Where to Eat Portuguese Food in London

Portuguese Food London

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Last week I was invited to the launch of a new Portuguese restaurant called Caco & Co. The invitation got me thinking about Portuguese restaurants in London, where are they and which is the best? To answer the question, I took my Portuguese bestie and my father with me to try out three of London’s most talked about Portuguese restaurants. Here’s what I found…

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The Problem with Portuguese Food

The first thing a person who visits Portugal will tell you when they get back is almost always about the food. Oh the food! The pasteis de nata! The seafood! The steak! The bread! Even the bread! Yet, outside of Portugal, good Portuguese restaurants are few and far between.

Even in big cities like London or New York, famous for their representation of the best food from around the world, there are just a handful of Portuguese restaurants. Aside from the pastel de nata (custard tart), which has recently achieved Beyonce-level fame around the world, Portuguese food is about as well known and appreciated as Portuguese Fado. Excellent in a fado club in Lisbon, less so in your living room.

So what is going on? Why is it that the Portuguese cannot successfully export their food like the Italians, the Spanish, or even the Chinese? There are many theories, some about our history, politics, population and immigrant sizes, availability of the ingredients… Others based on timing, marketing and entrepreneurial success. There is no straightforward answer.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that things are now changing. Portuguese cuisine is finally evolving out of grandma’s kitchen and into the 21st century, with our chefs striving to challenge and rebuild the Portuguese food brand both at home and abroad.

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Old and New Portuguese Restaurants in London

Interestingly, the three most talked about Portuguese restaurants in London today only opened within the last two years. Before them, there was Nando’s (which always annoys the Portuguese because it’s actually Mozambican/South African), and a few restaurants in Stockwell.

The problem with Stockwell, places like A Toca, O Cantinho, Grelha D’Ouro, is the location. Stockwell may well be where the majority of Portuguese are, but that isn’t going to attract London foodies. Neither are they representative of the creme de la creme of Portuguese cuisine. They each do some dishes well, but not as good or consistently good as the best restaurants in Portugal.

Looking at the latest Portuguese restaurants to open, that is Bar Douro, Caco & CoTaberna do Mercado and Londrino, which just opened last week, it’s also clear that they cater to totally different markets. The Stockwell restaurants aren’t trying to bring Portuguese food to Londoners, while these places are.

And to help get your attention, they are experimenting with contemporary Portuguese-inspired cooking over the strictly traditional that you’ll find in Stockwell. This follows a trend seen in Lisbon. Think Time Out Mercado da Ribeira and popular places like 100 Maneiras or Leopold. The Portuguese elements are a fine start. But I’m still left wishing for a Solar dos Presuntos equivalent here, classic Portuguese fine-dining worthy of somewhere like Mayfair or Marylebone.

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Restaurant Reviews

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Bar Douro, Flat Iron Square

Bar Douro is located at Flat Iron Square food market between Borough and London Bridge. The location is fantastic along with their refreshing yet characteristically Portuguese design. On a Friday night, the atmosphere is buzzing. The restaurant do counter seating only, either facing the open kitchen or the street, or private dining. We sat facing the kitchen, watching the chefs cook and prepare dish after dish at impressive speed. Overall we loved the food, my favourite dish being the Bacalhau à Brás (cod with potato and egg). Our only stickler was the price. We know we’re in London and not Portugal, but still, £4.50 for a single pastel de nata just didn’t feel right, even if it was the best one we’d ever had.

The verdict: If anyone asks where to go on a date for a nice Portuguese dinner, this is the place!

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Bar Douro

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Taberna do Mercado, Spitalfields

Another great location, Taberna do Mercado sits inside the trendy Spitalfields market in the city. It’s also part-owned by famous Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes in partnership with an old friend of mine, so I really do want to like it. But when it comes to food, I won’t lie. I’d been here before two years ago and recall leaving disappointed. Quite frankly, I don’t like it because it’s not what I love about Portuguese food.

Coming back on a Sunday, I was surprised to find an alternative menu placed before us. This would have been fine if there were some Portuguese lunch specials, but instead there was only a bifana (pork) and prego (steak sandwich) to choose from. We went for one of each and shared. We also ordered 2 pineapple Sumol (like Fanta) and a coffee each. The bill came up to £40, an astronomical amount for what my Portuguese dad says was the worst bifana and prego he’s had in his life. But don’t worry, if Nuno ever reads this, it’s the kind of criticism I suspect he enjoys. We just didn’t get it. We expected the recipes we grew up loving, and got something totally different instead.

The verdict: It’s a divisive, marmite-esque restaurant and the least Portuguese. I don’t love it, but you might.

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Taberna do Mercado

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Caco & Co, Shepherd’s Bush, Blackfriars

Last but not least, the restaurant that inspired this post is Caco & Co, which I went to on a Wednesday night. I hadn’t heard about this place until an invitation showed up in my inbox for their Blackfriars launch party, although they have another restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush. The concept is like a Portuguese tasca, an informal space to come and enjoy Portuguese food and wine with friends any time of the day.

Although I think the fantastic quality of the food and wine here is deserving of better interior design, I like where their priorities are focused. The specialty here is pregos sandwiches, using a type of bread from Madeira called bolo de caco. The bread also doubles up as the perfect base for brunch favourites like avocado on toast and eggs Benedict. I love this Madeiran spin on Portuguese cuisine, such as their delicious bread and passionfruit poncha! I had never heard of a tuna prego before and now find myself craving it. They also do the most gorgeous cheese and charcuterie boards I’ve ever seen and various espetadas (spits) of moist grilled meats. Coupled with a superb selection of Portuguese wine, I see a third Caco & Co opening in the near future!

The verdict: Great for casual group dining and authentic Portuguese (and Madeiran!) food and wine.

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Caco & Co

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 For more blog posts on Portugal check out…

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Lara Olivia
Lara Olivia

Freelance writer and blogger obsessed with food, travel and good stories.

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