in salt), you can’t go wrong. You could also try the champagne sangria that is delicious if you want to try something other than a good red or white wine.
The one to watch:
This brand-new Japanese experience, signed Chef Tiago Penão, is a serious treat. We sat at the bar that surrounds the chef and sous-chefs, and I faced the large window wall that lets the outside in, a façade typical of the pretty old town of Cascais with trees and greenery magically filling my view. I watched my father admire the chef at work. With a long foodie history and professional training, more cookbooks in his library than should be allowed and currently writing an encyclopaedia on culinary factoids, my father is any restaurant’s nightmare as his eagle eye and pallet don’t miss a beat even if his hearing does, which invariably means he voices opinions rather loudly. Yet even he was silenced by the very first fish. It is hard to do Kappo justice or describe how beautiful the presentation is, how the chef celebrates the freshness of the produce Portugal’s coast has to offer, or how it feels to bite into the most delicate seeming of rolls, to find the texture crunchy and the taste utter perfection. You could hear gasps of delight across the room, and the word ‘Michelin’ being mumbled. An ode to the Atlantic Ocean, and to Japan, Kappo is a delight for the senses, between watching artists at work and the sight for sore eyes that is the food they present you with, the smell of the ancient technique used for the rice, or the smoky traditional Japanese charcoal braising methods, the sense of touch as they encourage you to eat the sushi with your fingers, and of course taste, as subtle and refined as it is surprising and reassuring. A perfect blend of modernity and tradition, you should hurry before it gets its star, which every customer believes is only a matter of time.