As we walked into the restaurant in Lisbon, the Sloane Ranger wrinkled her nose and asked me why we were eating at a homeless shelter.
The analogy, though unfortunate, was not far off the mark. We were in Cervejaria Trinidade, once a Jesuit mission. The clientele seemed to consist mostly of large unkempt men showing an unusual interest in the food on their plates. Waiters dressed as friars tended to their flock. The restaurant smelled funny.
Cerverjaria Trinidade has a long and chequered history. Established by the Trinos Friars in the late 13th century it was abandoned after the order was banned in the 19th century. It then became Portugal’s first brewery. We were eating in what was once the refectory. Although beer is no longer brewed here, the links to a brewery remain. The restaurant comes highly recommended by my Lisboan friends for traditional Portuguese cuisine.
I discovered that the large unkempt men at the next table weren’t homeless, but a group of bearded, well rounded German tyre salesmen. They were concentrating on the excellent seafood that is a specialty here. Despite its divine antecedents, Cervejaria Trinidade hasn’t perfected the sustainable art of feeding its multitudes on a single fish. So they cook a lot of fish – and the place smells fishy.
The Sloane Ranger wasn’t pacified.
She stopped complaining when the food arrived. We ate soft sheep cheese which we scooped out of a roundel using freshly baked bread, sweet clams in broth, grilled prawns the size of dinner plates – all washed down with delicious Portuguese green wine. These young Portuguese wines (the Soalheiro Alvarinho is a personal favourite) are perfect for a warm summer’s day and represent ridiculously good value.
While we ate, a Fado band was tuning up in the next room. Fado is a musical style I am unfamiliar with. Having grown up in Sri Lanka, parts of which the Portuguese colonised in the 16th century, I adore an indigenized form of Portuguese music called Baila (from the Portuguese verb bailar, meaning “to dance”). Baila music has a joyful salsa beat and is a party staple. Fado is referred to as the folk or blues music of Portugal. Its lyrics are familiar country music themes – “I lost my dog, I lost my woman, I lost my truck”. We left before the band got into its dirge like groove.
Lisbon is a fun, albeit gritty city. No longer super cheap, it is still good value with great history and architecture, a multicultural, and hospitable populace, great food and superb wines and beer. Cerverjaria Trinidade is good, but is best for a boy’s night out. The Martini Mandate city guide to Lisbon is an excellent place to start your long weekend plans.