Lisbon-culinary-trip

A culinary experience in Lisbon

Olivier da Costa offers unique dining experiences at each of his restaurants in the city

Rosalind Powell

Set across a series of hills overlooking the estuary of the Rio Tejo, you’re never far from a magnificent view in Lisbon. Or a restaurant. The Portuguese capital boasts a diverse selection of eateries serving both local and international cuisine with one chef in particular offering unique dining experiences with his four restaurants.

Esteemed chef and restaurateur Olivier da Costa caters for virtually every taste in his elegant but lively restaurants, adding new twists to traditional Portuguese dishes and designing spaces where diners can either sit and relax, or have a good time and party.

Tivoli Avenida Liberdade hotel has recently undergone an incredible refurbishment

Keen to sample a full Olivier Experience over a busy weekend, we dined in three of his restaurants, each with its own distinctive menu and atmosphere. It was a gastronomic indulgence which we could walk off with long strolls around the buzzing city’s charming labyrinth of hilly, cobbled streets.

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Situated right in the centre of town, we stayed at the city’s landmark Tivoli Avenida Liberdade hotel, which has only recently undergone a 15 million euro refurbishment. The hotel, set on Lisbon’s main designer shopping street, mixes luxury with comfort and is a go-to destination for the fashionable crowd over the weekend for sipping sundown cocktails at its stylish Sky Bar with views across the city’s charming skyline.

Enjoy drinks at the hotel's Sky Bar with views across the city

Arriving in Lisbon on a Friday lunchtime after an early-morning flight, we headed straight for K.O.B (which stands for Knowledge of Beef), a sophisticated steakhouse for matured beef. The small dining room, with tables and leather banquettes tucked away in corners, has an intimate but bustling atmosphere filled with businessmen, families and friends kickstarting the weekend.

My vegetarian husband sampled some of the delicious fish on the menu, including the crispy bacalhau cod and succulent octopus, while I was presented with a magnificent spread of three types of steak, cut into bitesize pieces: from Australia, the locally produced Black Angus steaks, and the delicious ‘Wagyu’ steak from Japan, considered to be one of the best in the world.

K.O.B is a sophisticated steakhouse in Lisbon

Before returning to the hotel for an afternoon siesta we went for a wander around the Baixa (or Lower Town), which houses some of Lisbon’s most imposing buildings and interesting shops. We ended up in the Praca do Comercio, a grand, vast square overlooking the river where the royal palace was once situated.

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That night we were treated to a feast at Olivier Avenida, the chef’s oldest established restaurant, where we were briefly joined by the man himself as he talked us through some of his signature dishes which give a twist to Mediterranean food. He told us how he preferred comfortable, informal eating experiences with large sharing plates, rather than haute cuisine. The elegant environment with velvet seating, leather sofas, chandeliers, mirrors and creamy walls reflected his taste, as the restaurant was buzzing from early evening, filled with a mixed crowd of young and old including a large table of American girls on a night out.

Olivier Avenida is the chef's oldest restaurant

Among the specialities were delicate octopus and beef carpaccio, sausage topped with quail egg, and a surprisingly light mini chicken and cheese catupiry (a sort of pie) and linguine with truffle oil and parmesan served with tender beef. My husband enjoyed a generous portion of scallops, made from Olivier's grandmother’s recipe, and pan-fried turbot. We had just about enough space to sample some of the deserts, including a traditional Portuguese Christmas pudding, which tasted remarkably similar to egg nog, and an ice cream, meringue and chocolate confection.  

The following day, still full from the night before, we skipped lunch and spent hours wandering the cobbled backstreets and graffiteed alleyways of Rossio and beyond, climbing hills and walking up vertiginous steps, watching old women hang out their washing on balconies, studying the decayed beauty of shuttered houses covered in colourful azulejo tiles, and dipping in and out of shops and pastelarias (patisseries). We wandered along to Alfama, Lisbon’s village within a city and and birthplace of Fada, the traditional Portuguese music, passing shops selling religious artefacts and traditional woollen goods where the streets led up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the old castle with the best views of the city.   

Yakuza fuses dishes from the East and West

By the evening we’d worked up an appetite and were ready for our Japanese dining experience at Yakuza, Olivier’s restaurant which fuses dishes from the East and West. Located on the first floor of the Fabrica das Sedas building (a former silk factory) the restaurant is spread over three rooms (one with a DJ) the most impressive of which overlooked a Japanese-themed garden and had the sushi bar in the middle, where we perched on stools and watched the five chefs work their magic. There we were served plates of tacos with fresh crab, prawns and roe with guacamale and every different variation of sushi and sashimi dishes you can imagine with tuna, salmon, turbot, sardines and caviar. The best cuts of tuna from the belly and back were served on a bed of ice, steaming with liquid nitrogen in a theatrical flourish.

On the way back to our hotel we popped into Guilty, a relaxed bar and restaurant filled to bursting with the young Lisbon crowd snacking on pizzas, burgers and pastas and oversized cocktails to share.

Ros and her husband Garry enjoyed exploring Lisbon's culinary scene

After a quick sightseeing tour on Sunday morning in Belem, the attractive riverside suburb rich in maritime history which houses the famous Torre de Belem, an iconic symbol of the city, we returned to Olivier Avenida for a lunch buffet. In contrast to the more formal evening dining, this was a much more laidback eat-as-much-as-you-like affair with a selection of delicious salads, meat and fish dishes.

We left Sunday afternoon, several pounds heavier but determined to return and explore more of this fascinating city and its culinary delights. complicity.pt/en/  

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