Breakfast, lunch and dinner Porto

Words: Mark Calderbank   Photography Mark Calderbank

Breakfast, lunch and dinner Porto

The lesser-known sister of Lisbon


Historically this city has been the quieter, lesser-known sister of Lisbon, but the last few years have seen it grow up and blossom into a beauty all of its own. This trip was supposed to be a surprise from my better half for my birthday – the surprise was well kept until just a few days before – so it made a change to just figure things out when we arrived. It feels similar to Lisbon (where we had both been previously) but smaller and seemingly easier to walk around. We stayed on the north side of the river, near the artist quarter.
Breakfast: Epoca
Our hotel was on Rua do Rosário, which was a quiet street just around the corner from a bunch of restaurants and galleries. There were a few other cafes, and small boutique clothing and interior stores too, so it was a great place to wander and acclimatise. As we set off on our first morning, one of the places we found was Epoca. This is a very understated, relaxed and friendly café, with a small menu and a great rack of magazines. It’s run by a young crowd, who spoke impeccable English (we did use our limited Portuguese over the weekend) and we managed to grab the last available table, as a group just left. Claire ordered poached eggs, which burst with their warm yellow colour when broken, and I went for a simply presented fried egg, which came perfectly round, so must of been cooked in a mould. Both came with rounds of warm bread, baked by themselves, and butter smeared onto the side of the plate.
The only sour note of our breakfast came as we left: Having decided that we would go back the next morning to try their version of a pancake (which are much thicker and cooked with fruit inside – so more cake than pancake) they told us that they were shut for the rest of the weekend, as it was a public holiday.
Price: €12.00
R. do Rosário 22, 4050-522 Porto

Lunch: Cervajeria Brasau Aliados
All weekend in Porto I had heard and seen pictures of something called a Francesinha, so I decided that Sunday was the day to try this traditional Porto dish. They say it was started in the 1960s by Portuguese people (specifically a man called Daniel da Silva) who had spent time living in France but then moved back to Portugal and tried to adapt the croque-monsieur to Porto tastes. Francesinha means ‘little Frenchie’ or just ‘Frenchie’. Like the famous French example, it’s essentially a glorified sandwich. It’s made with bread, ham, cured sausage and more regular sausage (like a chipolata), steak or roast meat filling. The whole thing is covered with cheese, surrounded by a thick tomato and beer sauce, and cooked in the oven until the cheese melts. You can chose whether you have the traditional fried egg on top (of course I did) and it’s normally served with French fries. It sounds like a heart attack but it’s actually less heavy than you’d expect, though I have no idea how they manage it. Claire ordered salad.
We went to try it at Brasau Aliados, as it’s a cervajeria (brewery) so they make their own beer, which they use in the sauce. A Francesinha is normally complemented by a ‘fino’ (thin or fine), which normally means a draught beer in Porto. I went for a Sovina Weiss beer to cut through all the meat and sauces, and to keep things light.
There are lots of places that sell Francesinha in Porto, so I have no idea where the best place is to get one. Although the basic dish itself is traditional, each restaurant has their own unique version of the sauce aspect, and often keep the recipe for that a secret. Most use tomato and beer but other ingredients vary, which leads to arguments about which are best. All I can say is: Go and try one. You won’t regret it.
Price: €40.00
R. de Ramalho Ortigão 28, 4000-407 Porto
In the (now) great tradition of this feature, where we are supposed to suggest a place for each meal but always give you more than one, here’s two for dinner.
Dinner (1): Tapabento
On our first night we dropped our gear at the hotel and headed straight out. Our flight was delayed so we were late for the dinner booking Claire had made at Tapabento, which was a recommendation from a friend. (So I guess that makes this a double-recommendation. They must be doing something right.) This was our first introduction to the Porto Tonico, which is essentially a G&T but made with white port and normally a dash of orange. They’re served in large Copa glasses and are a great start to any meal, especially our first in the city. There was a queue outside when we arrived and we thought we’d missed our table, but luckily the owner found us a table upstairs. The restaurant is a quaint jumble of styles in terms of the decor and furniture, but it’s not trying to be cool, it’s just how it is. The staff are super friendly and, once you have their attention, are happy to talk for hours about the menu and wine options.
We started with a burrata salad then, as we were near the coast, moved onto the seafood section. The wild shrimps in garlic were huge and jammed full of flavour from the garlic sauce, and the bacalhau (cod) was soft and smooth having been cooked at 72 degrees. Bacalhau is such a traditional Portuguese dish it’s said there are more than 365 ways to cook it - at least one for every day of the year. The white Altano Reserva wine complemented the fish perfectly and is just one example of the amazing wines to come from the Douro region, just a little further up the river from Porto.
Price: €90.00
R. da Madeira 222, 4000-069 Porto
Dinner (2): Cafeina
We were chatting to our hotel’s owners on Friday morning and they suggested going to this place for dinner. It’s a 15-minute cab ride from the hotel out to the coast, so we figured it was a good way to see another part of the city. We headed out as the sun was setting over the sea and found the restaurant a couple of blocks back from the rugged beach. The venue is housed in a yellow tiled colonial-looking building in what feels like a quiet suburb. The friendly staff showed us to our table and another Porto Tonico wasn’t far behind. After a day wandering around Porto we were hungry. When we get the rare chance to go out together, we tend to order different things so that we can try more than one dish on the menu, so we started with a goats cheese parcel served with a kind of beetroot chutney and veal tartar. They disappeared too quickly to really appreciate them, but they settled the stomach a little while we sorted the mains.
This time, we switched. I went for the veal bordalesa (a stew kind of dish), which was stacked on an island of mash potato. It was cooked like a dream and fell apart perfectly, mixing into the sauce. Claire went for duck breast in a port sauce – amazing, in her words – it was tender, pink and very tasty. Both were truly delightful and warming, perfect as it was getting cold by the sea in the evening, and went perfectly with the Redoma wine (again from the Douro region). We opted for red to go with the meat and the sommelier made a good show of decanting it, returning regularly to keep us topped up. It might have been our stimulating conversation, but one visit resulted in him smashing the decanter with our water bottle. There was maybe a third of the wine left but they gave us another one for free. Result.
Claire kept stealing my mash, so decided that she probably had room for desert. The tart tatin was made with apple and toffee, served with creme fraiche, and was melt-in-the-mouth good, while the simple vanilla ice cream had great flavour. I was done. Well, almost. We ordered a 20-year-old port – Cafeina’s own brand – to go with our deserts, which went down beautifully. The next day, we were due to go port tasting and talked to the sommelier about our options. He insisted we try their 40-year-old port too. It was much sweeter, but lighter in colour, and not as sticky as we were expecting.
Price: €160.00
R. do Padrão 100, 4150-557 Porto
If we’re going to mess up the format of this feature, we might as well do it properly. As we were in Porto, I have to mention the port tasting. Down by the river, there are lots of different port houses, most of which do tasting sessions. Some you need to book – and potentially go on the full tour too – but some you don’t. After reading a few online reviews, we went for Quinta do Noval. It’s a smaller set up and possibly, because of that, it’s a much more personal experience. Our waiter spent time explaining the flight of five ports and regularly came back to answer any other specific questions we had.
Av. de Diogo Leite 256, 4430-175 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto