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Belcanto (Lisbon, PT)

Belcanto
R. Serpa Pinto 10A
1200-026 Lisbon, Portugal
Dining date: 11/11/21

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Belcanto is one of the most highly acclaimed fine dining restaurants in Portugal, even Europe. Holding two Michelin stars (seven years running) and ranked the 41st best restaurant in the world, it’s the flagship restaurant in the mini restaurant empire of chef José Avillez.

And at 250€ for the chefs table (150€ wine pairing), it’s priced accordingly. Given one can eat and drink very well in Portugal for much less, I had a hard time deciding whether to commit to a price tag like this. However, finding a chefs table opening while in town was such a fortuitous find that we decided to do it.

The chefs table is literally in the middle kitchen, separate from the main dining room. There’s a great view of the action, as well as an upfront view of Avillez who was at the pass on this evening. To make the experience more intimate, the table has its own server that only attends to this table each night.

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Brioche with sunflower seed butter, scarlet shrimp coral and caviar (2021)

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Oyster and tuna belly tartare with borage (2021)

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Golden sphere with foie gras and port (2021)

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Minced squid with roasted chicken skin, egg yolk purée and huacatay (2021)

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Marinated and braised sardines on charcoal toast, eggplant and roasted peppers (2021)

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Carrot and olive in different textures with pine nut milk and lupin bean “caviar” (2021)

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European lobster “Caesar salad” with avocado, tomato water, and yuzu & truffle emulsion (2021)

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Bread and butter service

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Confit egg yolk, smoked eel, vegetable cabidela and truffle “ash” (2021)

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Springtime scarlet shrimp with shrimp head curry, green apple, green asparagus and coriander (2020)

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Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, Barbela wheat crunchy toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter and cured ham (2021)

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Crispy suckling pig ‘sandwich’ with sarapatel pâté, peppercorn sauce, orange purée, watercress emulsion and puffed potatoes (2021)

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Strawberry-tomato textures (2021)

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Petits fours

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There’s a lot to unpack from this meal and overall experience. First – the food was mostly exceptional. The tuna belly tartare-topped oyster was a work of art, fun and whimsical, and slurped down easily. The golden sphere was another fun one, exhibiting luxurious foie gras brightened by a port reduction. The scarlet shrimp was one of my favorite dishes of the year – super sweet, plump and bathed in a super savory curry. The suckling pig “sandwich” was another highlight with beautiful textures and rich, delicious pork.

However, the food was marred by some significant service gaffes. We had only one dietary preference and it was an aversion to asparagus, yet it was served anyway in the scarlet shrimp dish. Upon inquiry, the chef was aware of the aversion but decided to still serve the asparagus, believing it was diced so small one could barely tell it was there. However, its mere presence very much impacted the experience of the dish for one of the diners and just felt uncomfortable.

A suspected human hair was found in the hake dish and, as a result, was not eaten by one diner (the hair was subsequently confirmed to be a synthetic paintbrush fiber by the restaurant). We declined to have the dish re-made, not wanting to hold up the pace of the rest of the table, but felt like the restaurant should still have “made up for it” with another dish or at least comp’d it (it’s 65€ a la carte), which it didn’t.

We had a chance to discuss with Chef Avillez chef after the meal to gain his perspective and believe that the restaurant intended no ill-will. However, while I want to really wanted to love this meal, the issues (and feeling like they were discarded by the kitchen) are what I’ll remember most about this one.

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