In her introduction to Neal Slavin’s 1971 photo book Portugal, Mary McCarthy observes that while people visit Portugal to see the old, the Portuguese insist on showing them the new. Having lived in Lisbon, I return often to visit the spots I know and love – but I am constantly reminded to visit all that is new.
Centuries ago, this tiny country explored and discovered some two-thirds of the known world, leaving an impact across the globe. Today, the Portuguese are proud soccer champions, having defeated France in the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Beyond the country’s interesting history and current soccer prestige, however, its food, wine, and cultural delights take center stage. During my last visit, I embraced the new by experiencing just a few of these delights.
José Avillez’s Culinary Kingdom
José Avillez, one of Portugal’s most celebrated chefs, has six restaurants in Lisbon and one in Porto, the two most celebrated being Bairro do Avillez and the simply placed but upscale Belcanto. Bairro is a dynamic, open space that includes a mercearia and taberna where patrons can enjoy cocktails and some fresh ham. The restaurant’s patio offers friendly and sophisticated service. While there may be hundreds of ways to prepare traditional bacalhau – a dried, salted cod dish – you can stop your search for the perfect recipe after experiencing Avillez’s Lombo de Bacalhau. The Carabineiro Grande Grelhado (giant grilled red shrimp) was also especially noteworthy.
Belcanto is Avillez’s fine-dining experience. It offers a refined version of the traditional Portuguese culinary experience. We opted for the chef’s table tasting menu with wine pairings, and in return, we experienced three hours of sensory heaven. As Avillez explained, “We have so many culinary influences in this country giving us so many ingredients and recipes. My aim is to respect these old traditions, but also to prepare and present them in a new way.” These dishes included an Azorean Tuna “Bouquet,” its rolled treasures hidden in a small vase of flowers, and Algarve Scarlet Shrimp, which visited our table live before being presented with Xerém (maize porridge) and a crust of beetroot salt. The wine pairing, with selections ranging as far North as Douro and as far South as Alentejo, was impeccable. The biggest surprise was the non-vintage dessert wine Villa Oeiras, a vinho generoso.
MAAT: The Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology
Lisbon is a beautiful city to walk in. One of the most pleasant places to walk is along the Tagus River just under the massive 25 de Abril Bridge (a replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate). Here, you will find the recently opened Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (MAAT).
The MAAT blends old and new with its sleek, ripple-like design by Amanda Levete. The museum shares a certain level of industrial boldness with the neighbouring Tejo Power Station, itself a symbol of 20th-century industrialization. Lisbon’s newest icon is covered in 15,000 three-dimensional white ceramic tiles, which creates a harmonious transition between the river and city.
The design of the MAAT reflects work from the three disciplines in its name. Former Museum of Modern Art curator Pedro Gadanho has been recruited back home to Portugal to direct the MAAT’s activities. He describes the recently opened masterpiece as “a cultural space of discovery, critical thinking, and dialogue.”
Once again, Portugal has connected the world through its innovative thinking.