The grilled carabineiros at Lisboeta have undeniable star quality. They are celebrity by way of crustacean, glistening with piri-piri, supersized, and sensationally meaty. A see-and-be-seen £16 prawn matched by a crowd who are well aware that this Portuguese restaurant on Charlotte Street is the hyped culinary child of a chef who’s packing Michelin stars. But rather than making you feel like you’ve packed your proverbial bags for an unforgettable vacation meal, Lisboeta sometimes feels like you’re stuck in a heaving departure lounge waiting for a £49 seafood rice to take off.
When Lisboeta is good, it’ll convince you that you’ve finally mastered teleportation and zipped from Fitzrovia to Lisbon quicker than you can say 24 month dry-cured presunto. On the ground floor there’s your quintessential cosmopolitan counter seating that’s crying out for a solo negroni and a Sally Rooney novel. Prepare that smug ‘I too got a reservation’ glint in your eye and ascend the stairs to the tasteful dining room, with the modern restaurant trifecta of exposed brick, foliage, and a Guardian reader subtly taking a picture of a skin contact wine’s label. It’s a bright and bustling space, designed for charming clients over copita and floating the idea of a long weekend in Porto to your partner, alongside one of London’s best wine lists.
But when Lisboeta is bad, well, the holiday’s over. At peak times, the dining room can become a little too chaotic and crammed. The noise from the open kitchen area transcends from buzzing to conversation stealer. You’re suddenly very aware that sucking on a juicy prawn head while you’re elbow to elbow with a stranger is like an oddly intimate interview for the position of Chief Mukbanger.
The food has interrupted our attempts at a sunshine staycation too. Life-affirming prawns aside, the food at Lisboeta flits between edible sunshine courtesy of orange-kissed amberjack, to sans-seasoning bacalhau à brás and a congealed pork fat custard that will repeat on you with the same ruthless virality of a Vengaboys hit. The produce is the best of Portugal and the vindalho empada is the kind of sensational snack you inhale in two glorious Goan-spiced bites. But it’s hard to forgive the duds when they come with drop-kick prices and will potentially break your heart if you’ve ever had a holiday fling with sensational salt cod in Lisbon. Case in point, the red prawn and seafood rice which is pleasant but honestly, pleasant and ‘that’ll be £49 please’ don’t belong in the same sentence.
If you’re someone who’s really into restaurants, chances are you’ll still want to go to Lisboeta so that you can decide for yourself. We get it. We’re powerless in the face of Instagram hype and saying ‘oh yeah, I went there’ in the kitchen at house parties too. We can’t promise that you’ll get Lisboeta (The Good Version), but the great news is that even if you feel like you’ve annihilated your overdraft for the sake of some so-so seafood rice, there’s always the wine list and an unbeatable, albeit expensive, crustacean to soften the blow.
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A majestic plate of rich, dry-cured Alentejo pork. It’s a yes.
Tosta De Cavala
There’s usually some kind of luxe fish on toast situation going on at Lisboeta. We loved the bright and refreshing razor clams version, and the mackerel toast was delightfully salty. Basically, getting involved in these ocean-spritzed soldiers is a good idea.
One of the best snacks we’ve eaten in ages. A spicy little fella that proves once and for all that more restaurants should be championing the wonders of the underrated pork pie. Soft, tender meat meets glazed pastry crunch. A must-order.
Bacalhau à Brás
The little string fries that come on top of this are a delight, but the bacalhau is oh-so beige. It lacks flavour or any kind of salty cod charisma. Thank you, next.
The kind of deep-sea scarlet looker that is inevitably destined for big things, namely our stomachs and envy-inducing Instagram stories. A prawn this meaty doesn’t need a lot of help and the garlic does all the work you need. It’s £16 per prawn but this, combined with a crisp £6 glass of Quinta do montalto, is the best of Lisboeta.
Aged Bavette Steak with Pica Pau Sauce
We prefer our pica pau with a little more heat, but it is nice and chunky with enough garlic to give the bavette some proper personality. One of the dishes that lives up to its price tag.
Chouriço & Beef Tartare
The tartare has a great kick of smokiness, but there is something borderline gritty about the texture. We’re also highly suspicious that the accompanying toast is in cahoots with a local dentist who’s desperate to hit their quarterly fillings quota. Rough, tough, and two slices were certified burnt.
Arroz De Marisco
Fifty quid is a lot of money. Like, a lot of money. But let’s just momentarily live in a fantasy where this seafood rice is free so we can really break down its merits. It’s good, not great. The sauce is relatively watery, and in comparison to the pictures you might have seen of this dish floating around the internet, it arrives looking quite anaemic. Maybe we were unlucky with our portion, but the seafood to rice ratio was off, so we were left with a big bowl of tomatoey rice once we’d inhaled the smoked prawns. If you do decide to order it, may the arroz de marisco prawn portion odds be ever in your favour.
Abade De Priscos
In a career first, we couldn’t finish this dessert. Extreme sweet treat enthusiasts like ourselves obviously couldn’t resist talk of an egg yolk and pork fat custard, but it is so supremely oily it caused an emergency purchase of medicinal spearmint gum. Hard pass. Never again.