In the Summer Issue of BESPOKE Magazine, Ker & Downey’s Katy Heerssen explores the hidden culinary treasures of Portugal with this must-have food and wine guide.
Portugal’s history is enriched by generations of trade and seafaring. This epic past has evolved its food into an eclectic art and the act of eating into an experience. Tracing the country’s culinary prowess from coast to countryside features encounters with vintners and chefs who pride themselves in putting the traditions and trends of its native cuisine on display.
PORTO | Sip and savor Vinho do Porto in the oldest defined wine region in the world.
Port wine is as famous as any other monument in the city, and you will get a taste of some of the best at Taylor’s Wine Cellars. Now in its fourth century, the House of Taylor’s is one of the oldest Port companies and the only place to taste a rare 150-year-old tawny port, which was discovered in 2008 in a wine lodge in the Corgo Valley, still perfectly preserved in an oak barrel.
The Yeatman, a wine hotel in the Historic Port Wine Cellar District in Porto, makes a perfect launching point as the city’s address of choice for discerning travelers and wine lovers. Under the guidance of Executive Chef Ricardo Costa, The Yeatman Restaurant features imaginative cuisine that interprets the traditional Portuguese ingredients of fresh fish and produce, presenting them in a modern style. The selection of more than 1,000 Portuguese and international wines are perfectly paired by Chef Costa and Wine Director Beatriz Machado. A seasonal menu keeps diners intrigued, and this summer’s favorite—a slowly cooked, glazed veal cheek pairs nicely with the Douro Valley’s own Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2009 vintage. At The Yeatman’s award-winning Caudalie Vinothérapie® Spa, guests can also indulge in wine in a unique way with vineyard-inspired treatments such as a bath of red wine in a bubbling barrel-inspired tub.
LISBON | Take a culinary journey along the esplanades and through the streets of Portugal’s most storied city.
On a privately-chauffeured tour, stop in the shadow of Jerónimos Monastery to sample a sweet treat from the Pastéis de Belém pastry boutique. Born in 1837 in a former sugar cane refinery attached to the monastery, this shop became famous thanks to a secret recipe that originated from the cloister’s residents. The ingredients remain unaltered and guarded by the master confectioners who craft arguably the most decadent custard tarts in Portugal.
When the sun goes down the wistful sounds of Fado fill the winding streets in Alfama, the city’s oldest district east of its center. The haunting folk music of Lisbon mingles beautifully with the scene and cuisine at the Bacalhau de Molho restaurant within the 16th-century walls of Casa de Linhares. Performers of all ages flock to Alfama to play this gig. Travelers can easily get lost in their mournful ballads while indulging in à la carte and prix fixe menus that celebrate the region’s seafaring heritage. Try a shrimp cocktail served in a fresh papaya, grouper sprinkled with fried banana and pineapple and finish the evening with the traditional Barriga de Freira breadcrumb desert.
Delicious adventures can be found beyond the seven hills of Portugal’s capital. North of Lisbon lies Mafra and a countryside peppered with farms and vineyards, like hundreds of years old Quinta de Sant’Ana. Just outside of the charming village of Gradil, owners James and Ann Frost are aided by their international team in the crafting of boutique reds and whites, six out of the ten being single grape varietals. Varied soils and elevations found throughout the 24 acres of vineyards allow for very different growth and ripening conditions vine to vine, and ultimately, a catalog of vintages that run the gamut from crisp Rieslings to rich Touriga Nacional blends. A private tour of this unique wine estate pairs perfectly with a lunch in the shade of the property’s old growth olive and fruit orchards, just as their carefully crafted menu of regional delights complements their cherished wines.
West of Lisbon, the coastal community of Cascais has been simpatico with the culinary treasures of the sea since the Middle Ages. Local favorite Porto de Santa Maria is the best place to taste the tradition. The menu features a section dedicated solely to shellfish, and the chefs serve local, market-fresh standards like cod, hake and flounder with authentic flair. A sweeping view of the Atlantic completes the already inspired dining experience.
ALGARVE | Awaken the gourmet within at Portugal’s favorite resort destination.
Vacationers flock to the southernmost region of Portugal for the sun and the sand. Ideally situated, the stunning VILA VITA Parc resort delivers plenty of both, and its exceptional cuisine is a memorable part of the experience. Helmed by Austrian-born Chef Hans Neuner, the two Michelin Star restaurant Ocean is the crown jewel of the six gourmet eateries on property. His inventive menu includes selections that explore the whole of Portuguese cuisine from the farm to the sea, including tempting dishes such as avocado-crab cannelloni with prawns and black pork with mustard leaves and wild asparagus. Venture into the Cave de Vinhos, which is 26 feet below the ground and stocked with over 11,000 bottles from cellars across Portugal, Europe and the world. Culinary experiences are widely diverse across the resort. Enjoy premium grilled specialties for dinner and a show from the open kitchen of the Aladin Grill. Or dine at the Bavarian-inspired Biergarten, complete with a butcher and gourmet shop offering homemade sausages and wines produced at the VILA VITA’s Alentejo estate, Herdade dos Grous.
ALENTEJO | Take a tip from the locals and indulge in an unhurried experience in this rural province.
Far from Portugal’s larger cities, agriculture-rich Alentejo values a life lived slowly. While the quaint atmosphere of tiny restaurant Tasquinha do Oliveira fits with this region, its charm masks its gastronomic adeptness. Located in the historic town of Évora, originally a Roman settlement, the restaurant with just over a dozen seats showcases the typical Alentejo flavors. The selections here include more meat and game dishes than found on the menus in the coastal locales. Still, the breaded prawns with garlic are counted among the most popular bites. Generously seasoned with coriander and chorizo, migas with pork, roasted goat or lamb stew all satisfy. In fact, every item on the extensive menu incorporates plenty of fresh spices. Be prepared for generous portions. Wise epicureans would do well to reserve an ample amount of time to fully experience the offerings of this intimate eatery.
DOURO VALLEY | Make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Port.
The Douro River flows to Porto. It is the gateway to Portugal’s wine country, where the industry stretches back to biblical times. Among the scores of wineries in this UNESCO-recognized landscape, two stand out for their unique history and excellent vintages.
The Ramos-Pinto family is a clan synonymous with outstanding wine production and their legacy continues at Quinta da Ervamoira in the Douro Valley. Getting to the winery is an adventure in itself, requiring a foray by Jeep onto an unpaved road. The beautiful home sits at the center of the estate, surrounded by a pioneering collection of vineyards which have set a new standard for planting and growing sustainably within the industry. Among their liquid treasures is the Duas Quintas Reserve Red which ages for two and a half years before it is ready to be savored.
Located on the Távora River, a tributary of the Douro, Quinta do Panascal was one of the first wine estates to open its doors to the public in 1922. Since then the winery has achieved Level A status by the Port Wine Institute thanks to its award-winning offerings, most notably the 1994 Vintage of Fonseca. This selection and many others can be sampled at the estate—ideally experienced at a private picnic on the grounds overlooking the vineyards, accompanied by Portuguese deli favorites such as deep-fried cod cakes and Douro almonds.
Though among Europe’s smaller countries, Portugal packs a delicious punch for travelers in search of unforgettable gastronomy. Its borders contain a wealth of history, fantastic scenery and the ideal blend of old and new. For foodies and culture enthusiasts alike the country is truly one of the world’s best-kept secrets, and it’s ripe for a visit.