Now in its 6th year, Peixe em Lisboa takes place over 10 days, with cooking classes, wine pairings, chef demonstrations and tasting dishes provided by top Portuguese restaurants.
Lisbon is one of the few European capitals situated close to the sea and therefore it's fitting that fish is a big deal here. Apparently in Portugal alone, there are said to be over 1000 recipes for Bacalhau, the dried cod which the locals seem so fond of. I must say that the city, tumbling down seven hills, doesn't disappoint and on every corner there seems to be a restaurant or bar, although it's wise to avoid the touts offering dinner and Fado - food is often substandard and the music not much better.
Prices are incredibly reasonable with many places offering rock bottom meals with wine for around 7€. It reminds me of how French restaurants used to be, where mum did the cooking and dad looked after front of house. I hear that these tabernas are now under threat because taxes are sky high but the ones I sample are outstanding, and cheap as chips - and what's more they're made from real potatoes, not the frozen variety. Fried liver with a gravy made of white wine and scraped spleen is a particular hit.
Peixe em Lisboa is a bit of a cross between Madrid Fusion and Taste of London with a gourmet market selling cheeses, jams, olive oils, sausages, sweets and wine. Unfortunately the cooking classes are all in Portuguese which rules me out, but the chef demos do have headphone translation. I'm heartened to see that they're avoiding the Spanish fad of creating pictures on a plate, but there's still ample use of tweezers and flowers.
Fortunately there's a fashion for rediscovering their roots and Bertílio Gomes, from Lisbon's Chapitô à Mesa, is using red carrots from the Algarve. They're not as sweet as the orange variety, and apparently were a staple 60 years ago but now have almost completely disappeared. He also marinates his black olives in salt and garlic for a few days, a technique he learnt from his grandmother.
I'm now hungry and set out on my mission to taste the dishes. You buy tokens for the restaurants, at 5€ or 8€, and the princely sum of €1.50 gets you a huge glass of excellent Portuguese wine.
Standouts include a sardine pie adorned with cod roe, smoked skewered eel with barbecue sauce, excellent sushi and sashimi and semi-raw tuna with ginger and miso. What I can't resist, though, are the bundles of razor clams, warmed just enough to open and I devour a plateful every day I'm there.
Other gourmet events are also occurring in the city including "Young Chefs with Guts". It's not the name of a dish but rather a wizard idea where sous chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants take turns to prepare 11 courses. Of course they can cook as well as their masters and it doesn't disappoint although it's bit of a long day's journey into the next morning. The standout dishes are the work of Leandro Carreira, all the way from Nuno Mendes's Viajante in Bethnal Green. I particular enjoyed his Goose Barnacle with Sea Lettuce and an Amuse Bouche of scrambled egg with sea urchin was sensational.
It's well worth planning a trip to Lisbon next April when the 7th Peixe em Lisboa is taking place. If you can't wait until then, Luis Buena is opening his Notting Hill Kitchen in the coming months and we'll all get a chance to taste what Portuguese food can deliver. Now I've been there and spilled my dinner down my tee shirt, I can definitely recommend it.
The Mercy Hotel, in the Bairro Alto, makes a good base.
Visit Lisboa has information about the city.
Visit Portugal has tourist information about the country.
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