2* Michelin resto by prolific Lisbon chef, José Avillez
It seems that all of José’s restaurants are within walking distance of each other in the Chiado district! Belcanto is located on Largo de São Carlos, literally a minute walk from Café Lisboa, a 3 minute walk from his latest venture Mini Bar; and also a 3 minute walk from his low key Portuguese restaurant, inspired by his travels, Cantinho do Avillez, which is right next door to his his pizza joint, Pizzaria Lisboa. Perhaps this is borne out of a desire to be able to skip from one of his restaurants to the next in a heartbeat.
As you approach Belcanto, you’ll notice a rather unassuming wooden bench that is shielded by a dark brown canopy with the name and little bird logo printed on it. A plain beige curtain conceals the goings ons of the restaurant inside.
When you enter, you’re exposed to an understated, elegant room. White table cloths adorn the tables and a gorgeous drum pendant light hangs from the ceiling in the centre of the room.
Brown earthy tones make up the palette of the space, with wooden floors and wood panelled walls in certain sections of the room.
FOOD & SERVICE
On Friday night, we were walking around town trying to figure out where to go for dinner when we stumbled upon Belcanto. We thought we may as well try our luck and see if there were any available tables. Unsurprisingly there weren’t any. We asked if they had anything for Sat but they didn’t. However, the maître d’ was unbelievably lovely and accommodating and said that she would put our names on the waiting list and would call us if there were any cancellations.
I didn’t really hold much hope but to my surprise on Saturday, the day of my birthday I got a ring from her saying I could come for a midday lunch! A friend was due to arrive but her flight was delayed and it wasn’t clear whether she would make it on time, so I went back and forth with Belcanto managing to push the time back by 15mins, then by 30mins, before finally deciding to go on my own, whilst my sister waited for our friend to arrive at the apartment.
So, yes I ditched my friend and sister to have lunch on my own, on my birthday for the love of food. You can’t say I’m not dedicated to the art…of eating.
The waiter served up some housemade bread and a selection of three butters: smoked salt; walnut and plain salt (couvert). I can’t begin to explain how good this was.
Belcanto looks to its native land, Portugal, for culinary inspiration but isn’t constricted by tradition, experimenting with familiar flavours, with Avillez putting his own contemporary spin on things.
Starting off with an orange ball, served on a silver spoon that rested on top of a mini white stone plinth; seemingly solid, the ball melts on impact with the tongue, to reveal port and tonic flavours, which was a nice refreshing start to the meal.
Azeitonas (Trio of Olives)
The black olive was covered in a lovely light tempura coating.
Up next was the seemingly plain green olive. Avillez worked at El Bulli and obviously picked up some exciting gastronomic experiments there and has gone so far as to put their famous exploding olives on his own menu. It looked like a solid olive but as soon you put it in your mouth, it ‘explodes’ or rather less dramatically, dissolves on the tongue.
Then came the inverted Martini, the olive juice made up the cocktail, with a ‘sphere of gin’ taking on the form of the olive. Impressive stuff.
Ferreror Rocher ~ Chicken Skin ~ Algarve Prawn In Ceviche
Two of the amuse gueule came on a small black cubes of slate: the crispy chicken skin was an utter delight as was the super fresh Algarve prawn in ceviche atop half a lime.
Then in a glass rounded bowl came the famous Ferror Rocher which looked and tasted like the real deal complete with rough nutty skin and a bit of edible gold foil, a hint of the gold casing this well known chocolate comes in. This ‘Ferror Rocher’ was in fact made with foie grois and cocoa. A cool and fun concept but it didn’t set my world on fire.
Rebentacao (‘Wave Breaking’)
Then came the open blue sea shell, which transports you momentarily to the seaside. Tiny morsels of seafood including bivalves and coastal prawns were washed up on the seafront and sat on the edge of the seaweed ‘sand’ and behind them stood a frothy wave. The foam had a rather intense saltiness just like sea water but eating this in combination to the little creatures of the sea balanced it out well. I really liked the freshness and cleverness of this dish but I have to admit I liked it rather than loved it.
Carabineros Prawn – a large prawn, similar in size to langoustine – came with broad beans sat inside a brilliantly clear consommé. A quiet, tasty, simple dish, cooked to perfection.
Pataniscas (Salt Cod Fishcakes)
Then came the cod fish cakes, perfectly crisp with just the right amount of salt – this was a delight when married with the rich sweet kidney beans and sticky rice, dyed an intense red with what I imagine must have been beetroot. This combined nicely with the small portion of (what I think were) oyster mushrooms on the side.
Framboesa Beterraba (Raspberry and Beets Dessert)
On the desserts front, we started with a refreshing fruity delight. Candied raspberries mixed with fresh ones and a raspberry sorbet with beets.
Chocolate, Banana & Peanut Dessert
Then came an elegant, long and dense strip of chocolate, adorned with fragments of peanuts and book ended by banana and chocolate ice cream with a sweet syrupy drizzle. Replicas of real food like slices of banana and a monkey nut with shell on, not only beautified the plate but delighted the palette too. A dessert worth every calorie.
The meal was rounded off by a surprise chocolate cake with a raspberry on top and some mignardises to that came in an open mother of pearl dish, ending my gastronomic experience at Belcanto on a very high note.
Overall, I was impressed by the skill and imagination invested in the plates of food. I found some of it utterly delicious, other things I found interesting but not necessarily to my palette like the ‘wave breaking’ dish. If I go back, I think I’d probably go for something on the a la carte menu but i’m glad I tried the tasting menu, to get a glimpse into the mind of the brilliant José Avillez.
Cool understated luxury. Quite formal but not at all stuffy. The aim is to please over a long period of time, so sit back, relax and indulge.
I went with a tasting menu that cost €90. On top of this I ordered a glass of wine at €13.50, bottled water at €5 and couvert at €6.50. So, in total my bill came to €115.
Yes this was by far the most expensive meal I had in Lisbon and yes to an extent a lot of that is going into service because one can get a number of the same dishes in Avillez’s other restaurants. However, I do not for one second regret dining here; it was a superb experience and in comparison to some London restaurants that aren’t even close to the standard of Belcanto, it’s actually pretty reasonably priced.
THE TAKE OUT
This 2 star Michelin restaurant by prolific Lisbon chef, José Avillez dishes up Portuguese cuisine with a playful, contemporary edge. Even though, taste wise I didn’t love every single piece, it was a highlight in my eating career (lol).
Cuisine: Modern Portuguese
Cost: Tasting Menus start from €90 – no drinks
Address: Largo de São Carlos 10, 1200-410 Lisboa
Hours: Closed Sun & Mon Open Tue-Sat 12:30 -15:00 and 19:00 – 23:00
Phone:+351 21 342 0607
LAST VISITED MAY 2015