Currently trending as one of the hottest European food destinations, the vibrant city of Porto – Portugal’s second-largest – has been on our radar for a while now, so with a long weekend Elldrew excitedly jetted off to explore the much-talked about sights, architecture, wine and port bars, and to dine in as many places possible.
We found a wonderful boutique hotel, Maison Particulière, which we discovered via The Telegraph’s “Best hotels in Porto” blog. A fantastic location in the heart of the old town, on one of Porto’s most beautiful streets, the 10-bedroom hotel is an inspiration for any interior designer and Maria, the owner, is welcoming and happy to discuss your tastes and short list a selection of restaurants for you, quicker than you can complete check-in.
As we’ve done with other holiday destinations, here’s a quick ranking of where we ate:
Kardoso : 3/5
Arriving late afternoon, Maria suggested we settle into Portuguese cuisine with the famous delicacy ‘Francesinha’, at her favourite restaurant Kardoso. It’s off the beaten track, up a hill somewhere (although everywhere in Porto is up or down a hill), a good walk to and from our hotel, which wasn’t a bad thing because a Francesinha is possibly the single most unhealthy dish Elldrew have ever eaten. It’s basically a sandwich floater. Think of a croque monsieur into which is added a veal steak, pork sausage, mountains of cured ham, wrapped in melted cheese and then soaked in a tomato and beer sauce. Elldrew only had the loosest idea of what they were about to eat, and it didn’t help that papa Karduso spoke no English so we ordered unnecessary starters, and we did skip on the fried egg topping (perhaps a mistake based on the odd look we got when we ordered).
Did we enjoy it…hmmm…not so much and to be honest, we weren’t sure what the fuss was about. Yuko, the chef and co-owner, brings a Japanese flair to this very traditional dish, so the ingredients were clean and fresh (not as fatty as we think it could have been), and it was served perfectly on the plate, but it’s still a huge dish and definitely an acquired taste. As Ell commented “there’s a reason the Francesinha isn’t as well known as the croque monsieur.” At least we tried it and had the 20 min walk home to burn off some of the calories we had inhaled.
Final note: we were later told it was more of a lunch dish.
Lunch across the river (restaurant unknown) : 3/5
The following day saw us walking across the river to the Port Cellars where, along the esplanade, any number of restaurants tout for the business of the passing tourists. It was a beautiful day in Porto and spotting a vacant table outside an otherwise packed restaurant, we quickly jumped at it. We wanted a lunch of light tapas so when the waiter brought over a tray laden with bread, ham, cheese and olives, before we had looked at the menu, we lapped it up but, be warned, this wasn’t requested and it will add a hefty price to your bill if you accept it. We supplemented the standard dishes with a tuna and bean salad and a tomato salad. It was plenty for lunch and we washed it down with a bottle of rosé and a litre bottle of still water, which came in at under €50! Fresh food, fresh flavours – it won’t win any awards (especially as we forgot to note its name) but for tapas in the sun it hit the spot.
If anyone recognises the table cloth and china please do let us know and we will put a name to this mystery.
Vogue Café : 1/5 (sort of)
After a day of walking we stumbled across Vogue Café. Opened a mere matter of weeks it looked just like Elldrew’s sort of place, with it’s cool trendy interiors and designer furniture, so we made a dinner reservation. In the trendiest outfits we’d squeezed into our hand luggage we sashayed over to be dismayed that there was not a single diner in the restaurant. Actually, there was only two people having a drink with the staff hovering around the bar chatting. We stalled our entrance with a lap around the block, a second walk-by saw us having a port and tonic at a local bar (when in Porto…), but when, for the third time there was no sign of it getting any busier, 30 mins past our original booking time, we decided to abandon our reservation and look for somewhere else nearby. Naturally we can’t testify re the food but we had to give it a rating for its stylish interiors. It’s connected to Hotel Infante Sagres.
A Despensa : 5/5
Failing with Vogue Café we popped our head into A Despensa, a busy Italian just around the corner. “Italian food in Porto?” we heard Maria anguish, but it was welcoming and we spotted a vacant table for two, so tried our luck. What a lucky choice this was. Run by a native Italian chef with a passion for delicious food made from simple flavours, Elldrew almost dribbled over a menu containing not one but two truffle pastas (we do love our truffle). To start, we shared a warm speck wrapped cheese salad that was flavoursome but paled in comparison to the mixed bruschetta… not the limply toasted baguette one’s used to in England, here were four bruschetta slices which we were instructed to eat in a particular order to stimulate the palate: 1) classic tomato, 2) provolone, 3) pesto, and 4) bruschetta “Lorraine”. All great flavours in their own right, but Elldrew still dream of that bruschetta “Lorraine”, it was so good. For mains, Ell had the penne with black truffle and a black olive crumb, whilst Drew had spaghetti with white truffle and rocket. The pasta was fresh and homemade, the dishes perfectly balanced, with generous servings. It was a challenge to decide which was better but the white truffle slightly edged into the lead with its delicate flavours. We indulged with not one but two desserts; a classic tiramisu (oddly very similar to our own adopted dessert) and a mascarpone foam with salted caramel peanuts. What a great find: fantastic food and amazing staff, all for €125 with alcohol and water.
Cantina 32 : 5/5
After a 5-mile hike to see the peacocks in the “Gardens of the Crystal Palace” we felt we’d sufficiently walked off the prior night’s dinner, so popped into one of Maria’s other favourite restaurants for lunch, Cantina 32. A restaurant serving up a balance of Portuguese, French and South American dishes, you do need to book to sit inside the main restaurant, but thankfully there are a few small tables outside that are first come first served. Only wanting a snack, we went with a few tapas dishes washed down with a refreshing port and tonic (our new Aperol replacement for the summer) whilst we soaked up a few rays and enjoyed the constant faces of the passers-by. We enjoyed an exquisite tuna tataki dish, the most divine Portuguese ham croquettes served with a seeded mustard dressing, and a heavenly half an iceberg lettuce salad with a pear and blue cheese dressing, crispy onions and pancetta. Talk about moreish. We wanted to sit longer but with a queue forming and more hidden alleyways to explore we headed off. If we went back to Porto we would definitely add Cantina 32 to our dinner list.
Camafeu : 4/5
The grand finale was Camafeu; we’d heard about this secret restaurant and booked before we left the UK (so secret you can only find them on Facebook). Hidden behind a non-descript door on the first floor of a suburban apartment building, Camafeu is the owner’s grandmother’s apartment, but without grandma (RIP). Her legacy can still be seen as her furniture is dotted around the apartment, but it’s amazing how some dining tables, a fabulous chef and some young hipster waiting staff can transform the place into a busy restaurant. Coming in at under €100, we enjoyed 3 courses, a cheese plate, wine and port. For starters, we shared (swapped plates) the goats cheese ravioli with pear, almonds and a port reduction, and the Portuguese sausage roll from the Specials menu. For mains, we both ordered the sirloin steak with sautéed potatoes, fried prosciutto and red wine sauce. All dishes were delicious and we couldn’t fault anything, but it didn’t feel outstanding enough to hit 5/5. Maybe it was the tiny restaurant that didn’t turn the tables, so the atmosphere sloped off as the evening went on (it was still early but they were turning away walk-ins that could have added that extra buzz) or perhaps it was because none of the tables seemed to have any locals, suggesting it’s not the secret it once was. Maria hadn’t heard of it after all and she couldn’t be any more local. Oddly, that evening, Porto had won something in football, after trying for two decades, so our waiter was rather eager to get out to the street party that seemed to be developing. We’d recommend it but we wouldn’t rush back.
And finally, a special mention goes to The World Needs Nata : 5/5
The World Needs Nata was again recommended to us by Maria for serving the best Portuguese tarts in Porto. At under €5 for two tarts and two coffees we regretted only discovering this place on our last day. Try sprinkling cinnamon on top, Drew felt it took them to another level! Next time we’re bringing home takeaway.