Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio plaza from above.

A Gastronomical Tour of Lisbon

In advance of this year’s conference in Lisbon, here’s a look at what the city’s food scene has to offer.

Michelin-star quality dish from Alma
A delicious dish from the Michelin-starred Alma (photo by Nuno Correia).

From April 2-4, Lisbon will become host to Bombardier’s 2019 Maintenance and Operations Conference. Uniting chief pilots and directors of maintenance with key Bombardier employees and guest speakers, this three-day event offers participants a chance to take part in general and technical sessions on our aircraft and learn more about recent industry developments, including new product offerings and safety information.

The city’s chefs from Lisbon’s innovative & gastronomic scene have worked hard to create exclusive and authentic experiences for their clientele—much like what we do for our cutomers at Bombardier. In advance of this year’s conference in Lisbon, here’s a look at what the city’s food scene has to offer.

As we navigate the steep cobblestoned hill up to Príncipe Real, Lisbon’s picturesque shopping neighborhood, I begin to wonder: Do we press on and have that third lunch? Or do we save it for another day?

The question is moot, as we’re already here. Our guide Diogo has led us to our third restaurant of the day, Pesca, where Portuguese-born chef Diogo Noronha welcomes us at the bar. With 50 seats, the majority of them outside, the narrow space has a neighborly feel to it, comfortable without being confined. Noronha ushers us through the dining room, vinyl playing on a nearby turntable, and into the restaurant’s lush garden where we find our seats.

Relaxing in the sun over a glass of Brut Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine from Portugal’s Luis Pato, the Thomas Keller-trained chef explains to us his philosophy of cooking. “The combination of flavors that inspire me are Atlantic Mediterranean,” he says, “but I often introduce an element or technique that I’ve learned from my past travels, other gastronomic cultures or even my knowledge of macrobiotic, vegetarian or vegan diets.” We see the full range of his talents as we are greeted with a visually stunning squid tartar with pickled egg yolk and Granny Smith apple, an unctuous deep-fried breaded oyster, and classically paired grilled scallops with Iberian pancetta.

Then it’s on to our equally delicious entrees: salt cod and brown crab, perfectly grilled turbot with wild mushrooms, and a braised mullet that could not have been more rich and juicy.

It wasn’t luck that led us to Pesca for our third outstanding culinary experience of the day. Our dining companion Diogo Correia (or ‘Didi’ to his friends) is the creator and owner of Lisbon Foodie Walks, offering carefully curated tours of Lisbon’s chef-owned restaurants. Correia first came to this calling in 2006, after he left Lisbon for London where he sampled countless local dishes amplified by international influences. Returning home in 2013, just as Lisbon’s economy was rebounding, Correia became motivated to champion his country’s own evolving food scene and Lisbon Foodie Walks was born.

Correia’s itineraries are based on his client’s desires, gleaned from a detailed questionnaire. Whether it be a day of discovering local eateries serving traditional classics or crafting a bespoke gastro tour, the in-demand guide has the inside track on the rising stars as well as new and noteworthy establishments. “When I started the business, I was chasing the chefs and their publicity teams,” recalls Correia. “But now they call me, and I am out most nights at a restaurant opening, an event, a tasting, or sampling a new menu at a well-known favorite spot.”

José Avillez’s Bairro do Avillez in Lisbon.
The dining room at José Avillez’s Bairro do Avillez (photo by Paulo Barrata).

Our day began at noon in the riverside district of Cais do Sodré at O Watt, the latest venture from globe-trotting chef Kiko Martins (who also operates the massively popular A Cevicheria, known for its delicious ceviche). Over the restaurant’s signature cocktail, a refreshing concoction of gin, ginger and coriander named the Ampere d’O Watt, Martins explains how he traveled the world in 2010. “I visited over 20 countries, stayed with total strangers and learned to cook their cuisine. When I returned to Portugal I was excited to experiment with what I had learned. I wanted to experience a healthier way of eating using no sugar, salt or frying.” True to his word, lunch is a series of dishes where every course is raw, steamed or grilled, allowing the ingredients to shine. A tasty starter of tuna poke is a delicate creation while the succulent grilled octopus is moist and tasty. Finely minced cauliflower and mushrooms topped with a truffle egg yolk tastes so good that even those who avoid vegetables will ask for seconds.

We walk off our meal by exploring a busy network of food halls at the nearby Time Out Market, where many of Portugal’s chefs—such as Henrique Sá Pessoa of the Michelin-starred Alma—have satellite stalls. In the heart of nearby neighborhood Chiado, I insist on picking up a souvenir. Correia points out Cerâmicas na Linha, where traditional Portuguese pottery is sold by weight. I opt for the simple white side plates hand-painted with sardines in a deep blue. Salt cod may be the Portuguese national dish but the lowly sardine is celebrated annually on June 13 during the Feast of St. Anthony. “Sardines have sustained us for many years,” explains Correia. “They are plentiful, easy to cook, and inexpensive, so we honor them with a festival.”

Portuguese pottery from Cerâmicas na Linha.
Photo courtesy of Cerâmicas na Linha.

The second lunch of our tour is a tapas feast at Michelin-star chef José Avillez’s Bairro do Avillez. With a total of 13 restaurants in Portugal, Avillez’s creative cuisine and prolific output has put Lisbon firmly on the culinary map. Open just over a year, Bairro do Avillez houses five restaurants under one roof, including Taberna where we meet. With its wooden chairs, tiled walls, and a deli up front, the restaurant has kept the feel of a casual neighborhood tasca but the food is far from simple. Plates of paper-thin slices of salty black and pink ham, a moist tuna steak that melts in the mouth and a brilliantly sweet and spicy char-grilled giant prawn all reference Avillez’s mastery. The chef arrives to refill our glasses and we discover that the wine, a crisp vino branco, comes from his own winery. “Lisbon can now be considered a world capital of gastronomy,” explains Avillez. “We’ve got everything to make this happen; tradition, good products, unique flavors and growing visibility of the Portuguese chefs modernizing classic dishes.”

Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa in Alma’s kitchen.
Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa of Alma puts the final touches onto a plate (photo by Nuno Correia).

I couldn’t believe that after a full day of dining I was feeling even slightly peckish, but following a restorative sip of Taylor Fladgate’s Single Harvest Vintage Tawny Port 1968 in our cozy hotel lobby bar, we headed out for dinner. After driving past the impressive Basílica da Estrela, with its ornate blend of baroque and neoclassical architecture, the simple black and white interior of Michelin-starred Loco seems almost stark in comparison. Contrary to what the name would suggest, dinner is a calm, almost meditative, yet highly entertaining affair. Servers glide effortlessly from table to table efficiently laying down plates and pouring wine while in the open kitchen a staff of accomplished chefs skillfully plate each course. Dinner starts with a little theater, as we are presented with a wooden box containing two keys. I think back to Alice in Wonderland, one of my favorite books as a child, and choose the smaller key. “All will be revealed later,” smiles our waiter.

Michelin-star quality dish from Alma
A delicious dish from the Michelin-starred Alma (photo by Nuno Correia).

The 14- or 18-course menu is a series of “moments” featuring topflight local ingredients paired in experimental ways that reference Portuguese standards. Now and then chef Alexandre Silva, a former Top Chef winner, appears at our table to explain a particular dish such as the raw lingueirão—a razor clam ceviche. “The clams come from a small producer in Ria Formosa in the Algarve,” he says. Beverage pairings include not just regional wines but local ciders and ales.

Once again, the wines, such as the Vieira de Sousa Grande Reserva 2013 from the Douro region, are exceptional, with balanced flavors, poise and character. And after the last course the mystery of the keys is solved when our server deposits a locked box on our table and motions toward it. One key opens it, revealing the bill.

Leaving the restaurant, I recall a comment Correia had made earlier about the importance of dining in Portugal: “The rhythm of our day revolves around mealtimes. We catch up with family, socialize with friends and do business at the table. Preserving our culinary traditions is important but there is so much diversity in our cooking now without sacrificing Portuguese flavors. Portuguese cuisine is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be.” The Lisbon culinary scene is exploding, and the world is taking notice.

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