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From his cult pop-up, The Loft Project, which forged the way for communal dining in London back in 2009, to celebrity favourite, Chiltern Firehouse, super chef/restauranteur Nuno Mendes is all about cultural convergence. And where he goes, we follow. Coming full circle, Mendes opened Mãos – a tiny, supperclub-like restaurant in a converted Shoreditch townhouse – earlier this year, reminding diners that pomp is always secondary to good taste.
It is clear that the chef’s native Lisbon is never at any great distance from his culinary creations. With former brainchild’s including the Town Hall Hotel’s Viajante to Spitalfields darling Taberna do Mercado, the punchy flavours of Portugal are always prevalent in Mendes’ creations.
We caught up with the very likeable chef to find out where to stay, drink and play in Lisbon – but most importantly, where he books a table when in town.
Where is your favourite place to wake up?
Somewhere in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood.
Where do you go for breakfast/brunch?
Last time I was in Lisbon I went to a place called the mill. It’s run by a Portuguese couple who were inspired by the breakfast scene in Australia, which is healthy, organic and playful. They have an antipodean breakfast offering which is rare in Lisbon – and they serve excellent coffee. I also love dim sum for breakfast and the growing Chinese community means there are now a few places dotted around town. My favourite is Estoril Mandarim in Cascais.
A long lunch?
Prado is amazing. It’s like being at a friend’s house because I get to hang out with Executive Chef Antonio [Galapito]. It’s crazily busy in the evening so lunchtime is better because there’s space to talk and relax – the light is also incredible in the day. There are plenty of places along the river that are always fun, but it’s nice to go off the beaten track and that’s exactly what Prado is. It helps that they have an excellent wine menu, too.
Where do we find the best local food?
I revisited fantastic Fidalgo in Bairro Alto recently. It’s a place I used to go to all all the time before the city’s hospitality boom, and it it really brought back memories. It’s a family-run business and very traditional; just six tables, good wine, classic Portuguese food. There’s one dish – braised octopus with a white bean stew – which is simply incredible. This place is a real find.
What about cocktails?
Good cocktail bars in Lisbon were hard to come by five or six years ago, but the scene has really exploded now. Mouraria is a really fun area to go to drinking in, offering lots of interesting little places. It’s what Bairro Alto area used to be like.
How do we cure a hangover?
Drink more! Otherwise, go for a swim.
Which is the best food market?
Mercado da Ribeira.
Which up-and-coming chefs should we look out for in Lisbon?
My dear friend, Toze [Antonio Galapito of Prado].
Where do chefs eat?
What’s your favourite restaurant in Lisbon right now?
Again, it has to be Prado!
What ingredients should we look out for?
Iberico pork from the Alentejo region.
Tell us a dish we must try while in Lisbon.
So many! On a menu, look out for: prawn açorda, arroz de marisco, alheira, scrambled eggs with farinheira, carne de porco à Alentejana, amêijoas à bulhão pato, bacalhau à brás and arroz de polvo. Oh, and all the traditional desserts, of course.
Tell us a secret spot in Lisbon.
Graça, a beautiful neighbourhood with a creative vibe and colourful architecture.
Which is your favourite beach spot?
Guincho in Cascais. It’s one of my favourite beaches in the world – very windy at times but still beautiful. Check out Bar do Guincho where you can have a drink and watch the surfers.
What is your fondest memory of Lisbon?
My many, many nights out in Bairro Alto as a teenager…
What one thing should we do while in Lisbon?
Sit in one of the city’s many quiosques and soak up the Lisbon life.
And what one thing should we bring back?
Pastéis de nata, of course.
What’s in your SUITCASE for Lisbon?
Sun cream – the sun always shines in Lisbon.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just opened Mãos, a unique project in the heart of East London. It’s a creative space within the Blue Mountain School building on Redchurch Street, housing a kitchen, table and wine room. We serve dinner to an intimate group of 16 guests; it’s about culinary freedom, movement and nourishment with an aim is to bring a sense of shared community back to the dining room table.
We’ve teamed up with evian® to encourage you to discover more of Europe this summer. In collaboration with illustrator Tiffany Cooper, evian® has designed 13 unique bottles in homage to some of our favourite destinations, including Barcelona, Rome and Stockholm and Ibiza. Collect the bespoke bottles – and tick off these must-see locations as you go.
We’re also giving three readers the chance to win a suitcase full of goodies worth over £1000. To be in with a chance of winning, play our interactive game and match iconic landmarks to their destinations.
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