Port’o plenty: restaurant & hotel tips
I’m in the process of writing up a detailed review of 2011 Douro reds and 2012 whites, which I spent a week tasting in Oporto in December.
It prompted memories of my four visits to this (with good reason) popular city-break destination last year. More often than not, I’ve simply passed through, en route to the Douro.
Here are some thoughts on where to stay and eat.
Where to stay
Not just because I’m working, I really value quiet and space in a hotel. So while the old town (pictured) is buzzier, you’re guaranteed a better night’s sleep in Vila Nova de Gaia in Port lodge territory over the river.
And I find it harder to think of a hotel where I’ve enjoyed a better night’s sleep than The Yeatman, owned by Port shippers The Fladgate Partnership. The Savoir beds (The Savoy’s bed of choice) guarantee that and, as for the linen, CEO Adrian Bridge told me that he personally conducted thread-count tests! Acres of space, including an outdoor terrace add to the appeal (The Yeatman’s lofty river views enhance its sense of light and space).
And space is at a premium in the old town. So while the 4 starred Hotel Teatro and Hotel Carris are very well located for visiting the old town’s World Heritage listed attractions, rooms are quite small and the breakfast rooms can get hectic. I preferred the lighter, airier Carris to Teatro, which is all browns and gold with moody (dim) lighting. My room service experience at Carris was better too (a very promptly served, very good risotto), while Teatro tried to charge me for the milk so I could take advantage of the tea-making facilities in my room! Though I haven’t stayed there for a while, Hotel Pestana Porto right on the river remains my pick of the old town hotels.
Where to eat
The Yeatman has Oporto’s only Michelin-starred restaurant to date. As you’d expect, the dishes are beautifully presented and liberally adorned with luxurious ingredients (caviar, truffle, foie gras and gold leaf). Adapting the set lunch menu for me at short notice, the staff were charming, flexible and creative about my (no meat) dietary requirements. It’s just a shame that the dining room lacks a bit of soul (so often the case with hotel restaurants), despite its fine views.
For fine dining, my most memorable experiences this year were at DOP in the old town (click here for more details) and Pedro Lemos. Located in a pretty house in Foz near the esplanade, Pedro Lemos is the perfect place for an intimate, romantic dinner. I loved Lemos’ fine dining take on traditional Portuguese dish “pão-de-ló.” With its accompanying clementine granita with flor de sal and a chocolate web, it went down a treat with Burmester 1974 Tawny Colheita.
If traditional Portuguese dishes are your bag, then O Paparico offers a high end rustic experience in suitably rustic surrounds – the atmospheric granite bouldered “brick” booths put me in mind of the Dão. Though I enjoyed dinner there I have to say that a couple of Dão restaurants surpassed it (details to follow). I’ll stick with the countryside for the real rustic McCoy!
At Vinum restaurant and (tapas) wine bar in Graham’s beautifully restored lodge and cellar door in Vila Nova de Gaia, the focus is on top notch simple ingredients – fresh fish from Matosinhos (Oporto’s fishing port), Trás-os-Montes “vaca velha” rib steak, acorn-fed Iberian ham and a fine cheese and dessert trolley. All of which are upstaged by the views – to the left, hundreds of pipas of maturing Port, to the right, the river.
As for more casual dining, for a contemporary take on Portuguese cuisine (less heavy with the oil, garlic etc), I can thoroughly recommend Das Tripas Coração. It does a great set lunch deal and is handily located a stone’s throw from the Sala Ogival (ViniPortugal’s tasting room) at the Palácio da Bolsa (whose Arab Room is a must-see). At O Caçula, which offers a good selection of wines by the glass, small plates’ dining with tapas and pizza options makes it a good bet for vegetarians (I can particularly recommend the polenta chips!).