You’ll have to pardon my over-enthusiasm.
A couple of weeks ago in Lisbon I had one of the most delicious, interesting and technically accomplished meals of my life.
And the bill for two, including a ten course tasting menu, cocktails, wine and service, came to 120 Euros.
Yes, that’s £86 at the current exchange rate.
If you ever find yourself in Lisbon then make sure you visit Mini Bar, the cocktail and tapas bar owned by Portuguese chef José Avillez.
His other restaurant, Belcanto, happens to be the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in Lisbon. And, his CV includes a traineeship at El Bulli.
Mini Bar isn’t your typical starched linen and hushed tones fine dining gaff. Located in an old theatre in Lisbon’s chic Chiado district, it’s a buzzing, chilled out place where you can enjoy a night of cocktails and nibbles. They even have a late-night DJ on Friday and Saturday nights.
Individual tapas (separated on the menu into “acts” in keeping with the theatrical theme) cost around €6 but there’s also a pair of tasting menus available. The cheaper of the two costs €39 (£28) whilst the grander chef’s surprise menu costs €48,50 (£35).
A caipirinha kicked off the meal - a smooth coco butter exterior gave way to an ice-cold liquid centre, boozy with a hit of lime.
Cocktails were exemplary – a mojito (€8) and a caipirinha (€6). A bargainous bowl of toasted almonds (€0.75), with a lovely hint of Indian spice, was a cracking accompaniment. A superb bottle of Viognier (€15) accompanied the rest of the meal.
Next up, one of El Bulli’s most famous dishes. A wobbly sphere popped on the roof of the mouth to release an intense essence of olive. Incredible.
Ferrero Rocher, not as it appears to be is one of the chef’s signature dishes. A crisp hazelnut and chocolate exterior contained an indulgently smooth foie gras mousse. Sweet and savoury were balanced perfectly.
The first standout dish of the night was a miniature ceviche of stupendous fragrance and freshness. Two plump and sweet prawns, a sphere of Tiger’s milk, a crunchy corn kernel and red chilli slices sat atop half of a lime. Eaten all at once with a suck of the lime at the end, it was a seriously vibrant mouthful.
A snack of crisp compressed chicken skin dotted with blobs of smoky, salty goats cheese, guacamole, piri-piri powder and confit lemon achieved Biscoff spread levels of addictiveness.
The faultless cooking continued with a dainty wafer cone loaded to the brim with uber-tender steak tartare and dots of mild mustard emulsion. Slices of cornichon cut through the richness.
We were each then served a whopper of a tuna steak – the kind of thing you’d pay at least £15 for in many restaurants in the UK. The beautiful pink piece of fish was coated in a wonderfully sweet and salty miso glaze.
A quartet of battered balls each contained a juicy cod fillet. A smooth, acidic escabeche sauce and a sprinkling of fragrant yet mouth-puckering raspberry vinegar powder deftly counterbalanced the fattiness of the fried fish.
The final savoury dish of the night filled up any remaining stomach nooks and crannies. A generous pot of meaty veal risotto was flecked with shreds of meat and cubes of mushroom. A scattering of parmesan dialled up the dish’s luxuriousness.
Two desserts finished the meal. Firstly, a little pot of tangy yoghurt mousse layered with sweet raspberry coulis, dainty crisp meringues and popping candy.
The final awesome pudding paid homage to the hazelnut. Creamy hazelnut ice cream was topped with light hazelnut foam, fluffy hazelnut sponge and a sprinkling of salt.
Our meal at Mini Bar is without doubt one of the most memorable I’ve ever had.
And, it’s probably the most bang I’ve ever had for my buck in a restaurant.
Address - Mini Bar, Rua António Maria Cardoso, nº581200-027 Lisbon, Portugal
Telephone - + 351 21 130 53 93