Quick dip into Porto
Sadly I only had one night in Oporto this time, which is a shame because I’d really like to get to know this intriguing city much better than I do.
All the port lodges are on the South bank of the Douro which is called Vila Nova de Gaia, a name that you should see on all quality bottles of port.
The North bank, called the Ribeira, is very pretty too with lots of picturesque tiled buildings.
Both sides have lots of restaurants, but choosing a good one can be tricky.
Four of us went to Restaurante Douro Velho at (Intermediate D) 302 Avenida Diogo Leite in Gaia on the evening I was there.
I decided to retry Francesinha, a famous Oporto dish which is essentially a ham and sausage sandwich topped with cheese and doused with a spicy tomato and beer sauce, with chips on the side. Apparently it can be really delicious if done well but I don’t think this could have been a good one. The meat was tough and the sauce tasted like an over-salted tin of Campbells soup had been poured over it (C). Sorry Carina, I tried to like it!
Fortunately the slightly sparkling, young and fruity Casal Garcia Vinho Verde, made from a blend of several grape varieties, was really good (B+) if overpriced at €12 (it’s less than €3.50 in the supermarkets) and better suited to seafood.
Also, although the waiters were friendly, their service was some of the worst I’ve ever come across. After one of them ignored the female Portuguese member of our party in order to speak English to me, another one then proceeded to forget her husband’s order until about 30 minutes after we had all finished! It didn’t help that other waiters kept asking if he’d ordered yet! In their defence there was a big concert on a stage on the river that night and they were overrun but all the same, it’s probably best avoided.
There’s a restaurant called Bacalhoeiro at 74 Avenida Diogo Leite, a bit further along the bank from Douro Velho above. They only sell bacalhau (saltcod) dishes and if I remember correctly they have more than a dozen on the menu! (Portuguese folklore has it that there are at least 365 recipes for saltcod, although others say there is 1,001!). I went in 2005 and it was pretty good, although I don’t remember what I had. A good choice if you see it might be Bacalhau com Natas, saltcod baked with cream and mashed potato, which I had in Agueda later on this trip where it was abslolutely delicious (A).
Cafe Majestic (Advanced A/B), 112 Rua Catarina (the main pedestrian shopping street).
Built in the early 20th century in an art-nouveau style, the decor consists of ancient leather seats, lots of carved wood, mirrors and plaster cherubs. It’s quite posh with the waiters in white tunics and tuxedos, but they are friendly and give great service. It’s the first time I’ve ever had my olive oil and balsamic vinegar poured for me as if they were wine.
It’s really about the coffee, sandwiches and cakes here but on one occasion I was starving so I had the Tagliatelle ai Frutti di Mare (with king prawns and mussels) which was ok (B-) if a bit pricey at €15. In addition I got a tray of olives, tuna spread and a basket of delicious bread, including a wonderfully dense brown variety. It’s worth coming here just to look at the decor. Sorry but I don’t have any pictures for this place but click on the name to look at the website which will give you an idea.
So just a quick visit, but Porto is definitely somewhere I’d like to return to and explore more.