With a few annual leave days left to use up this year, Micu and I decided to do an impromptu city break to Lisbon, Portugal for a long weekend.
Lisbon is a wonderful and eclectic mix of old and new with its steep hills, wide boulevards, winding streets, vibrant street art, ancient crumbling buildings, beautiful tiled houses and cute trams racing up and down the city. We spent hours wandering through the streets, exploring the different neighbourhoods and soaking up the atmosphere. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best at times so we didn’t get a chance to visit a few things on our list, but we both really loved the feel of the city and want to go back again in summer next year to explore some more.
Where we stayed: Travellers House – it’s central, inexpensive, super spacious and really friendly.
Where we ate:
- Ramiro – famous for its fresh, simple but delicious seafood. Get there early to avoid lines or make a reservation because it is very popular, and rightly so!
- Mercado da Ribeira – a wonderful market which re-opened this year. It showcases dishes from some of the top Portuguese chefs in an upmarket (but not expensive) food hall. It’s definitely worth visiting for lunch or dinner.
- Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (also known as Pasteis De Belém) – one of the best Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart) I have eaten. The cafe turns out up to 20,000 tarts a day, all hand-made on the premises using a secret recipe and served warm with cinnamon. One tart is not enough.
- Belém – for the famous custard tarts, Belém tower and the Berardo Museum (a free modern art gallery showcasing Warhol, Picasso, Dali and many others).
- Barrio Alto – really fun nightlife. The streets are lined with lots of tiny bars; perfect for bar-hopping all night.
- Taking tram 28 up to Estrela – it’s quite touristy but it covers some really beautiful areas along the way and takes you high up past the castle. We walked back down so we could take our time to stop off and explore the side streets.
- Tram watching – the quaint trams cover quite a bit of the city and are an efficient way of getting around. Our favourites were the one going up to Estrela which is tiny so it can navigate the winding, narrow streets, and the Elevador da Bica in Bairro Alto which is surrounded by picturesque streets and covered in graffiti.
Photos by Micu and I.
© 2014 Fiona Tregeagle.
When my brother visited last year, he took me out for a delicious dinner at St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields for my birthday. I’d been wanting to go back ever since so Micu and I finally made an impromptu dinner reservation, this time to St. John Bar and Restaurant in Smithfield.
We weren’t hugely hungry so we picked a few small plates to share and one of the bigger dishes (plus dessert, of course!). To start with we had the veal terrine with chicory, crispy pig skin with radish and watercress, and roast bone marrow with parsley salad. We both found the terrine dish a little bland but the crispy pig skin was full of texture, freshness and flavour. The standout dish, however, was the roast bone marrow. It was next level. Served with lightly grilled sourdough bread, the marrow was fatty, rich and moreish. I was surprised by how much marrow there was in each of the bones (more than enough to slather the entire slice of toast) and how well the slightly smokey sourdough bread and parsley salad complemented it, especially considering I’m not a fan of parsley. Micu had been wanting to try this dish ever since he saw it on Anthony Bourdain’s show, who proclaimed it to be the butter of the Gods. Having now eaten it, I whole heartedly agree – I would go back for this wonderful dish time and time again.
We also shared the grilled ox heart with chips and aioli. I’ve had duck heart before at Fera at Claridge’s which was a standout dish, but I didn’t really know what to expect for the ox heart. I was worried it would be quite offaly but it was absolutely delicious. The heart was tender and juicy, and had the texture of a nicely marinated steak. The chips were perfectly cooked too – extra crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle. All round, a really well executed dish.
I couldn’t resist ordering some freshly baked madeleines for dessert and Micu was keen to try the bread pudding with butterscotch sauce. The smell of the madeleines took me right back to my childhood where my brother and I used to buy them on weekends from the French patisserie at the end of our street. These ones were even better than I remembered because they came straight from the oven and had that glorious crispness on the outside that only comes when it is freshly baked. The bread pudding was nicely done too with melting vanilla ice cream, rich sticky sauce and dense fruity bread. A perfect winter dessert.
The thing I really liked about St. John is how unpretentious the vibe is; the staff are friendly, the service is relaxed but warm and the dishes are reasonably priced, especially by Michelin standards (our dinner came to about £55). The menu is ever-changing depending on what is in season and what fresh produce they have to hand, which is a good excuse to go back time and time again. Thankfully, the roast bone marrow is a constant feature on the menu!
While nose to tail eating isn’t for everyone, the dishes I have eaten at St. John both this time and last year have really helped to demonstrate just how delicious alternative cuts of meat can be. One thing is for sure, I’m keen to go back again and hopefully a little sooner than last time!
Photos by Micu and I.
© 2014 Fiona Tregeagle.