By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(PORTO, PORTUGAL) – Lest we get mired in our appreciation for traditional Portuguese dining and hotels (such as within the Pousada chain) we need to pay some attention on modern styles within Portugal. Portugal embraces modernity and no better example exists of this than Hotel Teatro in Porto nestled in the theatre district of Old Porto and built on the site of the burnt down Baquet Theatre originally constructed in 1859. A boutique hotel for sure it shouts, “I am not part of a soulless chain!” It fits into the early traditional style of boutique hotel with its individually styled rooms and hallmark shower and tub with a large glass wall facing the bedroom in some rooms or glass encased shower stall. What fantastic showers are to be had from the rain shower head particularly after three days in the damp Douro Valley fall. And what fun figuring out Euro showers!
The theme of Teatro decor is theatre. The guests are the audience in a theatre hence the low lighting in both public area and in rooms. Room lighting can be a bit tricky particularly if you are jet lagged and dog tired. Brown and beige rules. The circular couch at check in introduces one quickly to the uniqueness of Hotel Teatro as well as the theatrical costumes that adorn the walls. The carpet in the public areas has stage lighting cameras as its motif. further suggesting a stage. The check in area represents a box-office where entrance tickets are given to the guests.
The 74 rooms have a similar feel about them in terms of colour scheme and furnishing but each category of room is individually designed. Rooms are categorized as Gallery, Tribune, Audience, Junior Suite and Suite. Why Audience? Well think of a huge tub in an alcove of the room with mirrored walls. I suppose the exposed bathtub with its mirrors might just draw an audience. Prices range from €120 to €250.
If lobby bars create an initial impression of a hotel the Bar Plateia creates a favourable impression with its large screen television featuring live concerts of jazz by Diana Krall and adult contemporary concerts such as Adele. A large glass wall separates Bar Plateia from the Palco Restaurant. Bunks line this lobby bar which is far from traditional. The bar is a popular post theatre drop in and following the craze in Portugal and Spain offers 4 pages of cocktails in the bar menu and fitting to the theatre there are 16 sparkling wines available by the glass. Strangely enough there are no still wines on the bar menu but all wines available in the Palco restaurant are also available in the lobby bar which by the way is a relaxing spot to enjoy a late afternoon dry white Port or a nightcap of tawny or ruby Port. You’ll most likely receive a coupon for a complimentary glass of Port at Bar Plateia upon check in
Off the bar and down a hallway with a huge picture of an audience is the modernist Palco restaurant. Fittingly “Palco” is Portuguese for stage. Jazz and low key mellow (but not house) music filter throughout the small but smartly designed restaurant with a large stage light tucked in the corner reminding one of the theatrical roots of the hotel.
Palco’s menu offers a tasting menu or individual starters and mains heavily seafood focused. My starter of seared Scallops and Bluefin Atlantic Tuna treats the scallops and tuna as they should be, lightly seared to preserve that seafood freshness and at 13€ I am not complaining. The wine pairing of a white wine from the Douro, a 2010 D.O.C. by the name of Cottas is perfect just washing the scallops and tuna with a slight bath of flavour and acidity and at 15€ a bottle more than reasonably priced.
My lobster and monkfish risotto (15€) is rich yet with a slight citron herb keeping it from falling into the decadent category. To match the dish a heavier and older oaked Quinta dos Carvalhas Colheita Seleccionada 2009, D.O.P. Dão perfectly matches the richness of the risotto. At €17 a bottle another bargain wine.
To finish off the evening a well-designed Portuguese cheese platter with tastings of Late Bottled Port, Tawny Port and a lighter red wine to test with the strengths of the 4 Portuguese cheeses. The Portuguese jams served with the cheeses add cheerful twists to tasting the Ports.
In terms of mind-blowing local foods for goodness sake do try the Franceshina (€8.5) which is toasted bread warm sandwich chock full of ham, steak, sausage and melted cheese served with a hot sauce. The sauce is made from sautéed garlic, onions, pirri pirri sauce, Worcester Sauce, lots of beer amongst other ingredients and its light spice has gentle zing that elevates this over a hot chicken sandwich. A dark Portuguese beer (Super Bock a local favourite) is your choice here. To totally set you back on your heels go for the Pudim Ovos (egg pudding) that leaves crème brulee spinning its wheels at the starting line. The pudding is redolent with smoke, apricot, lemon and marmalade and sits on a light crust.Have it with a tawny Port and you’ll be taken to the moon.
Although not part of a chain the Teatro is a member of Design Hotels, a group of international hotels showcasing their highly individual designs.
Each morning Palco is reconfigured for a wonderful Portuguese breakfast of fruit juices, fresh fruit, cold meats, cheeses, delicious breads and home cooked pastries and of course for more traditional Brits and Yanks scrambled eggs and bacon. Wonderful large cups are just right for my loose leaf tea which is made all the more enjoyable by a teapot full of steaming hot water. I feel very comfortable at Hotel Teatro. Off season rates range from €120-€250.
(Hotel Teatro, Rua Sá da Bandeira, 84 Porto. Tel 351 220 409 620 website).