Robert K. Stephen, Lisbon, Portugal
Tucked away in a hidden corner of the tourist swollen Lisbon district of Chiado is Cantinho do Avillez one of the restaurants in the string of restaurants run by José Avillez. Asking for directions from our hotel desk clerk he was beaming saying you are going to the most famous restaurant in Lisbon. I found it interesting he did not say the best restaurant!
Escaping the overwhelming number of tourists choking the charm out of the Chiado district was a delight and for a moment we had thought we had escaped the hordes but even the tourists were crowding the restaurant. Is there no peace for the locals?
In any case the restaurant is located down a quiet side street. It’s mellow, warm and inviting and the service is far from flawless. Cool music plays but the growing crowd of Brits and Americans soon drowns it out.
The opening round goes very well with deliciously spiced olives, flavoured butter, a tapenade of something that leaves no lasting memory and a delicious assortment of breads all freshly baked. The glass of sparkling Portuguese white was full of strength, was chilled the perfection and generously poured.
Then the bottle of white arrived and it as too warm it had to be chilled out nicely in the ice bucket. Unfortunately although it was the result of a “special project” by Avillez and bore his “JA” initials it was essentially tasteless. The server thought this white wine might be Syrah! Her promise to return to give further details never materialized. His house red was raw and a disappointment to say the least.
The empanada as my starter was excellent full of moist pulled pork and a beautifully prepared crust. My wife’s fish soup was chock full of shrimp and good.
My black pig from Alentejano was covered in a tasteless black bean sauce that failed to mask the tasteless pork. My wife’s octopus served with a mound of sweet potatoes and chopped tomatoes was far better but not at the excellent level.
The Hazelnut pudding was spot on.
All in all perhaps dinner at this “most famous” restaurant was very good unfortunately it was not the “best” restaurant. And not a minute respite from the tourists.
Avillez may own a string of restaurants but keeping his empire in tip top shape certainly can’t be an easy task particularly when the “most famous” isn’t the “best”.
(Cantinho do Avillez, Rua dos Duques de Bragança 7, Lisbon, Portugal)