In the center of Lisbon sits a dining institution that has been acclaimed by the global foodie audience, from every corner of the planet. To make a name for yourself in Portugal may be easier with the country’s relatively small size, but to make an impression internationally, especially on Michelin, is a completely different skill altogether. This is what Chef José Avillez has done and he has done so with one of his most famous restaurants, Belcanto.
During a recent lunch at the restaurant, I didn’t know what to expect. The reviews were all good, but I wasn’t exactly sure how good it would be. I was blown away. You enter the restaurant through a small, caved wooden door off Largo de São Carlos. The restaurant is almost hidden except for a sign above the door which could easily be missed. Inside, the place opens-up into two cozy rooms separated by a kitchen. A glass wall separates the kitchen from a passageway linking the two dining rooms, allowing patrons to peer in to see where all the magic happens.
We were seated at our table and immediately offered a glass of sparkling wine from the north of Portugal to start. A menu was provided, but I opted to go with the chef’s tasting – a slew of small bites, surprises and main courses that fit together like a perfect epicurean puzzle. Three members of the wait staff looked after us, all with an incredibly vast knowledge about our meal, the ingredients and the purpose of each item on the menu.
Like a well-choreographed dance, the food began to make its appearance. Homemade corn and olive breads from Portugal’s northern hills, a sliver of sea bass, suckling pig with orange cream and a soft-boiled egg encrusted in gold and peppered with truffle dust. One of the most inventive dishes was a trio of olives served elegantly on a log – one olive in tempura, another filled with olive emulsion and a reverse olive martini which consisted of a small martini glass filled with olive puree and a small jelly at the center made of liquid gin – impressive!
My favorite part of the meal, despite the fact that food was truly incredible, was the warmness and knowledge of the staff. They went out of their way to please us, offering a detailed account of each wine paired with every course and practically gave a history lesson with each step of the lunch to educate us on the importance of each ingredient. I will absolutely go again, because, why wouldn’t I? It’s hard to find perfection, but Belcanto does perfection well.