Lisbon, Portugal – the new Barcelona?

Lisbon has fast become one of my favourite European cities.  Averaging 260 days of sunshine a year, the Portuguese capital can also boast a sensational waterfront location on the River Tagus, Atlantic beaches close by, and a buzzy, cultural centre. The city appears to be in the midst of a major boom, with new hotels, bars and restaurants opening at the rate of knots. On my recent visit in August, I stayed in a hotel that had opened the month before, ate at Michelin-starred chef Jose Avillez’s fifth restaurant, also opened last year and went to an exhibition at the new building of a contemporary art museum which had just opened that week.

Santiagode Alfama Entrance Hall

I stayed at Santiago de Alfama hotel near the Sao Jorge Castle, on the street with the church where Christopher Columbus got married. The hotel’s hilly location guarantees impressive views of the River Tagus from its terrace, and just across the road is the famous Miradouro de Santa Luzia.  The grand 15th-century building was originally a palace and then a shirt factory (in a nod to this factory, one of the restaurants in the hotel is called Fabrica) before being redesigned by the acclaimed Portuguese architectural firm Rebelo de Andrade and its Dutch owner, Heleen Uitenbroek.


Opening as a five-star hotel in July of this year, the hotel has only nineteen rooms, each one uniquely designed. Stylish and intimate, our room was beautifully decorated in soothing white and green but my favourite feature was just outside our windows – a lush green living wall in the interior courtyard.


I was impressed with my visit last year to MNAC, the national museum of contemporary art in the Chiado district.  Housed in the former Convent of Sao Francisco, the building was substantially altered by the French architect, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, into an art museum that opened in 1994.  The permanent collection is said to be one of the most comprehensive national collections of contemporary Portuguese art and includes work by Jose de Almada Negreiros, Nadir Afonso, Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, Antonio Silva Porto, Antonio Carneiro, Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, Antonio Soares dos Reis, Mario Eloy, Miguel Angelo Lupi, Abel Manta, and Dordio Gomes.



My recent visit happily coincided with MNAC’s opening of a new building on an adjacent street.  Our Lisbon cards provided free access to ‘Narrative of a Collection’, a major exhibition of Portuguese art from 1960-1990, borrowed from the Ministry of Culture’s collection (on until June 2016).  The new gallery, housed in an 18th-century building, is absolutely stunning and it was a real treat to discover works of Portuguese artists like Antonio Palolo, Fernando Lanhas, Helena Almeida and Antonio Sena.  I especially loved Nikias Skapinakis’s ‘Enlevo de Miss Europa’, a colourful painting of a woman straddling a bull, borrowed from the fantastic Serralves contemporary art museum in Porto.


You wouldn’t expect to indulge in a satisfying tasting menu, designed by a chef with two Michelin stars, for a mere 39 euros. Mini Bar Teatro, Jose Avillez’s fifth and newest Lisbon restaurant opened last year and certainly lives up to the fine reputation of Belcanto, Cantinho do Avillez, Cafe Lisboa and Pizzaria Lisboa. Last year I ate at Cantinho do Avillez, primarily to see artist Joana Astolfi’s installation but was happy to find that the food was excellent too, from the deep-fried green beans (alone worth a visit) to the tuna tartare and Portuguese suckling pig. 

Jose Avillez - Mini Bar

O chef José Avillez fotografado no seu novo espaço, o restaurante/Bar MiniBar no Chiado, Lisboa. foto- paulo barata 2014


Menu do restaurante/bar MiniBar do chef José Avillez no Chiado, Lisboa.
foto- paulo barata 2014

Located in the buzzy Chiado district, Mini Bar’s theatrical styling and menu was inspired by the Sao Luiz Theatre in the same building.  ‘Now on’ was the playful, imaginative menu we tried and the five ‘acts’ on ‘stage’ included a ‘Caipirinha’ that wasn’t actually a drink, a savoury ‘Ferrero Rocher’, Algarve prawns in ceviche, beef tartar in a mini ice cream cone, mini burgers, braised tuna with chive and miso sauce and salted codfish in a raspberry vinaigrette. Dessert was a super creamy raspberry yoghurt, mascarpone and meringue, followed by a dense hazelnut mousse.   And for the more adventurous, the ‘Epic Menu’, at 48.50 euros, is a mystery bill of fare with all courses chosen by the chef. Adventurous food is complemented by an imaginative music playlist created by one of Lisbon’s best known DJs, Vitor Silveira (aka Ramboiage), resident DJ at Lux Fragil.

Words & pictures: Joanne Shurvell

One Response to “Lisbon, Portugal – the new Barcelona?”

  1. […] Lisbon will charm the pants off you promptly after your arrival. It’s dubbed the new Berlin or Barcelona due to recent economic troubles that sparked two silver linings: prices remained lower than other […]

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