Nuno Mendes shares his Lisbon loves

The Portuguese chef launched the Loft Project and Viajante to critical acclaim before becoming executive chef at Chiltern Firehouse. His Taberna do Mercado opened in Spitalfields last year

Nuno Mendes photographed at Garrafeira Alfaia
Nuno Mendes photographed at Garrafeira Alfaia | Image: Pedro Guimaraes

When I’m in Lisbon I indulge in breakfast out. I’ll have a pingado, an espresso with milk, and a traditional custard tart. I like modern Manteigaria, where you can see the tarts being made step by step and you eat at the counter. Pastéis de Belém is the opposite; it’s like a museum with rooms decorated in typical Portuguese tiles. It’s home to the original custard tart, served still warm, but here the process is secret.

Then I’ll wander to the Feira da Ladra flea market in Alfama, a beautiful part of town. I often find wonderful china and recently bought some amazing old plates for €1 each. There are young Portuguese vintners showcasing their wine so you can have tastings along the way. I’ll also stop for a ginjinha, a sour cherry liqueur.

From here I’ll head up to Bairro Alto, an old neighbourhood with a real buzz from 11am to 6pm. There are traditional wine houses and bars next to cool restaurants, and small shops selling random things like fish hooks next to independent fashion and design stores. There’s also Garrafeira Alfaia [pictured], a great wine shop.

Lunch will be at Tágide. You step off the cobbled street to find a view of the whole city; one wall is all glass. The octopus, served with caramelised onions and smashed twice-roasted potatoes, is delicious. The chef also makes incredible empada da lampreia, a typical eel pie with a sauce made from its blood. After I’ll visit Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon’s Tate Modern. I love the exhibitions but really go for the wonderful gardens. A walk here is like a break from the city within the city.

Dinner starts late in Lisbon, so I’ll go home first for an aperitif on the terrace: a martini or an ice-cold Super Bock. Then I’ll go to 100 Maneiras, a fun bistro. I’ll start with cocktails at the bar – they do an amazing Amarguinha [almond liqueur] Sour – and lots of friends come by. We’ll share prawn turnovers, veal croquettes and rice with clams. We’ll finish with an Old Fashioned at the rooftop bar at the Bairro Alto hotel. It has one of the best views of the old town.

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On Sunday I’ll take a tram to Castelo de São Jorge – it’s in ruins but the views and overgrown grounds are stunning. Then I’ll head into Alfama. In the higgledy-piggledy streets are cool shops and galleries and Barbearia Oliveira, a traditional barber’s, where you can have a proper wet shave.

I’ll have lunch at A Cevicheria – it has a beautiful old tiled floor and huge octopus hanging overhead. The young chef weaves local flavours into international dishes. The lobster ceviche with Madeiran avocados is like a tropical paradise, and there’s a really special cuttlefish and pork belly sandwich on sweet-potato bread.  

Then I’ll go to Pharmacia in Santa Caterina. My father, who passed away some time ago, studied medicine here and though the building is now a restaurant, it retains a medical vibe. I’ll meet friends for cocktails called Morphine or Benzine and hang out on the lawn until sunset.

My weekend closes at the Mercado da Ribeira, a converted market by the river. It has an industrial feel and an upper level where they stage concerts. It’s full of small booths – some owned by Portugal’s most celebrated chefs – like Manteigaria Silva, which is great for cured meat, and Tartar-ia, where the light, zingy tuna tartare is beautifully presented. I know my ice cream and Santini does the best in the world. At night the place turns into a party and I’ll spend hours here, getting lost in the food.

Around midnight I’ll wind home along the riverfront soaking up lights. There’s a new energy in Lisbon and I’ll return to London deeply inspired.

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