Historically, Portuguese food has unfairly had a bad rap. When pushed, most people may suggest egg tarts or bacalhau, the ubiquitous and difficult-to-spell dried cod. But of course our Lusophone have centuries of history, exploration and integration that means theirs is one of the world’s most understood cuisines.
You like tempura? Of course you do. Thank the Portuguese who introduced it to Japan. Finest English marmalade on your morning toast? Maybe some Vindaloo? You get the picture. My piece for the SCMP looks at it in more detail and also explores Lisbon’s excellent and burgeoning dining scene.
Back in Hong Kong, on Wyndham Sreet to be precise, sits Casa Lisboa. It formerly lived in the LKF Tower but had somehow always passed me by. Now it’s somewhere I’d happily return to, time and again, thanks to some knockout plates from chef Fabio Pombo, hailing from southern Portugal.
The room is pretty, compact but bright, decked in blue and white, tiles, wines and some slightly dodgy paintings. I’m there for an early lunch but it quickly fills up – I can see why.
Clams two ways, firstly with garlic, coriander and vinho verde. You know you want more bread for that sauce.
Secondly, my favourite of the not-as-pretty but even tastier spicy version. Then a cracking little dish, full of colour, thought, perfectly-balanced before the richer main courses. Hamachi was macerated in orange juice and olive oil, served with dots of avocado puree, orange and shallot chips. Not something you’d associate with Portugal, but as one of the world’s greatest seafaring nations, why not?!
Then came the Quail. Wow. This shot straight to the top 3 of my all-time favourite meat dishes in Hong Kong. OK, I don’t have a top three, but you get the point. Why? Because it’s a a superb bird, rarely seen on menus – and especially so rarely outside of French restaurants where it’s often stuffed with foie gras or chicken liver, or served with white grapes. Here it was painted in brilliant piri-piri sauce, and served with a cooling tomato, garlic and olive oil sauce called molho. There was gentle smoke – as it came on a tiny grill with burnt rosemary underneath – spice, freshness and umami. Beautiful.
From one meat triumph to another in the form of chef Fabio’s suckling pig. There’s a whole, long backstory to how it’s prepared, involving brining, sous-viding and finishing on the grill. It was the best, by far, I’ve eaten in Hong Kong, better than Chinese or Spanish versions in far more expensive restaurants.
To accompany, thoroughly unnecessary but wholly delicious rice duck rice with chorizo and slow roasted pork belly. Because we clearly needed more pork. The duck was hidden underneath, by the way.
A top drawer lunch finished on a high with a dessert which reminded of the efforts and thought that chef had undertaken to craft such a quality series of dishes. Briefly, there’s pistachio sponge cake, soaked in port. On top, home made ice cream. Then the thinnest, almost translucent slices of pineapple carpaccio, marinated in cinnamon and star anis, draped on top. The pineapple works brilliantly as a sort of dim sum dough, encasing the joys underneath. Finish with drops of a port wine reduction and pink peppercorns.