A Food Lover's Guide To Porto
In Porto, the northern Portuguese city that lends its name to one of the world’s most recognisable wines, it is imperative to imbibe. Nestled into the rolling hills flanking the famed Douro River are port wineries with their instantly familiar names: Graham’s, Taylors, Niepoort, Sandeman and more are spelled out across the landscape like the miniature versions of Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood sign, inviting guests to make their way through their historical cellars and famed tasting rooms. But Porto offers more than its namesake wines; over the past decade, this riverine city has been accelerating its tourism profile, attracting travellers from around the globe drawn to its mix of classical and neo-modernist architecture (the Jetsons-esque Casa de Musica and the Museu Serralves are both worth a trek from the city centre), growing culinary scene and the kind of laid-back vibe that is increasingly rare in larger metropolitan cities. Lastly, the town is extremely walkable—albeit with the occasional steep uphill climb—with the next great meal just around the corner.
Start the day at… Combi Coffee
While many flock to the gorgeously antiquated Majestic Café at the heart of Bolhão, the insipid coffee and overpriced dishes are a striking contrast to the beautiful Belle Epoque interiors. Instead, less than 10 minutes east is this independent roastery cafe owned by three brothers, set up in a former garage, all clean lines and cheerful pops of colour. To prepare for a day of dining, you might want to get an order of their popular acai bowls, matched with a smooth espresso-based brew. The coffee scene in Porto is budding right now and Combi is leading the charge.
Combi Coffee, Largo dos Lóios 86, 4050-338 Porto, Portugal; +351 929 444 939; combi-coffee.pt
For a true local flavour, head to… Brasão Cervejaria
You can’t leave Porto without trying the Francescinha, a beast of a sandwich combining thick slices of bread, wet-cured ham, fresh and smoked sausages, steak or roast meat, melted cheese and a sauce formed of tomato and beer. The story goes that a local wanted to create his take on the French croque monsieur, Porto-style. At Brasão Cervejaria, you’ll see many diners attempting to tackle this calorie bomb independently—this is a mistake. Get one to share so you can also try other great tavern dishes such as octopus in vinaigrette, or salted cod with turnip sprouts. Refresh your palate between bites with the refreshing Sovina Brasão IPA—this is a brewery restaurant, after all.
Brasão Cervejaria, Rua Ramalho Oritgão 28, 4000-035 Porto, Portugal; +351 934 158 672; brasao.pt/en
For a taste of history, dine at… O Gaveto
Hop on the tram and head west to the seaside neighbourhood of Matosinhos, where family-owned Porto legend O Gaveto (run by Manuel Pinheiro and his two sons, José and João Carlos) has been offering deliciously fresh seafood for more than 30 years. The smart, updated decor doesn’t translate to stuffy service, with a warm front-of-house team that are all too happy to make your meal a jolly one. The entrance is flanked by metres of fishtanks housing enormous lobsters, crabs and other crustacea; the menu is similarly rich in oceanic offerings, from gooseneck barnacles to tiger prawns, but it’s best to err on the side of under ordering as the portions are extremely generous. Save some bread to mop up the deliciously garlicky sauce from the clams Bolhão Pato, a Portuguese staple. The lobster rice comes in a deep-sided pot, its contents creamy with shellfish oils and chunks of lobster and prawn—defeated, we bagged half of it home and had it for a very satisfying breakfast the next day.
O Gaveto, Rua Roberto Ivens 826, 4450-255 Matosinhos, Portugal; +351 229 378 796; ogaveto.com
Grab a drink at… Graham’s Port Lodge
Of course, one should not visit Porto without spending some quality time at a port winery to sample their wares. Graham’s has a beautiful tasting room and terrace set on a ridge overlooking the river, where you can try their full range of ports, from the sweetly aromatic white port to the nutty, glossy aged tawny ports, served lightly chilled. Be careful not to overdo it as the steep winding roads back down to the city centre can be a challenge on wobbly knees.
Graham’s Port Lodge, Rua do Agro 141, 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal; +351 22 3776490; grahams-port.com
Experience contemporary Portuguese cooking at… Almeja
Casual fine dining is the name of the game at this detail-oriented restaurant, which husband and wife João Cura and Sofia Amaral Gomes transformed from a former historic grocery shop. The streamlined dark wood furniture, rustic stone walls and plenty of gorgeous natural lighting gives the space a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, while the food indicates serious intent. The name Almeja means roughly “to strive for”, and Cura’s cooking seamlessly incorporates Portuguese ingredients and flavours into unexpected combinations that transcend the classics. A dish of small, plump mussels is cleverly matched with kiwi and lovage, the acidity tempered by an ajoblanco enriched with lupin beans instead of almonds. The eight-course tasting menu is priced at a very affordable €55 while mains range from €18-21.
Almeja, Rua Fernandes Tomás 819, 4000-219 Porto, Portugual; +351 222 038 120; almejaporto.com
Bring a piece of Porto home from… A Vida Portuguesa
This beautiful boutique is a paean to Portuguese craftsmanship, highlighting functional and stylish products from manufacturers and artisans that have stood the test of time. You’ll want to wander the store slowly, absorbing the stories of each object and appreciating their tactile allure; among the diverse range of lifestyle products (from cosy handwoven blankets to fragrant soaps) are plenty of kitchenware and gourmet offerings. You’ll want some extra luggage space to lug home some award-winning ginjinha (cherry liqueur) from Botica; tinned fish from Naval, Minerva or Tenório; beautiful Azulejo tile coasters; sea salt sustainably produced in the eastern region of the Algarve, and so on. You can also pick up a Portuguese delicacy known as egg candies—a traditional sweet formed from purely egg yolks and sugar that originated from the convents of Portalegre in Alentejo.
A Vida Portuguesa, Rua de Cândido dos Reis 36, 4050-151 Porto, Portugal; +351 222 022 105; avidaportuguesa.com
This article was originally published on Hong Kong Tatler.