A visit to the town of Belem is a must if you visit Lisboa. It’s only fifteen minutes away by train, so really it’s more like an outer suburb than a separate town. The highlight is a visit to the Pasteis de Belem, the original creators of the Portugese egg tart who are still selling the same delicious tart centuries later. Every day, a line of eager pastry eaters line up out of the door and down the pavement, waiting for their chance to try one of the famed pastries. K and I were no different, so on our first full day in Lisboa, we headed off to Belem to try the pastries which were every bit as amazing as they’re reputed to be.
Once we hadour pastry snack and had a look around the monuments of Belem though, I started getting hungry again and needed lunch. However the other dining establishments around Belem are less impressive, relying heavily on the tourist trade generated by their pastry neighbour, with a choice between expensive cafes or Starbucks. However! If you walk further along the main road of Belem past the monastery towards the Torre de Belém, you start to get into the residential areas of Belem, and it’s here that you’ll find the Restaurante O Recanto on a back street. You won’t find them on Yelp, Facebook or Tripadvisor – they’re so small that they’re run offline just for locals!
Luckily the young waiter spoke English quite well and was able to help us order! We started with some drinks – some Agua Con Gas (sparkling water) for K, and a Sumol Orange for me. I got a bit addicted to Sumol while we were in Lisboa, the combination of fruity orange juice and sweet soda was hard to resist. It’s much better than Fanta or the orange sodas that we get in Australia, and is more akin to the Italian Sanpellegrino Aranciata.
As always, we ordered a salad to share. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a veggie-only salad on the menu, so we had the Chicken Salad instead. This was particularly heavy on the smoky grilled chicken and herbed deep-fried croutons, so not particularly healthy as far as salads go…but tastier for it! At least the veggies that were on the plate were particularly fresh, and the cherry tomatoes were particularly sweet.
In the interest of trying a local specialty, I ordered the Bacalhau with Chickpeas. Bacalhau is a dry and salted codfish which is extremely popular in Portugal – served up in every restaurant, cooked in every home, sold in every store. It’s an interesting ingredient that needs to be handled in a certain way to make the most of it – generally requiring soaking in water for hours before use, or cooking in milk to try and remove the saltiness. I’d used it in my cooking class with Movida’s Frank Camorra.
I’m happy to report that this bacalhau was every bit as delicious with a tender meat that still retained a little bit of its characteristic saltiness. Even though the dish as a whole was surprisingly plain in that it didn’t use any sauces or other dressing, the chopped herbs and raw onions on the side really helped to jazz up the chickpeas when you mixed the whole dish together.
K had the Grilled Pork Chops, served with both fries and rice. I found the piece of pork chop I tried to be a bit too fatty, though there’s no doubt that the smoky grilled chop was very well done. Portugal definitely excels in amazing grilled meats! Surprisingly, I actually found the rice to be a highlight of the meal. It had been cooked in a broth of some description, as it was just that little bit savoury and very very more-ish.
Needless to say, a meal at Restaurante O Recanto isn’t going to break the bank, with most meals in the $6-$7 range. Vegetables aren’t high on the priority list here so it’s a problematic restaurant choice for vegetarians and vegans, but if you like meat and fish, this is definitely the place to go in Belem to eat with locals at local prices. Don’t bother staying for dessert here though – we didn’t, as we just walked back to Pasteis de Belem to buy more Portuguese tarts for dessert!
Restaurante O Recanto is located on Rua Praia do Bom Sucesso, Belem, Lisboa.