Lisbon – two modern fine dining restaurants

From my previous post on traditional restaurants you’ll know I’m more of an old-fashioned guy when it comes to eating out, but I do like to check out what the new generation are doing as well. Below are my experiences of two of the best restaurants for ‘cozinha criativa’ (cuisine characterised by the creativity and innovation applied); namely 100 Maneiras (my favourite) and Mini Bar (also fun).

You’ll find both on my map.

Restaurante 100 Maneiras, 39 Rua do Teixeira,

I came here on the last night of my trip in January 2023 for a final blowout. I’d booked an Airbnb just two blocks away, so as to be within staggering distance. The restaurant is located in an unremarkable building in lively Bairro Alto, but really people come for the food experience rather than the surroundings. They wanted to seat me in an unattractive spot near the door but when I complained that it was a bit chilly (it wasn’t that bad really), they graciously seated me in the more atmospheric seating area, at the far end of the long dining room.

The first thing that caught my eye walking through were the distinctive water jugs which, having become a recent fan, I recognised immediately as the work of the early Art Nouveau Portuguese artist, Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (see my coming post on his work).

Pinheiro was famous for many things (illustration, caricatures, sculpture, ceramics) but he was also a great gourmand, so it feels very fitting to see his dinner services (think cabbage leaf plates, melon bowls and aubergine dishes) being used in restaurants.

There are two tasting menus on offer “The Story” (17 dishes for 160€) and “The Short Story” (11 dishes for 130€). I went for the latter as I have a suspicion of overlong tasting menus having encountered some mediocre ones in the past. I added the corresponding wine matching for an extra 90€.

The first “Cover” stage of the menu is called “Welcome to Bosnia” in homage to the chef/owner Ljubomir Stanisic‘s Bosnian roots. It centres around his mother’s “flower” bread which, served warm, is really moreish. Next to it is a smear of pašteta (pâté), which was his favorite part of the UN rations he was given during the war from which he fled as a child.

The white pot on the right contains Kajmak, a creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream. The red one is Ajvar, a spread made of roasted bell peppers. Both are ubiquitous condiments in Bosnia. Then on the left in the bowl we have sea “butter” and something resembling jerky, made of tuna I think. These were explained to me by the excellent servers but as usual I was suffering from information overload and I didn’t take in what they said.

To drink I began with a glass of 2019 Mixtura MIX Blanco from Galicia.

Next came the “Forewords” beginning with the “Orient Express” which was a papadum with shallot pickle and baba ganoush, presented in a glass of coriander seeds. It was gone in a second and didn’t leave much of an impression if I’m honest.

Next was “Lucky Charm”, roasted broccoli, cashew emulsion, sorrel vinaigrette and avocado puree placed on a nasturtium leaf, and served on a Pinheiro cabbage leaf plate, which was rolled up and eaten in one. Nice but a lot going on.

This was followed by a “Sarejevo Cigar” of potato foam, smoked tea bread and Duvan čvarci, a kind of Serbian porkscratchings that have the appearance of “tobacco”. Again, not sure if I fully appreciated all this but it went down easily enough. These were paired with a glass of 2019 Maçanita Letra F, an impressive red wine made from Touriga Nacional grapes from an obscure vinyard in the Douro.

Then on to the “Introduction”, a “Mixed Salad” consisting of a slab of iceberg lettuce dressed with anchovies, truffle, parmesan and a dusting of raspberry powder. It was certainly unusual but the raspberry overshadowed the other flavours a little I felt. This was matched with a 2015 Vinha dos Utras from the Azores.

Two dishes form the “1st Chapter”, first “The Dark Knight” composed of Hamachi (Japanese amberjack fish), ginger jam and garlic puree. The flavour and texture reminded me of mushroom although there was actually none in the recipe. The red wine was my favourite so far; a 2000 Porta dos Cavaleiros from the Dão region which seems to be readily available from the wine shop Garrafeira Nacional.

Next on paper was the “XOXO, The Chef” involving onion, banana, purslane chimichurri and XO sauce. What wasn’t said was what was actually in the XO sauce which came in a tube placed inside a cloth bag which the diner had to retrieve without looking. Once I’d got the tube out, the server encouraged me to blind taste the other contents of the bag which had a crunchy, smoky flavour. I was amused to find out they were mealworms but it didn’t phase me (I’ve eaten insects before and these were very nice) but the poor lady on the next table shrieked quite loudly when she got to this bit of the menu! Personally I settled my nerves with another glass of Porta dos Cavaleiros.

Next came the “2nd Chapter” which was a single dish called “Tea Party”; a fillet of red mullet in smoked ham “tea” which I enjoyed very much, especially with a glass of 2021 ‘Sakura’ Pinot Noir rosé by Domaine Chevrot.

My fears of leaving hungry were allayed by “The Last Supper”; cow head, horseradish, Kupus (Croatian white cabbage salad) and Somun bread (Balkan pita bread) presented in taco format, apparently due to the fact that the head chef is Mexican. Chilli sauce came in a silver tube marked poison. This most definitely pushed all my buttons and was my favourite dish of the night. The local 1998 Quinta de Pancas Tinta Roriz went very well with it.

This brought us to the “Conclusion”, a trio of dessert courses beginning with the “Praia das Maçãs: aguardente ice cream, apple and codium“, which was a lolly containing edible green seaweed and named after a pretty seaside town in Sintra. This was complemented by a glass of Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Premier Cru champagne from Marc Hébrart which had notes of plum, lemon and dried flowers.

The second dessert was the “Tart Attack: pineapple, geranium and sorrel”, an unusual but very tasty flavour combination, beautifully presented.

With it a slug from a huge bottle of 2018 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett by Fritz Haag which had startling but pleasurable notes of petroleum and citrus.

Finally came a tree of Sweets and an espresso to which I added a glass of a decent 13-year-old Aguardente Velha from Duplo Estagio in the Vinho Verde region.

And that was the end of a very pleasurable evening. Although the food was really good and very innovative in both places, overall I preferred 100 Maneiras to Milk Bar below because of the more intimate attention I received from the staff. On my next trip I’m definitely going to try Bistro 100 Maneiras down the road in Largo da Trindade.

Mini Bar, 18 Rua Nova da Trindade 18,

Minibar is in Bairro do Avillez; a cluster of restaurants (the others are Páteo, Taberna and Pizzaria Lisboa) curated by José Avillez, a former alumnus of Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli. Minibar is towards the higher end of his offerings (he also has the Michelin-starred Belcanto) and is located in a vast, visually stunning, high-ceilinged room (nothing mini about it) which the waitress once told me were originally the stables of an old convent.

I had the Menu Ribalta for 85€ with an extra 15€ add on, which got me thirteen courses. I only drank water on this occasion.

First came a trio of amusing deceptions which included a “Golden hummus egg”, a “Giant pearl of foie gras” (a personal favourite) and an “El Bulli olive 2005 XL-LX size” (fragile spheres of liquid olive oil and brine which burst in the mouth).

I also enjoyed the “Roasted chicken”; crispy skin decorated with avocado cream, smoked cottage cheese, piripiri and lemon.

And also the pretty “Algarve prawn”, marinated in lime.

The “Foie gras tartine and cotton candy” was interesting.

And the “Tuna tartar temaki cone with spicy soy” pressed all my buttons as a lover of sushi in handrolls.

The “Tempura avocado” with dehydrated kimchi, coriander sprouts, lime and lemon took the Portuguese/Japanese/Korean interplay over battered veg to another level.

The “LT yolk (soft-poached in a sous vide), artichokes, parmesan and truffle” combination was an umami bomb.

I’m a sucker for the huge red carabinero prawns, so I happily paid up an extra 15€ for the delicious “Scarlet shrimp rice” which came decorated, I think, with lump fish caviar.

Another highlight was the “Mille-feuille Wellington, truffle and foie gras”. This was the third time foie had appeared but I was fine with that, especially in this innovative presentation which contrasted crunchy and smooth textures.

The “Passion fruit with coconut sorbet” essentially combined two of my favourite fruit flavours in a chocolate bomb casing. What’s not to like?

Sadly though the strange looking “Petit Fours” didn’t do much for me and seemed unnecessary.

The lipstick fruit sorbet just seemed a bit silly as well.

Overall this was a fun experience but as a lone diner I didn’t get quite as much personal attention as I got at 100 Maneiras. I’d go back, maybe for a special event as a friend occasionally DJs here, but only with friends.

Some reviews of some excellent lower end restaurants coming next…

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