For my birthday, my husband treated me to his absolute favourite restaurant in the world – Tapabento. We are both foodies and he is a picky eater, so for him to declare somewhere to be his favourite, it must be quite an establishment.
Tapabento is located in the centre of Porto just by the north side of the famous São Bento and two steps away from our hotel, the InterContinental Porto Palacio das Cardosas.
It is a tiny restaurant, with a tiny entry but once you enter it, the friendly buzz of the cooks and waiters, the happy bantering of people enjoying their food will immediately make a very good impression.
It is deliberately made to make you feel at home: nothing fancy, everything very homely, from the table cloth to the lampshades to the decor on the walls – everything is unpretentiously welcoming.
However, do not let this fool you into thinking the food is merely traditional Portuguese fare.
Your mind will be blown away by how Tapabento recreates Portuguese dishes not by reducing them into an international nouvelle cuisine with no identity, but by augmenting the mix of tastes, reinforcing it with new ingredients, re-presenting it with stronger colours and lavishly and generously pumping it with fresh ingredients from the land and the ocean.
What did we have at Tapabento
Gratinado de provolone fumado
This was a fondue of soft somked cow cheese drizzled with spices. It came with some cup crackers for you to scoop and dip into the molten cheese. What can I say? The smell and the taste was simply heavenly!
Tosta de presunto e brie
Toast with ham and brie, topped with a generous amount of ruccola and drizzled with balsamic cream. The ham is ‘porco preto‘, from the famous Iberian black pig, prized around the world for its soft succulent meat.
Misto de marisco do dia
My catch of the day mixed seafood was cooked and served in a traditional cataplana pan. Molho refers to ‘sauce’ and the sauce in this cataplana was the best I have ever tasted in Europe! You cannot possibly get such a taste without really fresh seafood and the molho that was derived from the cooking (covered, as the cataplana retains the steam and the taste of the seafood) was absolutely stunning! A simple dish, yet nowhere else in Europe had I tasted such delicious seafood with all the juices completely captured. A brilliant execution.
Tosta de foie-gras
I have had foie gras in France, in Spain and in Hungary, which were all very good. But I had never had foie gras presented this way and of such high quality. Very lightly sauteed, the foie gras was presented on a toast with all varieties and shades of sweetness to bring out the delicacy of that amazing foie gras: from the cooked sweetened pear that topped the dish, the sauteed sweet onions under it, to the coulis of berries around it. This was a five starred dish that we will definitely return to Porto for!
The dessert was simply called citrus and that was a very cleverly simple name. It was a plate of different kinds of citrus fruits: lemon, lime, yuzu, orange and kumquat, each treated in a very different fashion (as a coulis, as a sugared icing, as a sorbet etc) to powerfully display the shades of different citric fruit. It was a very good dessert, certainly welcomed after a hearty main course.