While most people I follow on twitter have been sharing their favourite albums, films or Arthur memes of the year, I’ve been thinking hard about much more important things. What are the best things I’ve eaten this year? Using a sophisticated scientific method of going back through my Instagram feed, I am now ready to share that list. And no apologies for the serious bias towards Lisbon. It’s where we live, and therefore where we eat a lot of their food.
Back in March, I took Caitlin down to the Algarve for a surprise weekend at Casa Mãe. You can read about the hotel in more detail here if you like, but one of the absolute highlights was our cookery course with chef Bruno. Later that evening, he cooked us up a feast of fish, vegetables and more and talked us through every dish. It was about more than just the food, and what great experiences are all about. Never has a man been so passionate about the taste of… grass.
A thriving food scene is nothing new in Lisbon, but what is new is the increasing number of Michelin Star restaurants. Back in 2016 we went to a couple of these, including 2-star Belcanto. Henrique Sá Pessoa’s Alma got its turn this year. Pessoa brings his experiences and love of Asia into dishes that remain very Portuguese. They all look great, and taste even better.
Just outside our apartment are some very steep steps that lead up to Graça. They’re a struggle, but now and again that struggle is rewarded very well. One day, while waiting for our builders to turn up (our building work is something that I might write about one day, but is currently still too raw to talk about) we decided that they weren’t turning up any time soon so headed up the steps the get some lunch. Má Lingua was our reward that day. In the evening it turns into a nice relaxed bar, but during the day it is a great place to waste an afternoon eating. We had some of the nicest burrata I’ve tasted, a Chinese cabbage salad, breads and olive oil, ceviche, hummus and best of all the Escabeche de frango, which is a sort of pickled chicken. All washed down with an excellent Sauvignon Blanc. If you find yourself waiting for builders to turn up in Lisbon one day, I’d recommend you head to Má Lingua.
There’s nothing better in this world than a fish taco. Breddos Tacos, on Goswell Road in London, does a fish taco as well as anywhere else I’ve had a fish taco. Fish tacos are life. But what makes Breddos stand apart is that it isn’t just the fish tacos. Oh no. Their egg taco is astonishing as well. And the chicken. And the steak. And the… you get the idea.
A world away from the Michelin Star restaurants on this list is Nystekt Strömming, the herring wagon of Stockholm. But it absolutely deserves its place. For about €6 you can get a fried herring, mashed potato, knäckerbröd, pickled cucumber, red onion and coleslaw. And it is probably the best €6 I’ve ever spent.
The Emilian-Romagna region of Italy is food heaven. Whether you want something fancy, a family cooked meal, a snack or just to enjoy a pre-dinner aperitivo, it’s the place to be. We visited both Modena and Bologna back in September, and there were dozens of places that could have made this list. One that did though isn’t even allowed to call itself a restaurant. At La Prosciutteria in Bologna you order at the counter, get your own cutlery and pick your order up back at the counter. It is a clever way to make sure that they continue to be classified as a deli, rather than a restaurant. Grab one of the tables and dive into a board full of the cheese, meat, olives, oils, fruit and beer. Fantastic.
Remember when I wrote about my 30 favourite restaurants in Lisbon, and mentioned Ramiro. Well, head down to the comment I made a few months later and you’ll see I updated it with a tip about A Marisqueira do Lis. Throughout this year, it has become our favourite go-to restaurant in the city. The shellfish is of course the star, but the ice cold beer and warm buttered bread that you can’t not order are addictive. It also doesn’t have the queues of Ramiro, so as long as this blog doesn’t suddenly get a couple of million readers, we’ll continue to have it as go-to for as long as we’re in Lisbon.
Yeah, that’s right. We went to the three Michelin Starred former best restaurant in the world (it’s number two at the time of writing, as it was when we visited) Osteria Francescana and it’s not top of the my favourite meals of the year list. And that’s not a slight on it at all because it was phenomenal. The subtle little building just outside the very centre of Modena hides a beautifully executed interior. The staff were perfect, the food looked better than perfect and tasted as good as it looked. It may only be third on the list, but that says more about the top two than anything about Francescana. If you get the chance to go, go. It was worth every penny. And we got to meet Massimo Bottura.
Second place on the list was a good meal all round, but we all know that it has one item to thank for its lofty position. The roti. Madrid’s Pink Monkey serves a roti that Caitlin has been trying to find since she went to Malaysia as a child and had a life changing roti experience. And having tasted the roti at Pink Monkey I see why. The curries and the kebabs are great, but I would happily order half a dozen roti and sit there mopping up any sauce they fancied giving me to accompany it. This was my version of Caitlin’s life changing roti experience all those years ago.
Do not let my rather uninspired photograph fool you. What you’re actually looking at there is the most perfect pasta, meat and sauce that has ever passed mine, or quite possibly anybody else’s, lips. It was our final day in Modena. We had a train back to Bologna in the early afternoon, and knew that we’d need some lunch. There are a few places that are only open for lunch, and Trattoria Aldina is one of those. Earlier in the week we had actually tried to keep an eye out for it, as we’d heard good things, but it wasn’t instantly obvious so we went somewhere else. We decided to have another look, and didn’t give up this time. Within a normal apartment building, on the first floor, you’ll find it.
Get there early enough (ie, as soon as it opens) and you’ll get shown to a small basic table. Get there much later and you’ll have to queue. Once you’re seated, you’ll be read a list of three or four pasta dishes (all in Italian by the way, don’t expect to be spoon fed the menu in English here), and you’ll have to tell them your choice there and then, along with whether you want a beer or wine. After what seems like seconds, your food arrives. I had the tagliatelle ragu, and just writing about it now is making my mouth water. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Al dente pasta, with the exact right amount of sauce and meat. It is a more than worthy winner.