Lisbon; where to eat in one of the world’s sunniest & most delicious cities…

‘You’ll love it!’

‘It’s great for food!’

‘Best city break ever!’

To say I heard these declarations of love for one of Europe’s sunniest cities once or twice during the weeks leading up to J’s and my much needed holiday in Lisbon would be something of an understatement. The glorious sunshine, the gorgeous food, the dreamy tiles, the kitschy gifts, the pastels de nata – all these things were raved about to me in sentences heavy with near fanaticism for Portugal’s capital and every single one of them raised my expectations to nigh on stratospheric levels…

…luckily Lisbon knows a things or two about making a gal happy so consider every expectation exceeded.

There are a lot of places to stay in and around the city centre; J & I are somewhat rather very a teeny bit antisocial when it comes to holidays. We’re not fans of cloud scraping hotels with all-you-can-eat buffets at 8am, fights for the sun-loungers at 1pm or traditional British pubs that vomit drunken tourists onto the pavements outside at 2am. Small, gorgeous, friendly places are more up our street which is exactly what we found in Palacio Ramalhete, a 10 room boutique hotel (barely 15 minutes walk from the legendary Time Out Market) which boasts a rooftop pool & the nicest staff in Lisbon.

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Clean, cool & pretty rooms come dressed with the loveliest little touches – complimentary homemade chocolate covered fruit & nuts on the dresser or a creamy roses in the bathroom anyone? – while the communal rooms are a beautiful blend of modern and antique and that aforementioned rooftop pool was ours alone for most of the week.

There’s no restaurant on site at Palacio but the breakfasts are a little bit special and there’s a small but decent snacks menu that’ll see you through the day. Cheeseboard and local beers by the pool, you say? Well chaps, I didn’t fly all the way here for green juice and broccoli.

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First day exploration of the local neighbourhood revealed a hidden gem of a restaurant – Le Chat, named after one of the owners’ semesters in Paris. A modern construction of glass, chrome and white parasol shaded terraces, this was a gorgeous place to stumble across, sink into and enjoy the first of many local beers and dishes at. FYI, as someone totally uninitiated in Portuguese beers, it may well be that it’s actually the Stella of its market but we loved the super light & refreshing Superbock.

Codfish shredded with chickpeas & pink pickled onions was light and gently herbed…

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…while chubby pink prawns lazed gently in a pool of paprika spiced oil from slices of food of the gods, chorizo. Top tip 1 – Le Chat’s homemade focaccia comes fat & fluffy in hipster approved kilner jars and is pretty perfect for mopping up every last golden slick.

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A wheel of goats cheese looked like it was about to win first prize in a ‘vegetables masquerading as creme brulee’ competition but tasted tangy and soft against crisp greens and earthy walnuts…

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…and eating everything al fresco on the terrace which slowly filled up with locals-in-the-know and lucky-to-find-it-tourists was the perfect way to watch a setting sun paint the sky around us with flushes of candyfloss colours.

Top tip 2 – save room for dessert. Like a heaving bosom in the court of Louis XIV, Le Chat’s decadent yet elegantly simple chocolate mousse is piled high in ridiculously soft & velvety mounds while sprinkles of popping candy stop it from being too serious and grown up a dessert.

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Losing my heart to Morito…

Morito made me love aubergine.

Normally I’m all about personal accountability but I swear on this occasion, it’s totally, completely & utterly their fault. Never really liked it before but the way they do it here in the little sister of Clerkenwell stalwart Moro? Well let’s just say the aubergine and I have a lot of lost time to make up for.

There are so many things I loved about this new girl on Hackney Road but I have to start with the biggest & most important in my mind, and the fact that there’s now something else in the world for me to devour with passion is pretty significant to me.

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As a Tube devotee who balks at the first world problem of finding overground stations near my final destination, I wouldn’t say this is the easiest place in the world to get to but I swear on all that is good and delicious – yes, I am talking about those aubergines again – that it’s absolutely worth it.

I expected more tables given the generous size of the open plan dining room however the kitchen and bar area take up a fair portion so unless you’re super lucky or arrive as the door is being opened, chances are you may have to wait for a little bit…try not to ogle the meals of those lucky enough to be chowing down already while you do so but if you’re successful, please, let me know how the heck you managed it.

The Wednesday night we arrived heralded two seats in the window by the door almost instantly, perfect for people watching, a bit more challenging plate wise given that we ordered enough food to feed every participating country of the upcoming Olympic games.

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A perfectly sized menu lists a good number of options under each heading and at just £14.50 for the most expensive plate on offer, this is a great place to come with a group of your greediest friends to share both the dishes & the bill; I hate hearing that somewhere new & exciting has opened up only to discover that I can’t afford to enjoy it and the accessibility of Morito’s prices warrants another nod of approval from those not on a fat cat, city banker salary.

Easing my stomach in gently heralded winners including a plate of pan con tomate with jamon – warm & soft with the sun soaked flavours of the Med spilling out with each bite – and a beautifully varied bread basket.

‘I’m sorry, I’m not eating bread’ confessed my dining buddy.

‘I’m not sorry in the slightest’, I retorted as I tore apart piece after piece with the sort of voracity that might lead you to conclude I was carb-loading for the London Marathon.

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Sirocco’s Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops…

There are some cookbooks that sit nicely on your shelves, looking ever so fashionably current & lovely. There are some that get leafed through eagerly upon purchase and then spend the rest of their lives propping up pots & pans, looking wistfully across the kitchen as you bake, boil & roast without them. And then there are those that you buy and love and use again and again and again until the pages are graffitied with pencil scribbles and dripped, drizzled & spattered with your valiant attempts to recreate the magic that lies within them. ‘Persiana’, for me, fell squarely into the latter category.

I loved everything in it from the simplicity of the instructions to the eye-opening ingredients lists to the dishes that looked intimidating but actually fell into place with remarkable ease and I found myself returning to it over and over, whether I was looking for something to pimp up a mid-week salmon supper for two or a feast with which to impress my culinarily adventurous friends.

What this meant was that by the time Persian virtuoso Sabrina Ghayour’s second book came out, I was already hopped up on anticipation and eager to see if ‘Sirocco’ would pick up where its older brother left off. Bringing the flavours of the east to the kitchens of the west, this kaleidoscopically vibrant tome has dishes for every meal of the day and talks about some of the now-easy-to-find ingredients that should become cupboard staples in your adventures through big flavour and beautiful presentation.

I’ve never found Sabrina’s recipes to be intimidating in the way that ancient French volumes like Larousse Gastronomique might be; there are a lot of ingredients required for 1 or 2 of the dishes which might stir your nerves but honestly, my advice would be to relax, pour a glass of wine, close the door, put on the music you love, pick a dish and just get stuck in. Now it this all sounds like something you could do, let’s pop that cork and have a look at something that’s rich & fresh with flavour not to mention perfect for the summer.

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These Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops are so simple that I feel confident in promising you that there’s nothing to fear and no room for error. I made one tweak to the recipe by baking instead of frying and it’s this method that I describe below – I was making 3 times the amount listed below for a big group lunch and wanted to ensure an even cook throughout without trying to fry nearly 60 of these beauties! They turned out so well though I have to confess a smidgen of chef’s bragging rights..

Thirty minutes at 180c/160c fan/350f/gas mark 4 with two lots of rotation, one each at the 10 and 20 minute mark, and they were beautifully juicy and caramel in colour; I’m sure that frying would give you a crisper end result but the platter I served them in was bare at the end of lunch save for a bunch of discarded cocktail sticks so I’m gonna take that as a sign of approval from a hungry horde!

INGREDIENTS (makes 18-20 lollipops)

  • 450g/1lb lamb mince
  • 140g/5 oz dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 65g/½ cup/2.25 oz fennel seeds, toasted & finely ground
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 onion, very finely chopped (I used red as I’m obsessed with them!)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons turmeric
  • 20g/0.5 oz of dill, finely chopped plus extra to garnish
  • 2 heaping teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • crushed freshly ground black pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • wooden skewers or cocktail sticks

TO DRIZZLE ON TOP

  • 145g/5 oz Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sweet tamarind sauce
  • small handful of nigella seeds

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METHOD

  • Put all the lollipop ingredients, except for the vegetable oil, into a large bowl and mix everything together well using your hands.

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  • Feed everything continuously through your fingertips and really incorporate all the ingredients thoroughly until you have an evenly combined mixture.

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  • Lightly grease a baking tray with vegetable oil and get yourself a bowl of cold water in case your hands get sticky, then begin rolling the mixture into golf ball sized balls.

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  • Place each ball onto the baking tray leaving roughly 1-2cm between each ball and then pop your baking tray in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up slightly so they don’t lose their shape.
  • Remove the tray from the fridge, lightly brush each ball with a little more vegetable oil then place on the middle shelf of your oven (TIP: if you have extra dried apricots, throw them whole onto the baking tray here along with the meatballs for a little extra colour as well as a ridiculously, deliciously sweet, sticky & chewy addition!)
  • Bake for thirty minutes, rotating the balls every ten minutes to ensure an even bake and colour.

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  • Thin out your Greek yoghurt with the lemon juice then season with salt & pepper.
  • Remove your lollipops from the oven and place onto a serving platter.
  • Drizzle the yoghurt over the top, followed by your sweet tamarind sauce, a scattering of nigella seeds and extra fronds of dill if you like.
  • Pop your skewer or cocktail stick into each ball and proudly serve to your guests who will be climbing the walls at this point due to the insanely good fragrance coming from your kitchen!