Ribeira d’Ilhas Surf Restaurant and Bar, Ericeira, Portugal

Ericeira, surf country… 45 minutes from Lisbon, you have a beach town that has high cliffs and rough water, and is perfect for surfing. It attracts surfers from around the world, and lots of Portuguese families.

A few minutes from town is Ribeira d’Ilhas beach, which was recommended to us by a friend who told us it would be more quiet than the others (ie, not packed)… so we went there both days that we were in town. The beach itself is wide and there is tons of room to surf.

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At lunchtime, we didn’t head far, just up to the restaurant located next to the surf schools, and sat on the bean bag chairs. The restaurant was packed because it was vaguely an hour to eat, so we had to wait a bit and keep a sharp eye on who was getting up from their table (the waiter’s service starts once you’re sitting, they don’t help you find a table).

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Then, the menu… it has everything. Salads, sandwiches and burgers, pasta, and even eggs, we were spoilt for choice.

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Andre went for the smoked salmon salad the first day, which had bits of mango in it… and thought it was pretty good.

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I went for the salmon burger, served with a wasabi mayo on the side, a salad, and some pretty good fries… though I learnt that the fries only tasted good when hot… afterwards, they lacked in taste and crunch.

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Happy with our meals, we came back the next day and each had the tuna burger… I think tuna as a fish is easier to keep in a patty (ie, the salmon burger kept crumbing, even in the bun, whereas the tuna burger held up)… but they were much less generous with salad this time around… which we made up for with a nice green juice.

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Overall, this place really hits the spot, you can eat healthfully (ish) if you want, spend as much time as you like sitting around and ordering coffees, drinks, etc (ie, if you aren’t surfing but you’re with someone that is, its a good place to escape the midday sun and hang out), and soak in the vibe of the surfers that have come from all over the globe to test the waves.

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Restaurante a Peixaria, Sao Jacinto, Portugal

Next, we were heading down towards Lisbon, stopping 45 minutes north in Ericeira. But one of Andre’s friends had told us about Sao Jacinto, a small town just south of Porto, that was worth checking out, so we detoured there for lunch and a walk on the beach before heading further south.

Sao Jacinto is based on a peninsula that is similar to Cap Ferret on the Basin d’Arcachon. Sao Jacinto is on the end of the peninsula, and like Cap Ferret, has a bay side and ocean side to the town.

Again, not knowing anything about it, we went on Google maps to find a place to eat, and really hit a home run! When we arrived at Restaurante a Peixaria, it was heaving and had a long queue waiting outside. When we finally got the waitress’s attention to put our name down, we asked if we could sit at the bar, and she sat us right down. Great!

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Outside, while we were waiting, we watched the chef prepare and grill the squid that everyone seemed to be having…

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Look at that, how could you not want to taste it?!

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So we ordered some squid and some of the fresh prawns on the specials board… These were just off the boat fresh, still slightly crunchy and tough to take the shells off (I ate a lot of shell out of laziness… but it’s good for calcium, right?!), these little guys were delicious.

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Then came the calamari with some sides, and a nice salad wash it all down… we did a pretty good job with all of the food, and were licking our fingers at the end… it was all so good, and we didn’t feel like we were going to explode afterwards!

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A little bar-side selfie… and then off to the beach for a walk in the sand, before we headed back to the car and down to Ericeira.

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Lamego Hotel and Life, Lamego, Portugal

The next stop on our trip was to wine country, the Douro Valley. We stayed at the Lamego Hotel, which is a large, modern concrete building (that surprised us when we arrived), but apart from that, a great place. The rooms are comfortable, there’s an extensive breakfast buffet, and a lovely pool area that we spent quite a lot of time frequenting. (As a quick side note, they have their own winery, Quinta Branca, whose red and white wine is quite good).

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The pool has its own bar area, where we decided to grab lunch the first day… knowing we were going to have a huge dinner (at the Pacheca Winery… it was delicious), we took it easy for lunch and grabbed some basics. As the pool menu mostly has sandwiches and burgers, it was slim pickings, but we managed…

We went for the grilled prawns, which were cooked in their juice with some spring onion… These were pretty good, as were the juices, which we sopped up with some bread. We had also asked for as simple a salad as they could make us… and ended up with some shredded lettuce (maybe what is usually put on the burgers?) and tomatoes. The tomatoes were small and bursting with flavour.

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That afternoon, we headed to Pinhao to check out some of the wineries (and the view… the drive along the Douro Valley between Lamego and Pinhao is supposedly one of the most beautiful in the world!)

After a bit of white wine and white Porto tasting at the Quinta do Bomfim (as you can see, we took advantage of their cheese plate as well!)

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we headed back down the river and chased the sunset, heading to a fantastic dinner in the green room at the Quinta da Pacheca (which also has a great-looking hotel).

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Lina Stores, Soho

So, this place was a real winner… I had read about it and wanted to try it, so when suggested we head there for lunch, I was pretty excited. As James has already been here several times, I let him pick the starters… and then we both picked the same main pasta.

We started with the ricotta and nudja, which were served with some grilled breadZzzz and slathered them both on. James kindly said I could let him eat whatever I wasn’t going to finish, as I’d want to try everything… which shows that he doesn’t really know me, haha! The nudja was slightly spicy and paired really nicely with the smooth, creamy, and only slightly tangy ricotta, which cooled down the temperature of the spiciness somewhat. All served on warm, grilled bread, this was a winner!

Next, the porchetta sandwich. This was also good, with a thick, fatty piece of porchetta served on a roll, but I was not as wow’ed… the porchetta’s taste was good, but not over the top, and the thick roll just felt like empty white bread filling me up before my pasta came…

But they both did pair well with the cool, almost rusty-coloured wine that we had.

And then, the mains. We both went for the pici pasta with porcini mushroom and sausage. What it does not mention is the cream and the Parmesan, oh wow. The portion itself isn’t that large, but given the richness of the dish, it took me a while to get through, the pici was perfectly al dente and had a light springy-ness to it, and when I was done with the pasta, I still had a ton of the sausage (flavourful, but also adding the fatty component) and the mushrooms (giving the dish an earthy flavour) in the cream, which I sopped up enthusiastically.

And then, when we were all done, we decided to go for dessert. Lemon sorbet with a shot of Limoncello poured on top. So not necessary, but light and tart after all of the heavy food we had had… it really hit the spot!

I will be back to Lina soon for sure, to try the other pastas, including the green, fluffy gnudi that I saw being made the other day…

Chez Lapin, Porto

In late August, we took two weeks off and headed to Portugal. We arrived in Porto with the idea of driving to the wine country, then down to Lisbon, stopping to discover on the way!

I had never been to Porto before and loved it – smaller than Lisbon, it is also quite hilly, with small, winding streets and fantastic views. But what really got me are the buildings stacked on top of each other, where it looks like people added a floor at a time, squeezing them in between other structures bit by bit.

After a long morning of walking around, we were hot (in the 35 degree weather) and hungry. We stopped at one of the many restaurants down on the river and chose blindly, as none of them have good ratings on Google maps!

Chez Lapin did the job. We had to wait a while to get the waiter’s attention to order and even longer for our food, but we had water, bread, and a place to sit in the shade, so it was all fine!

The food itself was basic but good, we had the cod bolinhos, some tomato salad, a green salad (with oranges… all of their salads had oranges, including mixes that really didn’t need or want them!)… and we shared an order of sardines.

The sardines were nicely seasoned and slightly charred from being grilled… with lots of onions and boiled potatoes, they hit the spot.

The meal was perfect for the heat, and off we went again afterwards, this time to climb to get the ultimate view of the city.

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Wai Chan Corner, Chinatown

Another Chinatown restaurant… this is one that I first went to in 2001 with my my friend Sarah and her family in a quick stopover in London after having studied in Spain for a year. I have been back a few times since, and like it, as it’s one of the only dim sum spots in Chinatown that still uses trolleys on weekends.

This time around, however, I didn’t pick so well… I wanted to switch things up a bit, so tried some new dishes…

First of all, I ordered the prawn wrapped in crispy spinach. I wasn’t expecting this much crisp… so I took most of it off (it was TOO fried). But underneath, the spinach was also crispy, in a nice way, and the bits of prawn were well-flavoured and almost bouncy in my mouth.

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Then, the easy one, the steamed dumplings… these were dried shrimp and fresh pork dumplings with peanut… for a while, I have been craving cunchy peanut in a dumpling, so this really hit the spot! To be honest, I could hardly differentiate between the tastes of the shrimp and pork in the dumpling, they were more of a softer texture within the dumpling that was complemented by the crunchy peanut… but with some chili oil and soy sauce dousing it, I was happy.

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Then, the beef dumplings. These were okay, though again, I didn’t feel like they were as strong-tasting as they should have been. I liked the combination of the spring onion and ginger with the broth under the dumplings, with the thinner, almost wonton-like dumpling wrapper, but the meat inside was just… blah. Really not tasting of anything.

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Finally, I chose the fried salt and pepper squid, which I imagined to be large pieces of squid, lightly battered and topped with tons of spring onion, peppers and onion, along with the salt and pepper spices… but this dish also, sadly, lacked. Instead, I got deep-fried strips of calamari with the salt and pepper seasoning, but none of the vegetables. I had a few pieces, but was pretty disappointed and didn’t even finish.

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So, my overall thoughts? Difficult, as this is somewhere I had been a few times over the years (though not in the past few) and always had a good experience. I’m thinking that perhaps my choices were to blame for me not liking the food, but even the two sets of dumplings were just okay at best. So, this isn’t a place I feel that I need to come back and try again!

Whitstable Cafe and Kitchen, Whitstable

The Sunday morning in Whitstable, we rent bikes and decide to go for a long ride along the water. We stop by one of the grocery stores, but everything is bought already (its one of those kinds of weekends!) and so we head ot the Cafe and Kitchen to see if they’ll make take-away sandwiches for us.

The Cafe itself is very cute, with a big room in the back, and little seats in the front room. They serve everything from quiches, sandwiches and salads, to heavier main dishes.

We each went for the sandwiches, as they were the easiest to carry out. I got a roast chicken, tomato and avocado sandwich on sourdough bread. The creamy avocado made it just good enough.

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This is how Andre feels about his sandwich… he got the Coronation chicken sandwich, which was basically curried chicken on sourdough… no raisins, nothing else… pretty unexciting.

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So, back in Whitstable, perhaps we would try out the quiches or main dishes the Cafe has to offer, but we certainly would not come back for a sandwich, as we found them quite basic, not very tasty, and quite pricey for what they were!