Archive for the Portugal Category

Aveiro the Portuguese Venice

Posted in Aveiro, Portugal with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by gannet39

is known somewhat tongue-in-cheek as ‘the Venice of the West’ due to its network of canals, and the fact it is losing a battle against nature as its watercourses silt up.

Historically the town made its fortune from the salt industry which was of course essential for making bacalhau with salt-cod. Although dried cod had been around for centuries before, it was the availability of cheap Portuguese salt in the 17th century that made the alternative salting process commercially viable. Aveiro was the capital of the industry and it’s legacy can be seen everywhere..

If you like you can take a tour on one of the moliceiros, the gondola-like boats which are moored on the canal just by the hotel.

Saltboat stern



They were originally used to transport the salt from the pans to the warehouses back in the day.

Saltboat prow

Some of them have quite risque decoration on their prows and sterns!

Fisher porn

Saltboat stern detail

Sarcastm aside this is a very pretty town with lots of beautifully tiled buildings on the streets around the fish market (directly behind the hotel).

Number 10Number 10 edificeNumber 10 doorway
There are several lovely art-deco houses further along Rua Barbosa de Magalhães.Number 7







If you have time, there are two large beaches but they are a bus ride away. In July the weather is usually sunny in the mornings but it often clouds over in the morning with fog and wind at the beach.

A local sweet you will see advertised everywhere is Ovos Moles /euvesh meulesh/  where sweetened egg yolk is encapsulated in a soft edible covering reminiscent of those sherbet-filled spaceships you could get when you were a kid. Not a fan personally as they are far too sweet and give me toothache.

Hotel Moliceiro, (Advanced B), 15-17 Rua Barbosa de Magalhães, Tel. 234 377 400

Located on the Canal Central in the picturesque old town, this upmarket hotel has good service, very comfortable rooms, an excellent breakfast buffet and free Wi-Fi, as it should when double rooms cost €105 a night.

If you’re staying at the weekend, you might want to get a room at the back as there is usually a free concert in the square next to the hotel every Saturday night which goes on till about 12.30 pm, although the sound check starts much earlier.

Stage next door
My attitude is if you can’t beat them join them and this time I was lucky to get a quirky ten-man Portuguese group with a competent brass section. Much better than the rappers from the previous year!

Band next door

Marisqueira Mare Cheia (Intermediate A), 10 Rua Jose Rabumba.

This unpretentious seafood restaurant is the people’s choice and all 70 seats are always full, whether you come for lunch or dinner. I come here every time I’m in Aveiro (this is my third visit in six years) and have never been disappointed. Sorry about the lack of local names for the dishes but the atmosphere was too frenetic for me to get all the information I wanted.

On this occasion I was given a starter of very large mussels with green-lipped shells (a first for me) in a sauce with onions and red pepper, which were ok but slightly overcooked (B-).


After ogling the choice of my four neighbours (their pan was nearly the same size as my table!), I went for the main of fried prawns, butterflied and cooked in a cast iron pan with lots of oil and slithers of garlic, absolutely delicious (A). With this, a side of very skinny and tasty Patatas Fritas (A).

Prawns and chipsButterfly prawn



I had two half-bottles of wine; a fruity Cabriz from the Dao DOC…


…and a drier Planalto from the Douro DOC, both of which were excellent.


In July 2010 the grilled sea bass was very good (B), as was the side dish migas  here made with less (or no?) bread than its Spanish counterpart but with lots of black eyed beans, kale and some rice if I remember correctly (B+).

The lobster with rice looks like a very good option too. I’ve had it in a Galician (where the cuisine is very similar) restaurant in Madrid and it was great. You might want to pass on the ‘salad’ though as you will get strawberries, pineapple and papaya on the same plate as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, as is the modern Portuguese style.
For dessert my excellent English-speaking waiter brought me the local speciality of Torta di Ovos Moles which uses the same tooth-rotting egg yolk and sugar mixture that is in the famous local sweet but this time in cake form (and hence much more palatable in my opinion) (B+).

Torta di Ovos Moles
This was followed up with an aged local aguardente called Sao Domingo from Anadia (20km from Aveiro) in the DO of Barirrada which was one of the best I’ve had here (A). Total cost for the wines, mussels, prawns, chips, dessert and three aguardentes this time was just under €40, slightly expensive for Portugal but worth every cent.

Sao Domingo aguardente

This is a great place for seafood and should be your first stop in Aviero. I also liked the fact that the head chef came out of the kitchen to say hello and have a chat with his customers.

Salpoente (Advanced B), 82 Cais de San Roque, Tel. 234 382674
One of the best upmarket places in town, located in an atmospheric old salt warehouse next to the Canal de San Roque, a fifteen-minute walk from the hotel. The staff are friendly and I like the smiley young proprietor.

Cheese and olives
The menu features regional specialities, especially fish dishes, although there are some meat options on the menu. The unordered starters they give you usually include Azeitonas Marinada (B), Pataniscas de Bacalao (saltcod fritters), which were a bit bland this time (B).

Pataniscas de Bacalao

In the past I’ve also had some tinned mushrooms with ham (C) but this time got some tasty cow’s cheese (A) which went well with their excellent bread (A). They charge you if you eat them (only €1.50 a plate).
Without reading my last review I inadvertently ordered exactly the same as last time! Camarao ‘Al Ajillo’, a rack of prawns grilled with garlic, olive oil, parsley and brandy (which was a B last time but now B+). It was very similar to the dish I had at Mare Cheia but not quite as good or well presented.

Camarao Al Ajillo

The main Arroz do Mar (B), similar to Caldeirada with chunks of fish, clams, mussels and prawns in a soupy paprika stew, which was nice but slightly oversalted on this occasion (B-) and big enough for two.

Arroz do Mar in the pan

Arroz do Mar on the plate

My white wine this time was another citrusy Vinho Verde called Alvarinho Deu La Deu. The waiter told me this was the name of the cantina but I’m sure Alvarinho here refers to the grape, but correct me if I’m wrong. It’s supposed to be one of the best (€14 in the airport) and it was good (B+) but there are others I prefer.

Alvarinho Deu La Deu

In the past I’ve wanted to try a white from the local Bairrada DOC but the owner told they were too powerful for seafood.
To finish the Tarta de Maca com Gelado de Baunilha (apple pie with ice cream) was thin and tasteless (C).

Tarta de Maca

On a previous visit the Crepe a Salpoente was ok but the sweet egg yolk filling (the same as in Ovos Moles) didn’t do much for me (C). Guess they don’t really do desserts here.
This time for my digestif I had a Beirao, a Portuguese liquor with a sweet herbal flavour that is much more easy on the palate than aguardente. It was ok (B) but was too sweet for me to want another. In the past I also had a C.R.F. Reserva Aguardente Velha which failed to impress (C).


Conclusion: the atmosphere is more refined and the surroundings are more attractive than Mare Cheia but the food isn’t as good, so it’s now my second choice, although I still like to come every time I’m in town. You can also buy bags of sea salt here, €5 for half a kilo. There’s a bar next door and a couple of others along the same street.

On the way back along Cais de San Roque you can admire this beautiful art-deco house with its maritime motifs. The fish ceramics and anchors make it my favourite building in town.

Maritime Art DecoFish ceramicsAnchor windowPulleyAnchor balcony

O Batel (Intermediate B) Travessa Tenende Resende (off Rua Tenende Resende, turn right at Ferra above). Tel. 963 218 900

Lots of recommends on the net for this small and slightly hard-to-find place, but I didn’t have time to give it full
justice. The waitress was very pleasant and spoke excellent English (as most of the younger generation of Portuguese do) and the boat-like furniture and decor (reminiscent of those classic Italian speedboats; sleek dark varnished wood) is relaxing if not particularly comfortable (slatted wooden deckchairs). I had the cheap lunch time special; a soup stew of bacalao and bread in a tomato-like sauce, which at the time suited my head cold, but was not something I’d have again (C). The salad of mixed leaves and tomato quarters was well-presented and good quality but over-dressed with oil and balsamic-type vinegar (B-). Needs to be visited again in the evening, when I don’t feel so ill for a better analysis.

O Telheiro, (Intermediate B), 20-21 Largo da Praca do Peixe (fish market square). Open Sunday.

This is a good choice for Sunday evening when most other places are closed. There are two sides, the ‘sala’ with tables properly laid up with linen and a bar area with wooden benches and paper tablecloths. I prefer the dark wood atmosphere of the bar. The staff don’t speak any English but the hand-written menu is just about decipherable if you have a knowledge of other Latin languages.

On this occasion I had the Cosotleta de Vitela na Brasa, a thick medium-rare veal steak (B) which was just what I needed after a week of eating seafood. I ordered a salad and a side of chips (B-) but was only successful in getting the latter. To drink I took a chance on a red from the local Bairrada DOC, Termiao Passaro Branco, which was drinkable (C+). To finish; pears in red wine, a popular Portuguese dessert (B+).


Ferra (Elementary C),32 Rua Tenende Resende (off the fish market square, it has a nice art-deco shop front displaying the mottos ‘labour’ and ‘honour’).

Very busy at lunch time, this seems a very popular place. It’s cafe-style with paper table clothes and plain decor. It took a while to get served as the waiters were so busy and mine forgot everything I asked for because he was so overworked. They had run out of my first choice of grilled sardines so I had the tuna and black eyed bean salad for €6 which was ok but a bit tasteless. You can probably get better food if you know how to ask for it. A cheap choice with basic but perfectly edible food, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to go again.

Lots of other places to try but personally I’d say work your way through the menu at Mare Cheia and then Salpoente.
There is a Spar at 48 Avenida Dr Lourento Peixinho where you can buy these fancy tins of good-quality tuna in olive oil for about €3. They make good take home presents I think.

Tenorio Tuna
I also got some Vinha Verde for €3 which I’d paid €12 for in a restaurant in Oporto.

Casal Garcia

They also sell Gallo olive oil which some local friends recommended for dressing salads, although their first choice was the harder-to-find Romeo oil.


Quick dip into Porto

Posted in Oporto, Portugal with tags , , on July 19, 2011 by gannet39

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.

Old bridge

Port boat

Last time I was here I took a couple of tours of the port wine lodges; Sandeman I think and also a smaller Norwegian one called Krohn, They both do tastings so I was a bit tipsy by the end!

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.

Gaia port boats


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.

Ribeira from the bridge
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.

Casal Garcia

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).

Baked cod and potato

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.

Sunset on the Douro

So just a quick visit, but Porto is definitely somewhere I’d like to return to and explore more.






Viana do Castelo

Posted in Portugal, Viana do Castelo on July 12, 2011 by gannet39

Viana do Castelo is a lovely little Portuguese town just a ninety-minute train ride over the border from Vigo, where the River Lima meets the sea. The Castelo do Nieva, a low fort with a moat, guards over the estuary. The town has a long maritime tradition. Many of the 16th century Portuguese explorers left from here and today it has the only working shipyard in the country.
Stone crown

The centre of town is the pretty Praca da Republica which has a few simple but attractive buildings.

Another nice building


Building in the square

GargoylesThe centre piece is the ancient fountain which has several bizarre faces spouting water from different heights.

Fountain detail

Strange heads


There are lots of pretty churches dotted around the town as well.

Capela das Malheiras

and another chuch

Igreja de San Domingos


Statue on Igreja de San Domingos

Capela das Malheiras carvings
The nearest coastline  is about twenty minutesIgreja de San Domingos brisk walk due west from Praca da Republica. It’s a bit  disappointing, a narrow band of wind blasted sand, probably artificial, separated from the sea by lots of rocks.

Rocky beach

However you can get a good run or walk in along the seafront and the long breakwater. There is a rather bleak modern bar/restaurant complex called Scala where you can sit outside protected from the wind by high glass walls. There are other beaches but I didn’t have time to check them out. You can also get the ferry to Praia di Cabedelo which is supposed to be quite undeveloped spot. There is a municipal swimming pool at the beach end of sea road.

Cozinha das Malheiras (Advanced A), 19 Rua Gago Coutinho, Tel. 258 82 94 34
Described by web reviews as the ‘best’ and most expensive restaurant in town, this is indeed a very good place with great food, friendly service and  a nice ambience (stone arches, lace tablecloths, mandolin soundtrack). The food is actually much cheaper than equivalent places in Spain or Italy and not that much more expensive than other places in the same town.

When I asked for a local white wine, the very friendly English-speaking waiter suggested an excellent Vinho Verde from the Ponte de Lima co-operative (A).

Ponte de Lima Vinho Verde
To start I was given the Aperitivos Regionals; a slice of Parma style ham (A), more cured lomo ham on dense brown bread (B), a small wedge of cheese (B) and some tasteless black olives (C-).

Aperitivos Regionals

For the main I had the local speciality of Cabrito à Serra D’Arga; baby suckling goat served with tiny roast new potatoes (B+), turnip leaves sautéed with garlic (B+), boiled carrots (C) and a large tureen of plain white rice (B). The meat was perhaps the best goat I’ve ever tasted (A+). The only complaint was I wanted to dab up all the juices with my bread but wasn’t allowed near the serving dish because everything is put on the plate for you, silver service style.

Cabrito à Serra D'ArgaThe waiter (owner?) explained that the semi-wild goats spend the summer in the mountain range (Serra D’Arga) before coming down to the town with their kids for the winter. Besides leaping around the hills, they have to dodge Iberian wolves and wildcats which all probably keeps them quite fit. The area is very famous for its wildlife and I wish I’d had time to go walking in the hills to try and spot some.
To finish Leite Creme Quimado (B+), a local Creme Brulee.

Leite Creme Quimado

Also a glass of Antiqua, a heady aged aguardente (made like grappa but similar in taste to a cognac) from a town near Lisbon (A).

Antiqua aguardenteTotal cost a very reasonable €30. There is also a tourist menu for €17.50. Other dishes to try might be the Bacalhau à Cozinha das Malheiras (salt cod in the house style), or Papas com Rojões (a typical local pork dish with potatoes).

Adega do Padrinho (Intermediate B), 152/164 Rua Counho, Tel. 238 826 954
Picturesque little place with stone walls, lots of traditional blue and white ceramics, gypsy scarves on the walls and a soundtrack of traditional guitar songs. You can sit outside but it was a bit windy on the night when I went so I took cover in the warmer interior. All ten tables were full of Dutch tourists so it took quite a while to be served and the kitchen seems only able to dispense meals every five minutes. The last of the table of four next to me got their meal when the first was just finishing and it must have taken 45 minutes for mine to arrive. It was worth the wait though.

Adega do Padrinho
With my half litre of house Vinho Verde blanco (B) I was given a big pot of fantastic tiny black olives (A) and a bread basket with four rather unspecial types of bread (C).

Bread, olives and Vinho Verde
My starter was a huge salad of lettuce, grated carrot, tomatoes, pickled red cabbage, more olives and some great sliced white onion (B) that would have been enough for two but would have been overkill for one given what was next.

Very large salad
The star attraction for me was the main of grilled Sardinhas, drizzled with olive oil, which if I knew would have come with new potatoes, a side salad and even more olives, I might have forgone the starter. The tiny fish were fantastic (A+); charred salty oily perfection.

There was no room for dessert (I’d also had a three-course lunch!) but a shot of Tawny Port (Porto Alegre) finished things off nicely (B+). Total cost an amazing €18, with a free lacy place mat as a parting gift.

Tawny Porto Alegre

Maria Perre, 118 Rua de Viana, Tel. 258 822 410.
In an alleyway just behind my hotel, this homey place was recommended by a local teacher. It’s yet another trad-style restaurant with stone walls, ceramics, gypsy scarves and a soundtrack of folk songs accompanied by guitar. It’s a good everyday option; very cheap but with huge portions. It was also a reminder of how bizarre Portuguese food can be to the uninitiated palate.

Maria Perre
Things started simply enough with four croquettes (veg, prawn,tuna, codfish, all B) and some lovely creamy cheese similar to Camembert (B+) and dressed olives (B). The bread was good too but I ignored the usual tubs of fish paste and spreadable cheese you seem to get in cheap Portuguese eateries everywhere (C-).

Cheese and croquettes
I went for the house mixed salad but regretted my choice when I arrived as it could have fed a small army by itself with eight ingredients on a very large plate: sliced boiled egg, cucumber, beetroot, rolls of boiled ham, grated carrot, pickled cabbage, lettuce, rings of white onion, tinned tuna, sweetcorn, tomato, and a cubes of a cheddar-like cheese. It was nice (B) but was swimming in a pool of water as is the Iberian habit.

House salad

The local speciality of Rojoes a moda de Minho completed the rout with a massive overkill of nine kinds of meat and offal along with a dozen boiled potatoes AND a side-dish of boiled rice. This was the one-person option but it would have fed three.

Rojoes a moda de Minho

The carbs were fine (B) and I loved the marinated pork and chicken (B+) and the chorizo was good too (B). However, I wasn’t keen on the black skinned sausage (C), the tripe (D) or the liver, which I usually love but this was cooked till rock hard and had a very strange taste (D). There were a couple of other things which neither I nor the waiter could name, including something which I think was made from blood and flour and fried in slices till it was hard and dense (D).

Chorizo and offal
I would have liked to try another local Vinho Verde but ended up with the same bottle as the previous night from the Ponte de Lima co-operative, which thankfully was excellent once again (A). I couldn’t manage the dessert so went for another digestif of aged brown aguardente which put hairs on my chest after raising the ones on my head. It came free and the flagon was left on the table but I felt it was probably best avoided! (C).


Total cost an extremely reasonable €26. This spot is a good everyday option and you will eat well and cheaply here; however I’d defy two people to eat what I had let alone one so order with care. They also have Cabrito à Serra D’Arga on the menu. Friendly non-English speaking service.

The school I was working at very kindly treated me to lunch at the Yacht Club (Iate Clube) restaurant. Iate Clube

It’s located in a very pleasant spot by the river under the road and rail bridge over the river.

Yacht Club
I had perhaps the most bizarre dish so far with what was essentially three dishes on one plate: a Bacalao salad (salt-cod and potato forme which was served with salad (carrot, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, chick peas) and several kinds of fruit (water melon, two kinds of plums, grapes and Chinese Lanterns, cherry tomatoes with coconut and a date served on a chicory leaf) so no need to order dessert separately as it was on the same plate. A nice spot but probably best to try and keep things simple if you can, or maybe just come for drinks.

Bacalao Salad
A great cake shop or pasteleria is Notario, just off Praca da Republica.

They are famous for their Bolas de Berlim, a filled doughnut made famous by Kennedy when he said ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’. They are ok (B), but there are lots of other interesting cakes in the display cabinet.

Bollas de Berlim
Personally I only want to eat Pastel de Nata, (aka Pasteis de Belem) egg custard tarts which are one of my favourite things in the world, and done very well here (A+). These great little cakes are truly international. I’ve eaten them in London and in several cities in China (they spread from Macau), but none of them are as good as the ones in Portugal.

Pastel de Nata

Residencial Jardim, 68 Largo 5 de Outubro, Tel. 351 258 828 915

A not particularly attractive dingy old place with fairly spacious rooms (€45 for a double) that have only one plug socket and a virtually non-existent Wi-Fi signal. The breakfast is ok (cereals, fruit, yogurts, cheeses and boiled ham) and the front desk staff are friendly.

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