London restaurant of the week: Lisboeta from Nuno Mendes
The subversive Lisbon-born chef Nuno Mendes is known as much for surprising his dining guests as he is for delighting them, with his imaginative dishes blazing a trail from Bacchus to Viajante to Chiltern Firehouse. Now his new Portuguese-inspired restaurant Lisboeta is set to mark a welcome return for Charlotte Street on London’s culinary map. With its buzzy atmosphere, vibrant small plates and lovingly recreated Portuguese classics, Lisboeta is our London restaurant of the week.
With the arrival of Nuno Mendes’ Lisboeta at number 30 (previously the legendary Elena’s L’Etoile,) Charlotte Street has suddenly become an exciting place to eat again. The Wolseley’s founder Jeremy King looks to be enjoying himself immensely over an al fresco lunch on our visit; and we gather the Portuguese president showed up later (not to King’s table, I should add).
I’ve followed Mendes from the ground-breaking gastropub Bacchus in Hoxton to his supper club The Loft Project, then Michelin-starred Viajante, later Chiltern Firehouse (where he fed crab doughnuts to the stars), Taberna do Mercado, to immersive, progressive Mãos, and now Lisboeta. His is a protean talent, which doesn’t so much reinvent itself periodically, as reveal more of itself.
Lisboeta, in partnership with hospitality group MJMK (Casa do Frango, Kol), has most in common with Taberna do Mercado. Here he is less traveller (‘viajante’) than proud ‘Lisboeta’ (a Lisbon native). The instant I enter the buzzing ground floor space with its long counter and single, shining tap of Super Bock, I regret the fact we’re booked into the upstairs dining room. I needn’t have worried. The upstairs room is alive with the sound of people having fun. Some drink cold beer; others Portuguese sparkling wines. We glug white port and tonic.
There’s an array of snacks, charcuterie, cheese and small plates and a handful of sharing platters. We snack on wedges of soft sheep’s cheese and vindalho empadas, Goan-spiced pork pies. All chefs do a steak tartare these days – it’s a rule; Mendes’ version sees the meat smoked and chopped with chouriço and pickled turnips. Bacalhau à Brás is a classic of confit cod, onions and potatoes cut and fried into crunchy allumettes. The star of the show at Lisboeta, however, is Dover sole, with a caldo verde sauce, that contrasts the lovingly braised-down kale of Portugal’s national dish with the vibrancy of coriander piso.
The most talked about pudding is a traditional abade de prisco with pork fat custard which I remember from Taberna. However, I have fonder memories of the bolo de bolacha with buttercream, coffee and ice cream, and love the 2022 iteration. To finish, a cup of Delta coffee stirred with a cinnamon stick is touchingly traditional.