Portugal definitely knows its fish. But until recently, the country was better known for its traditional fish dishes — sardines, breams and cockles served in old-fashioned taverns and bare-bones beer halls — than for innovative and contemporary seafood preparations.
In the last few years, however, as Lisbon becomes one of Europe’s epicenters of cool, a number of hip, fish-focused restaurants have followed.
These newcomers make a point of still retaining a sense of local charm. Your waiter will be happy to explain the menu in English, but he’ll also be greeting the locals next to you with hugs or high-fives.
Read on for a list of Lisbon restaurants transforming humble sea creatures into unforgettable meals.
It can’t be a coincidence that this fish market and restaurant is called “SeaMe.” The long, thin bar at the front of house opens up to a bright, busy dining room followed by a sumptuous display of seafood beautifully framing a glass-walled kitchen.
Every table has good sight lines, so you can people-watch and plate-gaze to your heart’s content. Don’t be surprised if the next table over orders a dish so envy-inducing you flag down your waiter to say, “Give me whatever they’re having.”
From the seafood on ice in the back, you’ll choose from an array of fresh catches, and your server, kindly accompanying you as adviser, will explain the prices (reasonable) and preparation methods (expert).
Once you’ve eaten your sea bass, hake or prawns, your waiter will guide you through SeaMe’s other list of specialties: stunning sushi and sashimi made with local fish, including a smoky, creamy, salty sardine nigiri so divine you’ll want to order it again for dessert.
If you’ve always dreamed of sipping a pisco sour in Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, halfway between Lisbon, Lima and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” you’ve come to the right place.
This elegant, in-demand ceviche bar elevates raw fish to a higher plane, serving up beautifully plated, colorful dishes with Peruvian inspiration in a retro-mod space with classic Lisbon touches, including a sculpture of a giant octopus.
The ceviche comes in several variations. Cod, prawns or sea bass are soaked in the creamy, citrusy marinade known as “tiger’s milk” or in a zesty vinegar you’ll want to drink directly from the bowl. Pestos and purees add color, flavor and zing to the plate, making each ceviche the perfect blend of sour, salty, sweet and spicy.
Once you move from raw to cooked, you’ll be greeted with a swirl of octopus tentacle in savory broth, a crackling of golden-fried croquetas or the thick, moist cornbread known as broa.
Make your way down a tiny side street just steps from Largo do Chiado, but don’t go too far or you’ll miss this quaint, old-timey, entirely unassuming tavern.
The vibe may be decidedly old-school, with mismatched dark wood furniture, hanging cabinets of liquor and little knickknacks, but the young, friendly and enthusiastic staff puts a hip spin on the evening.
You’d do best to order their raw oyster tartare, as it’s more like a ceviche, with the succulent ocean treasures bathed in creamy kefir, cilantro and samphire. The clams with chorizo are a revelation as well, each a tiny, balanced burst of sea saltiness and porky smokiness.
There may be one or two desserts on offer every night, but the one to get is the chocolate cake: perfectly dense and moist but not too fudgy, so subtle and sophisticated as to hardly be called “sweet.”
If you’ve heard of Cervejaria Ramiro — and most food-obsessed visitors have — you’ve probably heard grabbing a table can be a feat. Well, the owners had a brilliant business idea: Why not open a gleaming new fish restaurant right across the street to catch Ramiro’s spillover?
Infame may have started out simply swooping up hungry Ramiro patrons who couldn’t wait any longer for a table, but now the restaurant is spearheading the renewal of the gritty, working-class Intendente neighborhood.
Set within Hotel 1908, a grand building that evokes Lisbon’s faded glamor, Infame’s (“infamous”) soaring dining room, bright lounge area with floor-to-ceiling windows, and Japanese-inspired dishes draw a firm line between today’s Lisbon and the Lisbon of old.
Clever menu names like “Bunny I’m Home” (stuffed rabbit) and “She Sells Sea Shells” (clams with miso) obscure the expertise that goes into each dish. At evening’s end, you’ll leave with an entirely new concept of the unlikely flavors that can mingle to make magic on the plate.