Marlene Vieira

“Nowadays chefs are seen as rockstars, but restaurants in Lisbon were always opened by people who were trying to make ends meet,” says MasterChef judge and award-winning chef Marlene Vieira. Vieira isn’t afraid of a challenge and wants to prove that Portugal’s women belong at the forefront of the profession. Her restaurants Zunzum, a bright and modern gastrobar metres from the sweeping Tagus River, and Marlene, a slick fine-diner that opened this year, sit in striking contrast to Lisbon’s charming, crumbling streets.
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Steak for Dessert

Ramiro is a Lisbon must. It serves the freshest quality seafood you can find. I always eat the gambas do Algarve (Algarve prawns). The prawns are small, but have a delicate flavour and a really special texture. I also like to order percebes (goose barnacles) and clams à Bulhão Pato, which is a very Portuguese way of sautéing with garlic, coriander and olive oil. Everyone always ends a meal at Ramiro with a prego no pão (steak sandwich). The meat is very tender and sweet: it almost feels like having dessert.

Out-of-the-Box Portuguese Cooking

Chef António Galapito works with the best Portuguese produce and has a very peculiar way of cooking. Though humble, his dishes at Prado end up being super creative. His idea was to create a distinctly Portuguese restaurant, with strong local flavours, but present them in a very out-of-the-box way. He has clearly absorbed different techniques from around the world – I know that he spent quite some time working in London – and is now practicing them at his restaurant. He makes a brilliant beef tartare, which he serves in a shiso leaf. The flavours totally sidestep any classic tartare. Galapito is also fantastic with fish. He has a special grill and uses both olive oil and butter to cook the fish, which imparts a complex smoky flavour.

A Chef Who Plays With Fire

Just like Prado, Fogo is a modern but comfortable restaurant, where chef Alexandre Silva uses different types of fire to cook everything on the menu. This adds so much flavour to the dishes. The kitchen is completely exposed, so as soon as you enter you see smoke, flames and the chefs at work. Silva only works with Portuguese fish, seafood and meat. Every Tuesday, he visits the fish market in Peniche. It’s an auction – a little bit like what you would see in Japan – for local types of fish. Silva ages fish using a special fridge: he semi-dries the fattier ones to be able to cook them on the fire for longer.

Mixing Portuguese Flavours with the Flavours of the World

My husband, João Sá, is a chef too. I genuinely recommend his restaurant Sála de João Sá. We have completely different tastes and styles of cooking. His restaurant is almost like the opposite to my restaurant Zunzum. He mixes Portuguese flavours with Indian and Angolan, and uses ingredients that are exotic to us but draws influence from his roots. He went to Japan by boat, travelled to India, Africa and Brazil, where there is a lot of Portuguese influence, and he started bringing spices and ways of cooking back to his kitchen. The octopus rice he makes is very unique. Although it’s a traditional dish here, he builds entirely different layers of flavours. He uses Algarve shrimp for his own take on the Brazilian moqueca (seafood stew), which I find extremely tasty.

For a Special Occasion

Belcanto is proof that Portuguese food can be elevated to an elegant cuisine. Local dishes and flavours were traditionally developed in home kitchens, through exchanges between families, then passed on from the grandmothers to the mothers. Chef Jose Avillez brought these rustic traditions into a luxurious setting in Belcanto. He cooks these dishes uses cooking techniques that are two-Michelin-star-worthy. It’s the sort of place to go for a special occasion. There’s an a la carte menu, but I always go for the full tasting menu.

Courtesy of Marlene Vieira’s Zunzum Gastrobar

Classic Tasca

Ze da Mouraria is the best tasca in Lisbon, located in a very old and charming neighbourhood. It’s a one-man show that’s only open for lunch: the owner cooks, brings the food to the table and throws down plenty of charm. But the food is the real reason to go there. It’s very rustic, like in a true Portuguese kitchen. I always order the bacalhau (salted cod) na brasa, grilled over charcoal and served with chickpeas, coriander, onion, garlic and loads of olive oil. The portions are big. The fish arrives on a huge aluminium platter and will easily feed two, although I have seen men order one plate each and eat around one kilogram of bacalhau all by themselves. 

The New Taberna

A lot of young Lisbon chefs (20 to 30 years old) are trying to recreate tascas (cheap local restaurants) in fear of them disappearing. In these reborn places, they are redefining Portuguese cuisine, serving it in a super casual setting and doing an amazing job. Chefs Jorge Melgas and Luís Pimenta, who used to work with me, now run Taberna Sal Grosso, a place I go to drink wine and eat small dishes which we call “petiscos”.

“I Think It’s the Best Dish in Portugal”

My roots are in the Minho region, an area in the north of Portugal. When I’m craving recipes from my hometown I go to Solar dos Presuntos. It’s an institution that serves dishes traditional to that region, like lamprey and arroz de cabidela, which is chicken blood rice with vinegar, blood, parsley and pepper. The blood adds sweetness, the vinegar adds acidity and the parsley brings in a lot of flavour. I think it’s the best dish in Portugal. If foreign friends or chefs visit Lisbon I take them there for a real Portuguese experience and good service.

The Best Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

The custard tart (pastel de nata) is such a Lisbon thing. My favourite one is at Manteigaria. When I enter their store, I feel like the day is going to be better. The pastry they make is just the right amount of crispy. The custard is the right consistency, almost liquidy but not too much. When you combine these two traits, they balance it into a perfect pastel de nata. One is enough for me. Eating it with a dusting of cinnamon is essential.

A Hand-Selection of the Greatest Products From Around Portugal

We buy most of our produce from Mercado do Ribeira in Lisbon, but I think our best market is actually in Setúbal, a city that’s a 50-minute drive south of Lisbon. Mercado do Livramento sells the best fish, meat, cheeses and vegetables. It’s like someone hand-selected the greatest products from around Portugal and put them there. Choco frito (fried cuttlefish) is the traditional dish of Setúbal so make sure to try it at one of the restaurants around the market. They all buy their local produce from the market.

Japanese Food in Lisbon (Beyond Sushi)

GoJuu is the best representation of Japan in Lisbon. It’s a traditional izakaya presented in a modern way. Everything on the menu is fantastic: the tempura is excellent and the sashimi is the best in the city. My favourite dish is the cabeça do pargo (fish head). They grill it with a sauce that is oh-my-god delicious.

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