The city of Porto and the sur­round­ing Douro Val­ley is slowly trans­form­ing into Por­tu­gal's new culi­nary cap­i­tal


The city of Porto and the sur­round­ing Douro Val­ley is slowly trans­form­ing into Por­tu­gal’s new culi­nary cap­i­tal

The food of Por­tu­gal is best de­scribed as hearty and com­fort­ing, with a fo­cus on rich, bold flavours and lo­cal and sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents. Mediter­ranean in­flu­ences abound, in the form of seafood like oc­to­pus and prawns, olive oil, gar­lic, and spices like saf­fron, cin­na­mon, chilli and black pep­per. You’ll also find plenty of pre­served foods, from salt cod and tinned sar­dines to chourico, a type of pork sausage that’s sim­i­lar to the Span­ish chorizo.

Over the last sev­eral years, top Por­tuguese chefs have chal­lenged them­selves to turn­ing th­ese tra­di­tional and well-loved in­gre­di­ents into stylishly mod­ern dishes that taste as re­fined as they look, and yet are still dis­tinctly Por­tuguese. They must be do­ing some­thing right—at the end of 2016, Por­tu­gal bagged nine new Miche­lin stars in a to­tal of 23.

But the coun­try’s din­ing scene ex­tends well be­yond the cap­i­tal, Lis­bon. Food­ies are now flock­ing to other parts of the coun­try for ex­cep­tional din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, par­tic­u­larly the wine pro­duc­ing re­gion of Douro Val­ley and the city of Porto.


The Douro Val­ley in north­ern Por­tu­gal is beau­ti­ful all year around. Even in win­ter, the his­toric wine pro­duc­ing re­gion—24,000 hectares of it was de­clared a UNESCO World Her­itage site in 2001— looks scenic, with the ter­raced grape vines tak­ing on a mys­te­ri­ously dark hue and trans­form­ing the lush green val­ley. If you’re lucky, you might even chance upon some snow. The end of the year is also when the Douro Val­ley’s most full-bod­ied wines taste deeper and richer, mak­ing them the per­fect com­pan­ions to the sea­son’s hearty and in­tensely flavoured dishes.

For cen­turies, the Douro Val­ley was known for its port, a strong, sweet, dark-red for­ti­fied wine that is typ­i­cally en­joyed af­ter a meal. But to­day, the re­gion is also fa­mous for its ex­cel­lent, mostly red, un­for­ti­fied wines, made mainly from the Touriga Na­cional, Tinta Roriz (Tem­pranillo in Span­ish) and Touriga Francesa grape va­ri­eties. Less com­mon but equally good are its white wines, pro­duced mostly from the Rabi­gato, Codega, Vios­inho and Gou­veio grape va­ri­eties.


In the last decade or so, the Douro Val­ley has also wit­nessed an ex­pan­sion of its culi­nary scene, with the open­ing of many eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from sim­ple Por­tuguese dishes to trendy café fare and up­scale fine din­ing cui­sine.

The multi-award-win­ning DOC (ruipaula. pt) was opened in 2007 by Miche­lin-starred Por­tuguese chef, Rui Paula. (DOC stands for Denom­i­nacao de Origem Con­tro­lada, which, loosely trans­lated, means 'taste of cer­ti­fied ori­gins.) Lo­cated right by the Douro River, and with splen­did views of the sur­round­ing vine­yards, DOC turns or­di­nary sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents like oc­to­pus, cod, lamb, mush­rooms, chest­nuts and smoked eel into healthy cre­ative dishes that in­cor­po­rate el­e­ments of Por­tuguese cui­sine. Chef Paula says that mem­ory and emo­tions are his main sources of in­spi­ra­tion and that his food is meant to awaken the senses. As ex­pected, DOC also boasts an award-win­ning wine list.

For more great food with glo­ri­ous river and coun­try­side views, head to The Ra­belo Res­tau­rant (vin­tage­house­ho­, lo­cated in the Vin­tage House Ho­tel. The award­win­ning menu here show­cases flavours unique to the Douro re­gion. Ex­pect re­gional fu­sion cui­sine that uses typ­i­cal Por­tuguese in­gre­di­ents like cod­fish, quail, pork belly and veal.

Set in an up-cy­cled rail­way shed in Peso Da Regua is Cas­tas & Pratos (cas­, which in­cor­po­rates a res­tau­rant, a wine bar, a lounge and a wine and gourmet shop. Opened by a pair of cousins, this trendy es­tab­lish­ment fea­tures af­ford­able, tasty dishes made from pro­duce sourced from around the re­gion—think deer medal­lions on pump­kin purée served with chest­nuts and olives, salted cod en­crusted with al­monds and ham, as­para­gus risotto and a range of desserts.

The Vale De Abraao Res­tau­rant (sixsenses. com) is housed at the Six Senses Douro Val­ley and also makes use of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents that are in sea­son. The fish, for ex­am­ple, is ob­tained from the At­lantic Coast and the Douro River, while the red meats come from graz­ing an­i­mals in the area. The res­tau­rant has its own or­ganic gar­den too, where most of its herbs and veg­eta­bles are ob­tained. The food here, de­scribed as healthy fine din­ing, draws on na­tional tra­di­tions and prod­ucts, and is sim­ply pre­pared to show off the orig­i­nal flavours of the in­gre­di­ents.

For down-home Por­tuguese cui­sine, book a ta­ble at Res­tau­rant Varanda da Regua (varan­ in Loureiro. The dishes here are clas­sic and hearty—imag­ine seafood rice, grilled oc­to­pus served with fried pota­toes, stuffed trout, veal cut­let and steak. The wine list is com­prised mainly of lo­cal reds. As the res­tau­rant is lo­cated on the fourth storey, you can ex­pect panoramic views of the river and vine­yards.

If you pre­fer a more leisurely way to ex­pe­ri­ence the Douro Val­ley, book your­self a river or a pri­vate yacht cruise. Th­ese cruises, which travel along the Douro River, give you scenic views of the vine­yards and many even stop at se­lected winer­ies along the way.


Nearby Porto has also been gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a ma­jor food cap­i­tal. Por­tu­gal’s 'sec­ond city' af­ter Lis­bon is fa­mous for tra­di­tional dishes like caldo verde, a soup made from kale and gar­lic and thick­ened with pota­toes; francesinha, a sand­wich filled with var­i­ous meats and cov­ered with cheese and a beer-based sauce; and ba­cal­hau com natas, a dish of cod­fish baked with cream. Two days are suf­fi­cient to ex­plore this vi­brant city—walk the cob­bled pave­ments in the old Ribeira district, past his­toric build­ings and mon­u­ments, stroll the mag­nif­i­cent bridges, or go on a re­lax­ing boat tour along the Douro River. Porto is full of restau­rants, cafes and bars, many of which open till very late, so you’re never too far away from a good meal or drink.

DOP (do­prestau­ is an­other sig­na­ture res­tau­rant by Chef Rui Paula. The acro­nym stands for De­gus­tar e Ousar no Porto, which means 'dar­ing and tast­ing in Porto', and that’s ex­actly what Chef Paula’s menu in­vites guests to do. Housed in the 14th cen­tury Palace of the Arts build­ing, DOP of­fers an a la carte menu and two multi-course tast­ing menus fea­tur­ing plenty of fish and seafood, and tra­di­tional meats. Here, guests can look for­ward to un­ex­pected pair­ings like tripe and salted cod, and pork neck braised in sparkling wine. The res­tau­rant’s wine list is ex­ten­sive, with hun­dreds of va­ri­eties from some of the world’s top wine re­gions.

An­other chef who’s shak­ing up the Porto din­ing scene is Pe­dro Le­mos, who left his job as a civil en­gi­neer to pur­sue his pas­sion for food. In 2010, af­ter spend­ing some years work­ing and study­ing un­der top chefs in Lis­bon, he opened Pe­dro Le­mos (pe­drole­mos. net). The res­tau­rant went on to win one Miche­lin star in 2015 and has kept it ever since. Chef Le­mos’ in­spi­ra­tions are none other than his grand­moth­ers: one worked in the fields and the other sold fish at the mar­ket. The res­tau­rant’s ever-chang­ing menu em­bod­ies th­ese in­flu­ences, with its fo­cus on meat, fish and seafood pre­pared us­ing mod­ern and in­no­va­tive tech­niques. Dishes might in­clude foie gras-stuffed ravi­oli, farm-raised quail with mush­rooms, as­para­gus and ap­ples, and snap­per with chanterelle mush­rooms.

The Yeat­man’s Res­tau­rant at The Yeat­man Ho­tel (the-yeat­man-ho­ is an­other of Porto’s gas­tro­nomic gems. Helmed by chef Ri­cardo Costa, it of­fers con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tions of tra­di­tional Por­tuguese dishes. Dishes like crispy cau­li­flower pas­try, cut­tle­fish can­nel­loni, and suck­ling pig with chanterelle mush­rooms and fer­mented onions fea­ture on the tast­ing menu. The res­tau­rant also boasts a wine cel­lar hous­ing 25,000 bot­tles of Old and New World wines, and panoramic views of the Douro River and Porto. The res­tau­rant was awarded two Miche­lin stars in 2017.

Over at An­tiqvvm (an­, chef Vi­tor Matos serves Mediter­ranean-in­flu­enced cui­sine made from fresh sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents from the re­gion. In win­ter, for ex­am­ple, the menu may fea­ture dishes such as smoked sal­mon with tex­tured ap­ple and beet­root foam and chicken stuffed with chest­nuts and lo­cal ham.

Housed in the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Porto – Pala­cio das Car­dosas is As­to­ria Res­tau­rant (, which spe­cialises in tra­di­tional Mediter­ranean and Por­tuguese cui­sine with in­ter­na­tional touches. In­spired by the sea­sons, the menu presents a com­bi­na­tion of clas­sic and un­usual dishes, from crispy suck­ling pig and lob­ster bisque to ox­tail risotto and foie gras fried in port wine. To ac­com­pany your meal, make your se­lec­tion from the range of Por­tuguese wines.

Porto, in Por­tu­gal, is known for its de­li­cious port and the his­toric Douro River

Be­low Ter­raced grape vines in the Douro Val­ley

Op­po­site page, clock­wise from

top left DOC, by Miche­lin-starred chef Rui Paula, is lo­cated right by the Douro River; The Ra­belo Res­tau­rant show­cases flavours unique to the Douro re­gion; The beau­ti­ful in­te­rior of The Ra­belo Res­tau­rant; Suc­cu­lent scal­lops at DOP

Left The Yeat­man’s Res­tau­rant of­fers con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tions of tra­di­tional Por­tuguese dishes


page Al­fresco din­ing at DOP

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