It is not often that I find, after a very substantial meal, that there is room left for a dessert each; it generally comes down to which one are we going to share. Such is the dilemma you will face if you go to Nuno Mendes’ Lisboeta restaurant in London, generally referred to as his love letter to Lisbon. And you’re probably thinking, London, bah, when am I going there? But really, with one of the world’s major cities just an hour’s flight away, it’s worth adding to your weekend away list.
We are having Saturday lunch, a thing that is all too infrequent. Do we do Saturday lunch in Ireland any more? I don’t think so. Yet here, it seems like it’s the norm.
Lisboeta rubs shoulders with some of London’s top restaurants on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. It’s casual on the ground floor, with a long bar leading to an open kitchen that runs at a hum. This, after all, follows in the spirit of Nuno Mendes, one of the gentlest chefs in London, who is the executive chef here. He is not in the restaurant when I visit, but it matters little.
Upstairs, the decor is simple, adding to the informality of the place, with bright light streaming through the Georgian windows. The one-page menu is filled with delicious sounding dishes – snacks; petiscos, which are small sharing plates; tachos and travessas, pots and platters to those among us who don’t speak Portuguese; and desserts. I can tell, even at a glance, that we won’t be getting out of here cheaply. Like Dublin, London prices have taken quite a bit of a hike.
Laurel review: This south Dublin restaurant is all about great service and prices - even if some dishes are a bit overwrought
We are happy to take the recommendations of our waiter, who has suggested the grilled acorn-fed black pork (£45) for our main course, although there’s a serious intake of breath across the table from me as a metal pot with arroz de marisco, red prawn and seafood rice, wings its way to a table beside us. We soon discover it doesn’t matter what you order, everything is delicious.
The wine list reflects Mendes’ love for Portuguese wines, with collaborations with Dirk Niepoort and Quinta do Montalto, and we have an entry level red blend of Touriga Nacional and Aragonez (£32) from the latter. In reality, the list starts at about £50.
For snacks, we start with Vindalho Empada (£4 each), tiny pork pies with a touch of Goan spices in burnished pastry capped with lardo; and two little slices of toast, brushed with Portuguese blood sausage and topped with fine slices of smoked scallop (£12).
The sharing plate of amberjack carpaccio (£17) is a delicate dish, the pieces of raw fish getting bursts of acidity and freshness from finely sliced fennel, pickled red onion and strands of orange zest. The subtlety is what makes it – you can taste the olive oil and a few flakes of salt that have been scattered over.
A cork mat is placed on the table for a heated platter, the aroma of the Iberico pork wafting. It’s simple. Slices of pork, shimmering pink with glistening fat, are surrounded by the most beautiful tomatoes you are likely to taste, the skins removed to enhance the sheer pleasure. With smokiness from the grill, a tiny bit of spice, every tender bit of the pork tastes like it was a life well lived before it landed on this plate.
A side dish of smoked Charlotte potatoes in their skins (£6) are crisp and crunchy with cloves of garlic scattered through, and lardo melting on top. There is a load of eating in our main course; but when we look at the desserts, they are so intriguing, we have to try two.
Who wouldn’t want to try egg yolk and pork fat custard (£7)? Okay, it may sound a bit polarising, but the quenelle of delicate savoury custard dressed in olive oil with a Port caramel underneath is quite spectacular. Farófias (£7) is like a Portuguese take on baked Alaska, with torched meringue dusted with orange and cinnamon sitting on top of ice-cream on a biscuit base, a gorgeous melange of crunch, coldness and burnt sugar flavours.
Lisboeta means “someone from Lisbon”, and as someone from Dublin, I can tell you that it’s worth a trip to London to eat there for lunch or dinner. Just be sure to book well in advance, as this is a very popular restaurant.
Lunch for two with a bottle of wine including 12.5% service charge was £150.75 (€175).
THE VERDICT: An utterly beautiful restaurant
Music: Low level, Portishead and the likes
Food provenance: Top quality, with speciality items like black pork from Alentejo, Amberjack from the Azores, and carabineiros from the Iberian peninsula
Vegetarian options: A good selection in snacks and small plates, with a vegan main like grilled cabbage feijoada – hispi cabbage with a white bean stew
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with no accessible toilet