In every city or country there's one chef that locals love and are proud of. In Lisbon it seems to be chef José Avillez. He has several restaurants to his name. There's the upmarket Belcanto which is Michelin starred dining. On a chef's recommendation we wanted to try his newest place Bairro do Avillez, a spacious restaurant with three areas: the tasca or taverna for more casual style dishes, Beco the burlesque cabaret or the Pateo which is our choice with a sun drenched glass roofed patio area with a mouth watering array of traditional and modern Portuguese fusion dishes.
I always feel that on your birthday you have an immunity. People (or at least those close to you that know it's your birthday) can't get mad at you for that day. And I worry that I might be pushing my luck. We're staying in Sintra on my birthday so driving back into Lisbon during peak hour and finding a park isn't necessarily smart. Mr NQN drops me off at Bairro do Avillez and tries to find a street park.
I am shown my table and I take in the surroundings. It's a gorgeous place and while the taverna area is lively and casual, I like the leather banquettes and open kitchen of the pateo which has its own separate menu. I have time to kill while waiting for Mr NQN so I browse the menu. It's a good size with a focus mainly on fish as well as meat and there's a sizeable cheese menu with 19 cheeses and half a dozen Portuguese charcuterie as well as fresh seafood menu.
Minutes tick by. 25 minutes grows to 35 and I'm sure Mr NQN is grumpy having tried to find a park in Chiado's busy cobble stoned streets. A couple watches me with unabashed curiosity whispering to each other and looking at me. They probably think I've been stood up by a date.
45 minutes later he arrives in a sunny good mood and I'm relieved that he hasn't become grumpy because we drove in. "I explored some really interesting streets!" he says excitedly. We order with our waiter quickly - I had read reviews that said that the service here was lacking but our waiter is fantastic and knowledgeable.
The bread service is €3.50 a person and they ask if we would like it before setting it down. We try the olive bread-replete with sliced black olives, the sourdough as well as the thinly sliced sweet cornbread. They're all excellent and we try them with the Azorean butter and the smoked butter and small black Galician olives in olive oil.
We order just two mains because we had eaten a large lunch that day. The grilled squid is an enormous sliced squid, wonderfully tender in texture on a bed of squid ink rice given additional richness and flavour from chorizo. There's a drizzle of garlic and kimchi mayonnaise which gives it a delicious mild spiciness. It's a wonderful dish because of the tenderness of the squid and the spicy mayonnaise and toothsome rice.
Our other dish is also a seafood and rice fish. Rice plays an important part in Portuguese cuisine. This is rice in a rich broth, sort of like a cross between congee and paella, flavoured with coriander, chilli, lime and basil. There is a good amount of prawn and lobster in it. Sometimes lobster can be overcooked and chewy but here it melts in the mouth.
Mr NQN has a word to our waiter about my birthday to see if they can write Happy Birthday on my cake. Instead he brings over something even better. A chocolate cake with a candle in it. The cake is amazing, a barely set chocolate ganache cake that is set around the edges but with a fluffy, melty chocolate ganache in the centre.
Our regular desserts arrive and we had to try their mille feuille version of a Pastel de Nata. There's layers of puff pastry and pastry cream piped in the centre. I think having it slightly warmed might have been nice but perhaps too difficult with the pastry cream but it's a nice version (although nothing beats a warm pastel de nata).
They actually brought us the wrong dessert but once we see it we want to try it. It's a pavlova in a cardboard box which is both a practical and fun way to serve it. It's a crispy meringue dusted with berry powder, a strawberry chiboust type cream, red berry jam, fresh berries and cream cheese foam. They've made the strawberry cream not too sweet so that it works perfectly with the meringue and red berry jam. And I couldn't have asked for more on my birthday!
A couple of minutes' walk away is a famous Fado place called Tasca Do Chico. Fado is Portuguese singing and very much a part of the culture. The lines at Tasca Do Chico are long and it's very popular so you are best advised to have a booking or go early when it opens.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you go out somewhere special on your birthday? And do you feel like you get birthday immunity?
This meal was independently paid for.
Bairro Do Avillez
R. Nova da Trindade 18, 1200-303 Lisboa, Portugal
Open 7 days 12pm–12am
Phone: +351 21 583 0290