Lisbon is no longer a favoured destination for bachelor and hen parties. If you plan to throw up on city streets to mark your impending horrible mistake, your favoured destination now lies further east towards Zagreb and Prague.
Part of the reason for falling out of favour with the falling down drunk set is that Lisbon is no longer cheap. However, Lisbon remains a good value destination if one is willing to overlook its inherent grittiness. Buildings written off during the financial crisis and beyond lie in ruins, with grafitti bespoiled surfaces. There’s still a lot of obvious poverty around. Most public spaces contain hirsute men of dubious personal hygiene who may or may not be hipsters. If this sort of thing bothers you, then you should probably move to Trump Tower. Otherwise enjoy a visit to a vibrant, warm and safe capital city.
Peixararia de Esquina is a simple and unpretentious restaurant run by Victor Sobral, a well known local chef. The decor is simple and dominated by a large display of fresh seafood on ice. The food is out of this world.
Peixararia de Esquina specialises in seafood pesticos – a kind of Portuguese tapas that is not an appetiser, but a mini version of a main course. There’s a superb range of marinated raw seafood, simply grilled seafood like cuttlefish with broad beans and shitaake mushrooms and an amazing dish of plump clams made with cilantro, garlic and lemon to a local recipe – Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato.
Stretch your wallet meal
Olivier Avenida is an international restaurant experience. The service is efficient, the decor is beautiful. The clientele are a mix of sophisticated couples and middle aged uncles taking unbelievably beautiful “nieces” to dinner. The food is beautifully presented and tasty. The cocktails are uniformly bad. Stick to the wine. I spent more money here than at any other restaurant in Lisbon and didn’t feel bad about it.
Touristy but you should eat here
Best food market
The Time Out market is a timely brand extension for Time Out, the free events magazine struggling to remain relevant in an online age. The Time Out market is a carefully curated marketplace of restaurants and shops in a coverted warehouse place. Many of the city’s top restaurants have an outpost here. It’s a bit like Borough Market without the rats. Highly recommended.
I am not sure what makes Pavilhao Chines, “Chinese”, but the experience is kitsch and entertaining. The owner has a huge collection of toy soldiers and war themed toys from WW1 and 2. They occupy every inch of space in this slightly careworn rabbit’s warren of a bar. The waiters buzz around in crisp red waistcoats and bow ties. The cocktails are the best I tasted in Lisbon. The menu includes an estimate of how long it takes to make your cocktail. I guess that kind of thing is important when you might need to run off and jump start your Spitfire. The whole experience is surreal and loads of fun.
Best Laid Back Drink
The terrace of the Memmo Principe Real Hotel is a very nice place to quietly savour a well made cocktail and a cigar. Locating this slick hillside hotel is a challenge, but it is a welcome respite from the bustle of Lisbon. It is not a cocktail destination but if you are in the area it is worth a visit.
Portugal sold wines to the Roman Empire and now makes a wide range of good quality wines to suit all budgets. My favourite white wines come from the Douro Valley, allegedly the first registered wine producing region of the world in 1758, and now a UNESCO heritage site. The Douro wines are soft and slightly flinty with lots of personality.
On this trip I also discovered the power of VIVINO, my favourite wine app. Point your phone at the wine list and take a picture – Vivino comes back with rating and recommendations. I found the app invaluable when facing a list of unfamiliar wines and wine waiters keen to sell you an expensive vintage.
I was drawn into Venancio Tailor by an arresting window display. Inside is a fabulously masculine space, as imagined by a gay man. The store is crammed with beautifully made Portuguese and Italian menswear, from suits and shirts to shoes and accessories. The service is impeccable; stick around a few minutes and a man with a magic tray of Madeira appears, encouraging you to sip and tarry. The goods are not cheap, but very stylish and good value.