Lisboeta, 30 Charlotte St., London W1T 2NG
Lisboeta: A place where you become fiscally incontinent
Eating is my sole motivation behind even setting foot in a gym. I’ve talked about my weak genetics before, but the ability to get chubby quickly is virtually a party trick. Savage diets and intermittent fasting mean that when feeding time does come around, disappointment cannot be a part of it. Famed for his ‘educational’, ‘innovative’ and sometimes ‘challenging’ takes on classic Portuguese cooking, Nuno Mendes recently opened Lisboeta and from what I could gather, notions of disappointment seemed laughable.
Despite warnings of small and expensive portions, I’m loathed to hold these things against most restaurants- especially in the current climate. I just ask that the quality is there to assuage the sting. Whipped pork lard is a surefire way to do so and Lisboeta obliges; slicked across Coombeshead farm bread, it’s a good start even at £5.50. The lardo-adorned Goan-spiced Vindalho Empada however, is light on the filling but the pastry is pleasingly short.
A chap takes a seat across from us and is soon surrounded by dishes and wine, the latter of which we wouldn’t be asked about for the duration. Can you get blacklisted from swerving the ‘still or sparkling’ question by asking for tap water instead? Maybe.
Allegedly smoked, the chouriço and beef tartare is a brazen push of both luck and definition. Allowing even for the pretty rough chop, there’s nothing involved that would bring it remotely under the scope of tartare, however ‘innovative’. The would-be cornichons are substituted for a fine-ish dice of unpickled daikon, wedges of which are on the side. It’s frustratingly underseasoned and served with teeny limp pieces of toast, not even the seemingly standard flicks of paprika can bring it back. The whole thing just falls on its arse.
Next is the mushroom açorda; a mix of wild and cultivated mushrooms, all cooked wildly differently- some just right and others to a pulp. Bread sauce takes the place of the solid piece that would otherwise be soaking up all the broth and is topped with an egg yolk that, when combined, forms more of a paste. It lacks the pizazz to justify £11. Usually, closing my eyes and swearing under my breath is a good sign, but tonight is about new experiences, after all.
The Plumas de Porco Preto- acorn-fed black pork from the Alentejo- is exceptional and a slight balm for the £45 price tag. A proper medium-rare, each of the six slices has a vignette of good caramelisation, all hemmed in by tomato chunks and thin crescents of white onion. The smoked Charlotte potatoes with curls of copita are wreathed in smoke, garlic, lard and little bronzed from a swift sautée. They’re nice but nothing more, nothing less.
The Bolo de Bolacha 'Maria' biscuit cake with buttercream, coffee & ice cream is a thud of sugar and cinnamon. If this was a take on Cinnamon Grahams, then I’d be sold- but it’s not. Perched on a fist-smashed biscuit slumped in a buttercream puddle is a brown orb of ice cream, which I assume is the coffee element, in a little torched buttercream beanie. It lacks the essential bitterness that would actually do the trick in balancing the dish.
The Farófias with orange & cinnamon is something that belongs on 'Dimly Lit Meals For One’. It’s miserable. A sort of quenelle licked with a blowtorch sat smirking in shallow runny custard- how it grew legs and escaped the kitchen is a mystery. It’s certainly challenging but only because the dish itself is challenged. Just look at it.
But it’s the pork fat custard with port wine caramel and olive oil that essentially drew us here and next to the black pork, is the stand-out dish. It scoops like an over-gelatinous panna cotta and with thrice the fatty gloss. It’s undeniably porky up front and reminds me of the times I’d catch a little too much whipped butter on my forkful of bacon and syrup-sodden pancakes. The thin port caramel adds a fruity, floral note that helps cut through this calorific dollop, before being slipped back into place with quality, turfy olive oil.
In hindsight, when we were initially briefed on how to navigate the menu, it was more an indirect way of saying that they’d ideally require a minimum of £100 from each of us, ‘to get the best experience’ of course. It was an ‘education’ similar to my own in secondary school- one that overpromised, underdelivered and shook me by the ankles for my lunch money. Deflated, dismayed and significantly poorer, we tally up another miss to what we’d reasonably gambled to be a hit. Boeta luck next time, I suppose.