Bar Douro, Flat Iron Square

Thanks to chefs like Nuno Mendes, Portuguese food is now getting an opportunity to shine, with eateries showcasing this much forgotten cuisine all over London. Bar Douro is the latest noteworthy Portuguese restaurant to open, finding a cosy home in the Flat Iron Square foodie hub.

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I went along with a fellow food-obsessed friend to try out their speciality dishes. The restaurant is relaxed and atmospheric, with bar seats offering a view of the small kitchen. The blue and white patterned tiles reminded me instantly of days wandering round Lisbon’s pretty streets. Owner Max Graham was previously running supper clubs around London with Head Chef Tiago Santos. Max’s family have been creating Churchill’s Port in the Douro area of Portugal for centuries and his passion for Portuguese wine is evident from the thoughtful wine list.

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We were treated to a feast of the best dishes from the menu, including delicacies like Croquetes de Alheira and Octopus with sweet potato. The food was vibrant both in flavour and presentation. I loved the Chanfana rolls, bite-sized pieces of milk-fed lamb with a deliciously fragrant herb sauce. For something a little more decadent try the Roast suckling pig with homemade crisps, which is prepared and cooked to perfection with caramelised baby carrots and fresh orange. Not all the dishes worked… Bacalhau a Bras (Salted cod with scrambled eggs and chips) was bland and uninteresting, and sadly our Octopus tenticle arrived so charred it overwhelmed the subtle flavour of the seafood.

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I’ve never known much about Portuguese desserts, partly because I’m usually too full from main course to make it that far down the menu. At Bar Douro we were presented with three sweet plates, so I had a quick, and tasty lesson in this country’s pastry traditions. A delicate Abade de Priscos (Portuguese Bacon Pudding) was paired with wonderfully contrasting citrus sorbet and fresh orange. The second dessert, Bar de camelo was very sweet but delicious, made from condensed milk and topped with ice-cream and a shard of chocolate. And don’t leave without trying the fresh-out-the-oven Pastel de nata with cinnamon ice-cream, which works very well with a glass of the Churchill’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port.

It is lovely to see the arrival of new food ventures in South London and Bar Douro does a wonderful job of showcasing the best of Portuguese food and wine.

More information and book a table at Bar Douro here.

Leo Carreira at Climpson’s Arch

Climpson’s Arch has played host to a range of promising young chefs. The industrial area in East London offers a platform for creative, culinary ideas without the huge start-up costs that new restaurateurs have to consider. Consequently the venue is popular with keen foodies and with locals who value good grub, reasonable prices and a relaxed environment.

Leo Carreira is currently taking up the residency at Climpson’s Arch, serving customers with authentic and tasty Portuguese dishes. Recipes like Smoked Octopus in broth and Grilled Bisaro Ribs feature as favourites, though depending on produce and season there is always something new to try. I loved the Grilled Soaked Brioche with caramel and hazelnuts for pudding, proving that Portuguese is a broader cuisine than many believe.

Considering the makeshift nature of the kitchen, Leo presents food that is simple but sophisticated with a deliciously unique wine list to match.

More information about Climpson’s Arch here.

Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields Market

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Nuno Mendes is a quiet chef, so it probably came as quite a surprise when his kitchen at Chiltern Firehouse became the loudest, most talked about restaurant in London. As the hype begins to settle at the Marylebone establishment, Mendes is focusing his efforts on a new venture in Spitalfields Market.

Taberna do Mercado is a simple and unassuming eatery serving authentic Portuguese fare. It features recipes that Mendes remembers from his childhood from the south-west region of Alentejo. The restaurant is happily found in the busy marketplace, and with no reservations, it immediately evokes a very different feel to Chiltern Firehouse. Diners here are patient foodies rather than pushy celebs visiting for all the wrong reasons.

It is a modestly designed venue with distressed wooden floorboards, circular marble tables and whitewashed walls – a minimalist combination that instantly encourages a relaxed Mediterranean vibe. There is a kitchen inside and a live station outside. Here the stoves are expertly managed by head chef Antonio Galapito, who has worked with Mendes for years.

From the paper menu clipped to our table we chose a selection of tasty tapas style plates. I fondly remember the wisps of runner beans in batter, so light and moreish. Prawn rissoles were delectable parcels of tiny spicy prawns with a crunchy edge. There is a whole section of the menu devoted to the house-tinned fish, which is receiving rave reviews from fish fans. The plates of meat and cheese are particularly delicious paired with a glass of Portuguese wine, great for a light early evening snack. If you want to try something very traditional, opt for the Alheira sausage which has a consistency similar to ‘nduja but tastes quite different. Made with a mix of meats and bread it has a rich flavour but a rather stodgy texture, very tasty but unlike anything I have tried before.

Bifana is popular meaty snack in Lisbon, a crusty bread roll filled with thinly cut pork steak and mustard. It is the Portuguese version of a bacon bap and it is equally satisfying. It seemed a bit random amidst our meal, but I could imagine relishing this sandwich on a Sunday morning.

Desserts are unusual and daring. Abade de Priscos and port caramel is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Made from a mix of egg yolks and pork fat it has a smooth texture and toffee taste and is served in a pool of sweet port. The olive oil cake also looked intriguing, I am keen to try it on my next visit.

Mendes can often be seen wandering calmly around the venue. It is a different man to the one I saw looking stressed in the famed Marylebone restaurant. Here he presents a cuisine he is sentimental and proud about and that love shows in the vibrantly flavoured food and charming atmosphere in the dining room.

More information here: