Contemporary fine dining inspired by the historical adventures of Portugal’s explorers
Said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, and certainly the oldest capital in Western Europe, Lisbon is chock full of history. Reaching down from its seven hills to the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean, the city is a mass of ochre roof tiles, towers, spires and shaded, narrow streets.
Head out of the city centre a few kilometres west to Lisbon’s Belém district and one finds some of Lisbon’s most striking architecture, including palaces, squares, the Monument to the Discoveries and the iconic Belém Tower. Portugal was a seafaring superpower and a nation of maritime explorers, and nowhere is that legacy more evident than in Belém.
Yet, here at the mouth of the River Tagus on the Atlantic one finds a very modern interpretation of Lisbon’s adventurous past. The über stylish, 5 star Altis Belem Hotel & Spa, a strikingly contemporary property commanding unforgettable views, is home to one of Portugal’s most exciting chefs, the Michelin starred João Rodrigues.
His Restaurante Feitoria is one of the country’s gastronomic hotspots and he looks to Portugal’s past for modern day inspiration for his menu that celebrates Portuguese produce and wines, combining them with an international flavour.
The restaurant’s wine bar has an Asian ambiance with one entire wall covered in a bold Oriental picture on lacquered wood, a striking reference to the international trading routes established by the Portuguese. The bar is charcoal grey with gold leaf highlights, black leather seats and dark tables that complete the sophisticated look.
We started the evening with a glass of Vertice sparkling wine, from the Douro valley; elegant and fresh, with a delicate aroma and notes of biscuit. It was to be the start of an evening of discovery for me, not only of João Rodrigues’ cuisine but of Portugal’s exceptional wines.
The restaurant feels lighter than the bar, with tables dressed in absolutely impeccably pressed white table cloths, each embroidered in gold with the Restaurant’s name. Full height glass windows look out onto the minimalist style garden and the water beyond. The designer ceiling lights above carry through the gold leaf colour, a touch of extravagance in this simple space, where the protagonist is of course the food.
Service was flawless. White-gloved waiters and waitresses brought each dish to the table, offering a brief introduction, explaining the ingredients, and the chef’s inspiration for the dish. The team was professional.
Andres, the sommelier was exceptional – friendly, and a great communicator, describing the wines with genuine knowledge and passion yet without pretention.
Before the meal began in earnest we enjoyed a few pre-starters – clever and witty ‘amuses’; creations by the chef, including the ‘Apple tree’ – twisted wood, with fois ‘apples’; and a small bread stick; olives and cheese. Then the meal truly began.
Placed before us on the pristine table cloth was a piece of white coral. This ingenious dish, the ‘Reef’, had prawns, eaweed, a fine crisp wafer, lodged amongst the delicate coral – a taste of the sea. With the help of tweezers, one can prise the prawns from the coral – your reward, their fresh, clean succulent taste.
Then a bite size of Chicken Teriyaki followed.
I was still enjoying the Vértice Milléssime Brut, sparkling wine, but with the next starter the sommelier suggested a Bacalhôa white, (2013 Península de Setúbal). With just the right balance of acidity, it was the perfect pairing for the Hamachi, with Oscetra caviar. This tiny dish was meticulously prepared – beautiful, a real pleasure even before taking a mouthful.
The bread that accompanied our meal was artistically prepared and presented with flair.
The next dish was Bluefin ramen, served with tiny radish and seaweed with a clear consume.
Paired with a glass of Casal Sta. Maria Reserva white wine (2010 Colares) which was a delight with the fish, thanks to its citrus notes.
Seabass with blue lobster claw continued the remarkable flavours of the sea. It’s paired down presentation with aromatic foam didn’t prepare us for the glorious flavours and textures. Paired with a glass of Esporão Private Selection (2013 Alentejo) I was now not only in awe of Executive Chef, João Rodrigues’ talent and truly seduced by these exceptional Portuguese white wines!
The menu takes much of its inspiration from the coasts of Portugal, incorporating local ingredients from seaweed to seafood, but also includes meat dishes and traditional Portuguese produce sourced from national producers. The oriental touches make for surprising flavours and a thoroughly modern experience.
The following dish, leaves and bone marrow with tiny crispy croutons was a sensation – rich, profound, distinctive flavours that were perfectly complemented by a glass of Quinta das Marias Reserva Cuvée TT (2011 Dão). This elegant wine is now amongst one of my all-time favourites.
Presentation of each dish is a visual delight that truly enhanced the experience.
The final indulgence before the puddings was a slow cooked shoulder of milk fed lamb. Presented without pretention in a handmade ceramic dish with organic vegetables, this was wonderfully satisfying, paired with a glass of the impressive Pai Chão Garrafeira (2009 Alentejo) red – a wine with an intense bouquet and silky tannins.
It should be no surprise that at this point in the evening I was feeling exceptionally well-fed and just a little tipsy from those superb wines! Although I was pretty talkative the restaurant ambiance was peaceful. Our fellow guests were enjoying their meals with great reverence and speaking in hushed tones, so the restaurant’s eclectic mix of easy listening classics did dominate at times. I think this is the only tiny flaw of the evening for me. I wouldn’t have music, or at least choose something more neutral.
Well, I’m never one to miss the opportunity to enjoy a pudding, and with this extraordinary menu, I was about to have two! Firstly, a celebration of chocolate, one of the great discoveries of the explorers.
Then one of João Rodrigues’s signature puddings, strawberry, basil and kaffir lime – including his ‘false strawberry’, an intricate creation that when broken with the spoon, reveals its hollow centre with another flavour sensation.
At this point we were enjoying glasses of Domingos Soares Franco Moscatel Roxo (2004 Península de Setúbal), a sweet, fruity Lisbon wine with notes of dried fruit and even toffee.
This tasting menu is far more elaborate and generous than expected. The pre-starter ‘amuses’ and other ‘bonus’ dishes make you feel very special – and makes for a very diverse meal. It is a well-designed, balanced menu that truly reaches for the stars when paired with the Portuguese wines.
At the end of the meal we had the opportunity to meet Chef João Rodrigues and thank him personally. It was a truly memorable gastronomic evening.
Feitoria Restaurante & Wine Bar
Altis Belém Hotel & Spa
Doca do Bom Sucesso
Tel +351 210 400 200
GPS: Lat. 38º 41’ 36’’ N Long. 9,12’ 38’’ W
(Photos of hotel and professional food shots provided by Altis Belem Hotel – my iPhone shots are marked with my name. The photographs don’t really do the food justice as with a phone in electric light one can’t really capture the intricacies of the dishes).
I was hosted by Feitoria Restaurant but this has not influenced by piece. Please bear in mind that this site and my articles are intended as entertainment only and not a definitive resource for purchasing decisions. Before making any travel or purchasing decision I recommend that you seek as much information as possible from various sources including review sites, guide books and other blogs. If you act based on my writing you do so at your own risk. If you wish to add anything to this piece, simply comment using the WordPress or Facebook plug-in.