The fine-dining scene in Lisbon is on fire, with high-end openings and new Michelin stars. Essential visited four mandatory spots in 2019
FIFTY SECONDS MARTÍN BERASATEGUI
Filipe Carvalho has two passions in life — football and cooking. When he was forced to choose, União de Coimbra may have lost a great goalkeeper, but Portugal gained a Cristiano Ronaldo in chef ’s whites.
At just 32 years old, his impressive résumé includes stints at Feitoria (one Michelin star) in Lisbon; Fortaleza do Guincho (one star), in Cascais; Vila Joya (two stars), in Albufeira; and we must not forget his two years as a professional footballer at União de Coimbra. It was in neighbouring Spain, as a sous-chef at the distinctive, three-Michelin-star Lasarte that the young man from Aveiro paved the way that would lead him to new heights — more precisely, to the top of Lisbon’s Vasco da Gama Tower, where you will find Fifty Seconds Martín Berasategui.
The name, fifty seconds, refers to how long it takes to get to the top of the five-star Myriad by Sana hotel and it is not enough time to contemplate the extraordinary view offered by this beautiful space, in shades of blue and copper, and with a wonderful wine cellar.
Fifty Seconds belongs to the enthusiastic Basque chef Martín Berasategui, who now has 10 Michelin stars all over the world, and is one of the most renowned names in international
gastronomy. Carvalho was with Martín and Lasarte’s chef, Paolo Casagrande, when the restaurant won its third star, later becoming executive chef at the Monument Hotel, where Lasarte is based. When he told the Basque chef he wanted to return to Portugal, Berasategui said he had a project for him: “I thought he was joking,” Filipe admits.
He was not.
Born out of a €3.5-million investment, Fifty Seconds officially opened in November 2018, with 10 tables, 30 seats and a 24- strong staff for front of house and kitchen.
“Does the group’s investment show a desire to win the Michelin star?” the Portuguese chef asks, rhetorically. “We can’t promise we will win stars, but we will certainly work for it.”
The path is being set. Filipe began working a year and a half before the restaurant’s opening, travelling across Portugal in search of the best producers. At Fifty Seconds, almost all produce is national: whenever possible, the shellfish comes from Aveiro Lagoon (such as the razor clams that came in when we visited), the line-caught fish comes from the sea, but the meat often comes from Spain, “for consistency,” he says.
Working with seasonal produce and making small seasonal adjustments, Filipe Carvalho can offer a consistent menu that reflects his image, created with freedom but that fits with what a Berasategui restaurant should be. The dish he is most proud of “having the courage to serve” highlights the humble hake, which, as he explains, is not all that humble in Spain. Here it is grilled, with a spring onion, pancetta and chopped truffle compote, with poultry jus and sherry vinegar for freshness, clam emulsion, spherified guindilla pepper (from the same family as Spanish padrón peppers) and a potato and parsley foam.
“What matters to us is having a great team, being consistent and having a full restaurant. I want Fifty Seconds to be not just for Portugal, but for the world,” he says.
There are two tasting menus at Fifty Seconds: a smaller one (€120) and a larger one (€160), both available for lunch and dinner, excluding drinks. There is also an à la carte option.
Last year, this restaurant celebrated its 25th anniversary the best possible way: by receiving its first Michelin star at the gala that took place in Lisbon.
Midori, the Asian restaurant at one of Portugal’s most famous luxury resorts, Penha Longa in Sintra, got the star — and a new life — under the leadership of Pedro Almeida, from Sintra, with roots in Beirã. But Almeida is thankful to the Michelin guide inspectors not only for the star, but also for the inspiration to get there.
In 2017, Midori split into two spaces, both led by the Portuguese chef: Spices, a more laid-back restaurant serving Pan-Asian food; and Midori, with only 18 seats, the maximum expression of high-end, Portuguese-inspired Japanese cuisine (but never fusion).
By itself, Midori had a problem, which was not really a problem: a mainstream sushi menu and another, more authentic menu, carefully planned by chef Almeida and his team, who created 24 new dishes every month for around 20 diners a year. It was precisely this menu that the inspector tasted and the verdict was something like this: “OK, your menu is very good, but it doesn’t make sense for me to eat here while the person next to me eats sushi as if it were from the supermarket,” the chef recalls.
The team at Penha Longa took action immediately and their perseverance paid off — Midori became two and the star came the following year.
For Almeida, who is now executive chef at the resort, arriving in 2012 from spells at QP, by Paulo Morais, and MoMo, at Lisbon Casino, Spices and Midori are now “simple jobs,” he says, laughing.
Looking at the menu, this is clearly modest banter. There is nothing simple at Midori; there is a faultless attention to the products — Almeida believes Portugal and Japan have the best fish in the world and makes a point to prove it — and a perfect marriage (if there is such a thing) between Japanese and Portuguese cuisine, perfectly intertwined in a caldo verde miso soup or in dishes such as the osuimono sari in the sakamushi à Bulhão Pato, a Japanese take on the famous national clam dish.
In 2019, Midori will have two different menus (each with two tasting options): one for the start of the year (the restaurant reopens on February 19) and another for later.
When we spoke to Almeida, the chef was preparing to return to Japan with his team for almost two weeks, which would be spent eating at the top restaurants (from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) in every type of Japanese cuisine. Before leaving, the chef already had some ideas he wanted to execute: bolas de Berlim (doughnuts) with crab filling, chicken soup (canja) tempura and swordfish with banana (inspired by the Madeiran delicacy), with a sauce made from fish stock and homemade soya milk.
“It’s amazing, so good,” says Pedro, his eyes glinting.
Imagine when he comes back.
Midori has an à la carte and two tasting menus, one of seven ‘moments’ (€95) and another with nine (€130), both without drinks. Open for dinner only.
Those who say men cannot do two things at once have never seen Paulo Morais at work.
Of course the chef has a 28-year career behind him, but the dexterity with which he tells us stories while cleaning an Algarvean red mullet, gliding the knife in a silky smooth movement, and even stopping to answer the phone and write down a dinner reservation for a foreign couple at his Kanazawa, in Algés, is indescribable.
He has, in fact, spent many years cleaning fish. Paulo Morais writes books, teaches at the Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies and still cooks Japanese food like no one else. He is a household name in Asian gastronomy in Portugal (Filipe Carvalho and Pedro Almeida were his apprentices), leaving his mark in restaurants such as Midori and Bica do Sapato, in Lisbon, QB, in Oeiras, and Umai and Rabo d’Pêxe, also in Lisbon — the latter was his home until he accepted a great gift from Tomoaki Kanazawa (whose restaurant Tomo, also in Algés, needs no introduction) and took over Kanazawa in August 2017.
“The Japanese say we can spend our whole life trying to achieve perfection, and I believe that more and more,” states Morais.
Does he think he has not reached it yet?
“There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” he says, smiling. The chef, who stepped away from Japanese cuisine three times and always came back, puts his soul and the work of many Portuguese producers on the plate, with a menu that changes monthly, depending on what is in season.
With the exception of the wasabi and the sakés, almost everything served at Kanazawa is national, a job now made easier since the restaurant has been in Morais’ hands for over a year, meaning the chef knows what to expect. “March is the hardest month, because in agricultural terms there’s nothing. We have to resort to conserves [which he does in the summer] and greenhouse produce.”
From this shortage came new ideas: the chef has been experimenting with fermentations from fish innards and is increasingly focused on offering a head-to-tail fish menu. This obsession with the products results in frequent surprises for customers: the miso soup, the sushi and sashimi are the only constant dishes and, according to Morais, they are always highly praised. “Even the miso, which is one of the most basic, in theory, is done differently: with a good dashi stock, different misos during the year, cabbage, turnip, onion and seaweed garnishes.”
The final work is delicate, and, if not perfect, fairly close, as is evident in one of the chef ’s favourite dishes, which he has also been cooking at home, on New Year’s Eve, for 14 years: a Japanese-style fondue, based on seafood, with vegetables and dashi stock.
With just nine seats for a team of four people, Kanazawa is a sort of chef ’s table. There is room for sharing with the diners, a dialogue that will expand even more with workshops (for chefs and amateurs), starting this year. At the same time, the chef is also working on a book, which summarises a year of Kanazawa, and he plans to change the tasting menus: “We will create a fully vegetarian menu, which I am really enjoying doing; one of just sushi and sashimi; a mini-kaiseki [a set of dishes created with specific, haute cuisine techniques] and a proper kaiseki.”
Still “a bit traumatised” by the closing of Umai, which happened at the height of the recession, Paulo Morais says he is happy to “accomplish well-made things” at Kanazawa. In the future, he would also like to open something close to his previous concept. “It will be something big, not a nine-seater,” he promises.
Kanazawa serves only dinner and prices range from €60 to €150. For more information, look up Kanazawa on Facebook.
Vincent Farges was working in Greece in 2005 when he got the call from Fortaleza do Guincho, the restaurant from the Relais & Châteaux hotel of the same name, in Cascais. He recognised the number immediately.
“Some things you never forget,” he says.
On the other end of the line was the restaurant’s consultant, Antoine Westermann, who invited him to take the reins of one of the most renowned establishments in Greater Lisbon.
“I didn’t hesitate for too long,” admits Farges.
The French chef, born in 1973, had already worked as a sous-chef at Fortaleza in 1998. He stayed for a year and left. Work in Morocco and Athens followed, but the desire to return to Portugal remained. Farges led Fortaleza do Guincho for 10 years, held on to its Michelin star and put the restaurant on every list of places to visit in the capital.
However, after a decade, he was “too comfortable”, and needed to “change and find motivation.” This is where his partner, Pedro Mendonça, came in, along with the extraordinary space he had as a Bulthaup showroom, in the Academia Nacional das Belas Artes square, in the middle of the Chiado district. When it opened, Farges had immediately thought the showroom, with its incredibly privileged view over Lisbon and the Tagus, should be a restaurant. Years later, after the brand moved to the Amoreiras area, he got it. He left Fortaleza, set up everything with his partner and took a sort of sabbatical for a year in Barbados.
“It was really tough, the water was very warm, I spent the day on the beach, took a nap in the afternoon and only cooked at night,” he jokes.
It was on the beach that Farges was drawing up ideas for what would become Epur, which opened in May 2018. Back in Portugal, he knew exactly what he wanted; he started by visiting small producers and ‘goaded’ them into producing what he wanted and with the quality he was seeking. He found someone who made tableware his way, so as not to waste time with plating, and realised he did not want a thousand glasses and cutlery sets.
“The Epur concept is based on removing all things superficial and unnecessary. When clients arrive there is only a plate and glass on the table,” he says. The restaurant is, therefore, an enigma. On the outside, customers only see a kitchen (already filled with cooks at 9am); in the restaurant, the azulejos (tiles) and elegant, clean décor speak for themselves. In fact, at Epur there is not even a menu. Clients are asked some basic questions, namely the number of dishes they want and potential forbidden ingredients, and the chef adapts from there. The focus of the dish is the produce: “Two to three elements, that’s what’s essential,” Farges underlines.
The essential takes a lot of work, he admits. With five people in the kitchen and five front of house, no two menus are the same; it all depends on what comes into the kitchen from the handpicked producers (he works with a farm solely for its asparagus, for example).
And the secret, or rather, the enigma around what is served is the soul of the business: “One dish that was a great success and surprised a lot of people was the rabbit with foie gras, prawn, artichoke and Madeira wine sauce. It’s a bit unexpected. If it was on the menu, no one would order it,” assures Farges. But the chef says, in Portuguese and with particular eloquence: “Everyone went crazy!”
Farges admits he invested in the space thinking about Michelin stars, but that it does not add any extra pressure. “I am still on a mission to find new products and new things and I still aspire to have another type of space, more accessible.” For now, he says he feels “happy and lucky” to work with his team; he still enjoys arriving at work on his motorcycle and eating at a tasca (bar serving food) in Rua da Madalena — he loves traditional Portuguese food. His wishes, much
like the restaurant, are purified: “I would like Epur to be among Lisbon’s top three restaurants for a few years.”
This is an enigma Farges has already solved.
Epur serves lunch (€45) and dinner (three tasting menus, with four, six and eight ‘moments’ for €90, €125 and €160 respectively).