Review: Belcanto

7 April 2015

After all that fabulous, rustic Portuguese food, I was wondering to myself whether to stay on that course, or to tempt myself back to haute cuisine one more time. The Easter Sunday 100 Maneiras was okay but mediocre, but I have been told time and time again no matter what, if you go to Lisbon, you must try Belcanto. So I did.

I got up the hill a little early and waited outside. Soon I wasn’t the only one, and the crowd grew, and the door still did not open. After a bit, people were becoming impatient, so I rang the doorbell…and they led us all in and seated us.

Inside this 2-Michelin restaurant is a beautiful dining space, and I had a cozy corner seat. I relaxed over some white port and pondered which of the menus I should choose this evening. I had a long day running around town so I was both hungry and tired, so I chose the most ambitious of the menus, what chef José Avillez called “Portuguese Cuisine Revisited” — along with a local wine pairing.

The set of amuse bouche soon arrived, and it looked interesting…

00A-AB1

It included a frozen sour cherry liqueur ball, an olive sphere, and a tofu made with lupin beans graced slightly with kaffir and piri-piri. An interesting set. Then the pairings began for the evening, and many of them were just fantastic. However, my experience was slightly marred by a table nearby of very loud and opinionated middle-aged Americans from Napa, who had negative things to say about any wine not from Napa…

Why do these people travel? Ugh… Anyway, then the second set of amuse arrived and I tried to ignore those people.

00B-AB2

Another set, this time more ambitious. It involved pickled carrots with tuna, a chip focused on cuttlefish ink, and a morsel based on liver. Fabulous stuff, you can really taste the strength of the ingredients in each of the items. Now this is what a round of amuse bouche should be like!

I do apologise for the less-than-solid quality of the photos as my phone took a knock and the camera has not worked right since…

I was really starting to enjoy this meal despite being forced to overhear that loud table. Signals were very poor in the area so I couldn’t distract myself with Twitter as fast as I wanted. I just sipped mightily on the paired wines, which was poured in very generous proportions may I mention. Then the first of the dishes arrived…

01-shellfish

Wow. This was fun to look at. A cornucopia of shellfish here on a dish called playfully by chef “The Porthole” — and you can see why. Lots of tiny morsels of goodness, from razor clams to barnacles, sitting on a light pool of sea water. This dish was both fabulous and extremely frustrating — the tastes of the items were fabulous, but they were way too small making you want far more. A hell of a tease!

I enjoyed the wine, which complemented the briny goodness of that fun dish. Next up was a dish that came covered, and when that cover was lifted the beautiful aroma of smoke filled the room…

02-smoked_eel

Oh wow, this was a smoked eel and marrow dish with a lacing of porridge and even caviar. It was like heaven in every bite and breath as the smoke continued to eminate, enticing the two senses to the max. Fabulous dish, again I wish there was more!

As I enjoyed more of the very generously poured wine pairing, and tried to ignore the growingly annoying table nearby, the next dish arrived…and my heart sank…

03-golden_egg

Yeah, even though this dish, the so-called “The Garden of the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs” was one of chef Avillez’s most famous, I was hoping not to see this on my tasting. I have an extreme dislike for the idea of edible gold, as it does utterly nothing positive for any dish and for me is an unpleasant sight on a plate. Egg, bread crumbs. No. The fail dish of the night for me in so many ways.

I got back to rhythm with the excellent wines, hoping that was the lone miss. It’s been so good so far, I can forgive one miss due to tradition. And when then next item arrived I think I was correct to think positively.

04-veal_heart

An odd but cool creation, this dish was demonstrative of chef’s love for Lisbon — and it featured veal heart and lettuce heart. A fun dish, with a tinge of pancetta, it was cute and tasty also. Creative. Then the next dish was an homage to rustic Portuguese cooking, cozido à portuguesa.

05-cozido_à_portuguesa

This classic Portuguese “toss-it-all-in” stew was prepared with much finesse, however. They noted to me that the item used to enhance the flavour of this version was neck lard. Mmm… More excellent wine with this dish, a slight detour into a red.

I was enjoying this meal and became less annoyed at the other table as they seemed to be quieter from having drank enough of the wine they were at first moaning about (but now seem to be liking). I was loving my food and wine and the next dish didn’t change that by one bit — the sea bass.

06-sea_bass

A very nice piece of fish, again resting in a shallow pool of sea water (I like that briny feel). Strong texture and good taste. Clearly chef knows how to work his seafood. Nice stuff, alongside some more good wine (a return to whites).

When the red came back out I knew it was switching course again, and the meaty offering laid on the table made me drool…

07-oxtail

This was a beautiful oxtail dish, graced with foie and veal tendon. Goodness, it was like a trifecta of taste here, one of the tastiest meat dishes I had this year. After all that excellent seafood, chef shows off his land-based chops. Awesome! What a great way to close the savouries for the evening!

I relax for a bit as we moved into the dessert courses. The first focused on the pumpkin…

08-pumpkin

Then we had a larger one of citrus and traditional cream eggs as the central motif…

09-citrus_cream_eggs

Followed by a palate cleanser that reminded one of the original amuse bouche…

10-fruit_tree

Then finally, the closer, the “chocolate tree” with the morsels of goodness. Goodness indeed, wow. I enjoyed a bit of coffee and aguardente, and also ended up chatting with some other tables near me for the rest of the night (the annoying large table had cleared out). It was a fabulously fun evening, perhaps a bit of excess throughout with the very generous wine pourings, but the food deserved a huge round of applause.

After the fabulous rustic eating I’ve had, I needed one of these brilliantly-cooked nights too. Wow, Lisbon, you have really won my stomach’s love and devotion. I may be paying for this night later on, but it was completely worth it. Belcanto indeed deserves its 2 Michelin stars. One minor fail dish, but that’s my pet peeve with the edible gold. Rest of it was fabulous, imaginative and extremely delicious.

Completely worth it, even putting up with a table of morons next to you!

Belcanto
Largo de São Carlos 10
Lisboa, Portugal

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3 thoughts on “Review: Belcanto

  1. Pingback: Review: Cervejaria da Esquina | melhuang1972

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  3. Pingback: My 10 Best Meals of 2015 | melhuang1972

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