Where’s Lisbon’s foodies come to dine
TABERNA da Rua Das Flores is a city secret in Lisbon. From the outside, it looks like a traditional Portuguese restaurant and even on the inside the chequered floor and the marble tables seem unimpressive. But not everything is as simple as it seems. The food is extraordinary.
And that’s why the tiny kitchen is attracting 150 people a night even though there are just nine tables. Nuno Mendes, the head chef at acclaimed London restaurant the Chiltern Firehouse, even sends his sous chefs to work here.
This is gourmet food at great prices.
Located just off the square Largo do Chiado in the busy Chiado neighbourhood, it’s become one of the busiest restaurants in the city.
They seat people on a first come first served basis. They take no bookings and just one minute after it opened on a Saturday evening, the place was filled. The nine tables can take up to 20 people but people still queue outside up to two hours to get a seat.
In the back near the kitchen are some of the best seats in the house known as the Roman spot. Here customers sit on steps covered in cushions and the food is served on top wooden boxes.
Owners Barbara Matos and chef Andre Magalhaes believe in investing in their team and in using the best ingredients – even the olive oil is homemade. Barbara began waiting tables aged 15 and opened up her first restaurant at 24 in Porto. Reluctant to start this restaurant in Lisbon three years ago, she spoke to Natalie to explain its spectacular success.
She said: “We started penniless and we focused on the food. We buy very good food – fresh fish and bread every day. We buy today, we see what we get and make the menu. That’s an important thing here. There’s also a big investment in the team. We are all about the food and the welcome. It’s the simplest of formulas. We like what we do. Sometimes people open restaurants and want to make a profit. But this isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. We like the people and we like the food. Andre my partner is a food encyclopaedia and a big traveller. He is a professor of gastro sciences from Portugal and everywhere he is mixing food with a deep knowledge of what he’s doing. Chefs can lose touch with people. It’s become like they are a god but Andre doesn’t have this. He has a warm heart. He’s sharing and he’s very generous.
“We won a national level award for the best price and quality. So we make it good for everyone. We’re not here to be rich. It’s good for people who dine, who work here and the suppliers. You come here to dine, you get good service and good food for a good price. In the end we have a queue of people outside – up to two hours.”
Nuno Mendes, who also owns Taberna do Mercado in London’s Spitalfields, sends his sous chefs here because Andre really knows his trade,” she said.
“It’s a warm experience and people tip 100%. We don’t take reservations. We do lunch Monday to Friday which is more traditional. And then from 4pm we make petiscos (small plates) which are more creative. On Saturdays we open at 6 o’clock. On Sundays we’re closed. It’s a tavern. We are full very early and we say to people it’s an-hour-and-a-half wait. They go for a drink and they return later. It’s a very humble place, informal and unpretentious.”
And if you’re in Lisbon, it is somewhere you must go.