Dining experiences are very personal and often subjective. With only three days in Lisbon, and endless lists of restaurants, I was starting to feel exhausted at the thought of deciding where to eat next. Except for a handful of wine bars, the typical recommendations were not speaking to me. For example, even though more than five people suggested Ramiro in the span of 24 hours (I’m sure it’s excellent), I just wasn’t in the mood for prawns, crabs and clams, no matter how big, fresh and juicy they were.
Then I came across Tapisco and it was almost like I had a eureka moment. It wasn’t on any ‘Restaurants you must visit in Lisbon’ lists, but I stumbled across it when browsing photos on Instagram. This is usually my process of restaurant research – it’s painstakingly inefficient, but often accurately helps me find what I know I would personally enjoy.
Striking the perfect balance
I was immediately sold by the laid back bright vibes of Tapisco and photos of its squid ink paella. They had comfortable tables which are perfect for small groups, as well as by the bar seating perfect for couples or those dining alone.
Only when I arrived did I eventually realise that it was Henrique Sá Pessoa – famous for one Michelin Star, Alma – who was behind Tapisco. I had read a lot about Alma before heading to Portugal because it was always in those ‘lists’. But the Michelin star and fine dining plating of Alma wasn’t really the vibe I was in the mood for. The traditional sense of fine dining felt a little too formal.
But Tapisco striked the perfect balance for me, aptly characterising what I would define “modern” fine dining as: excellent ingredients, creativity and execution of dishes, served in a social, laid back and comfortable environment.
Tuna Tartare (€16) with avocado and wasabi caviar
Although it was the squid ink paella which first drew me to Tapisco, everything else on the menu looked really tempting and the waitress confirmed that, yes, it’s too much for one person (I was here on my own). For starters, I finally chose the tuna tartare. Although there’s no rarity in tuna tartare dishes in the world of dining, I never had one so perfectly calibrated and compiled.
There was a mix of fatty and lean tuna chunks, which were extremely fresh. The avocado chunks were deeply marinated with citrus flavours, also mixed in with a non-citrus avocado purée. I was thoroughly appreciating the contrast in textures, flavours and tastes. Lastly, the addition of wasabi caviar was the impactful finishing twist that allowed the dish to stand out.
Bacalhau à Brás (€14) *must order*
Having travelled around Portugal for almost a week, I had more than my fair share of bacalhau – salted cod fish. Literally every restaurant recommended some rendition of bacalhau as their signature; usually it’s salted cod fish with potatoes, onions and egg – a typical Portuguese dish. As such, I was a little hesitant to heed to the waitress’s recommendation to order this. Instead I was tempted by the Iberico Pork Presa.
But when the guy on my left started digging into this dish, it looked so creamy and nothing like any other bacalhau dishes I sampled elsewhere. Indeed it was a completely different animal to anything I had tasted on my trip so far. I popped the egg yolk and mixed in the chopped up olives. The texture was so thick and creamy. The bacalhau doesn’t lose itself in the twists, but this is definitely a massively upgraded version of the traditional dish. It exemplifies the right balance between comfort and interesting.
Chocolate Mousse (€5) with olive oil and fleur de sel *must order*
I wasn’t originally planning to order dessert because Gelateria Nannerella (gelato shop – also recommended!) was on my afternoon agenda. But shortly after I sat down at the bar table, the guy on my right was scraping down the sides of this pretty sizeable chocolate mousse. He looked very peaceful and satisfied with his meal. While the answer was pretty obvious, I couldn’t help but ask how the chocolate mousse was.
45 minutes later, I concur that it was inexplicably delicious. The chocolate mousse was chocolatey, still sweet but perfectly so. The texture was foamy smooth with freshly grated chocolate bits and fleur de sel (sea salt) on top. It was further topped with olive oil caviar. In fact, the mousse itself also had this very unique and fragrant Portuguese olive oil incorporated within. You can subtly, yet not too subtly, taste it throughout the dessert.
It was the spot on execution and little twist of the fragrant olive oil to an otherwise standard dessert, which yet again was an example of how Tapisco balances comfort with creativity to stand out. I personally loved this place so much because it epitomises every positive aspect I enjoy about modern fine dining.
Unexpectedly excellent Portuguese dining experience
I was dining solo so it was truly a mental battle to decide on what to order. I either did a really good job in selecting my three dishes, or it’s pretty hard to go wrong when you’re dining at Tapisco. Guy-to-my-right would agree it’s the latter.
Before my bacalhau main course arrived, he enthusiastically exclaimed that he was here just the day before and had to come here again before his afternoon flight back to the States. He said he ordered the Iberico Pork Presa and it was the most perfect meal he ever had. I was going to order the Iberico Pork Presa!!! But the feeling of regret was brief, as my Bacalhau dish shortly arrived, and confirmed that, as he said, “I’m sure it’ll be great no matter what you order”.
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R. Dom Pedro V 80
Phone: +351 21 342 0681
Spend per person: I spent €40 (including wine), but I think most people can get away with spending €25