Aqui Há Peixe, Lisbon, Portugal
The Bill (Euros)
Dish of the Day €15.00
A la carte
Starters €5.50 - €19.50 | Mains €22.00 - €49.00
Desserts €7.00 - €9.00
Cooking 5/10 | Service 3.5/5
Flavour 4/5 | Value 4.5/5
Well there can be a lot of synchronicity, not to say downright luck in finding review places in foreign parts. Portugal obviously falls into that category now we can no longer sail through the electronic EU passport gates.
To reduce the chance factor I sought advice from José, a contact from the far off legal days. From a choice of three this one looked as though it would suit us best. At this stage I had no clue where we were hanging our hats for our couple of days in Lisbon, these things being organised most efficiently by my glamorous social secretary. When the wending taxi journey through the narrow hills and valleys which comprise central Lisbon ended, it plonked us down at our flat - one door down from Aqui Há Peixe, the domain of Miguel and Mafalda Reino.
How do I come to be in Lisbon? Well, it's because of our Edinburgh friends M & I. I say Edinburgh, but they live in Ireland except just now when they live in southern Portugal, four hours' south of here. Oh, never mind, it's complicated.
Anyway M & M (not to be confused with M & I) have acquired legendary status in Lisbon, having been churning out food on this spot for over quarter of a century. Miguel is in charge of the main kitchen: puds are Mafalda's domain.
We enter a small dining room. Not a soul in sight. A table in the window has a reserved sign on it. We look at each other. Or would you prefer the back room? someone asks. And lo! We are in a buzzing, bright vibrant space with eccentric decoration and lots of happy people. Soon there are more and more happy people. The joys of Aqui Há Peixe certainly haven't gone stale.
If I tell you that the title translates as Here Be Fish, you know what you're getting into. There are about two plates for carnivores, but if you come here and don't want to be pescatarian, then ya boo socks to you. But, otherwise, plenty to choose from. 14 starters, 12 mains, 11 puds.
Fish soup ought to be historic in this sort of place. M and L were happy with theirs, seasoned with coriander and with a selection of little fishy bits to trawl for on the bottom. I thought the stock lacked depth and the flavour, which the others thought might be chorizo but was probably paprika, detracted from the fishy goodness. I's octopus salad seemed to be missing the advertised vinaigrette, and was a bit flavourless as a result. Cantabrian anchovies are a fearful price, reflecting the cost of the basic material. Here, there were a few sliced tomatoes, each topped with a bit of olive being embraced by a sliver of anchovy. With some good fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of oregano this made tasty, if slightly underwhelming, eating.
Main courses upped the game considerably. Any minor quibbles about the value of the
starters were turned on their head. How do they produce food like this at these prices? A lot of rice in our choices. Black rice with cuttlefish is a classic. A pan of coal black rice providing perfect camouflage for the chunks of cephalapod is enlivened with a side dish of saffron yellow, garlicky mayo. At the next plate, a huge portion of Arroz de Lucas con Gambas. This was tomato-ey rice with a lot, and I mean a lot, of prawns and strips of squid. I had to pinch myself to check that, yes, the Cataplana de Frutos de Mar was only 27€. Normally you would see this for two people, and often you would have to prebook. You'll have guessed the seafood bit. A cataplana is a cooking utensil, unique to Portugal. It's a copper, clamshell shaped plan whose lids seal together to steam food. It was full, 3 platefuls at least, of mixed fish and shellfish. While I think the mussels had been in the pan for a while - shrunk to the size of a pea - it would be churlish to be too critical.
The star dish turned out to be the most basic sounding one. Having reviewed our choices, L was regretting her prosaic sounding choice of Monkfish with Carrot Rice and Steamed Sprouts. Sounds frightful, doesn't it? Grelo in fact translates better as shoot than sprout. (It's also a very vulgar slang word in Portuguese, but I'm not telling you more.). I think she had steamed spinach to accompany the fish, which was napped in an exquisite sauce, a beurre blanc or thereabouts.
As the lovely Mafalda had stopped by our table to say hello, the sweet menu was obligatory. And when I say sweet, I mean sweet. The sugar consumption in the pastry section must be off the scale. Standard stuff with a couple of exceptions. Encharcada de Ovos sounded intriguing. Soaked eggs, said the translation. I'm guessing a zabaione or the like. It's very sweet, warned Mafalda. A last minute change of mind meant we never did get to sample it. Instead we interrogated the lady about the Surpresa! (Surprise, for the benefit of you non Portuguese speakers.) In effect it's the Pud of the Day, today being cheesecake. It was enjoyed, though like most of the selection rather sweet for my taste. Chocolate cake was a bit solid, though I did detect some booze. The icing on the top was enhanced or detracted from, according to your taste, by the chantilly cream, whipped with a lot of sugar of course. Finally, soaked figs which resembled crystallised fruit. I guess it's just the national style, but it did make me realise how our own taste in desserts has modified over the years.
Never mind, a good night out. Thank you, José, for the recommendation. And thank you, M & M. Here's to the next 25 years.
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