As much as I enjoy my job, my workload has been eye-wateringly heavy recently so last weekend I popped over to Porto for a little holiday with my pal Al. I had high hopes for Portugal’s second city which is famed for its port, is postcard pretty and regarded as Lisbon’s cooler little sister. I was a tiny bit disappointed that it was cold and rainy but I was naïve to think that anywhere south of the UK would be suitable for al fresco dining, even in February.
Now, Al and I are both big into our food but she’s not a vegan and I was a bit worried about how we could both enjoy eating out in Porto. Thanks to a bit of research and some top navigational skills from Al (have I mentioned that I have a terrible sense of direction?), we just about managed it.
We arrived late on a Thursday afternoon and by the time we got down to Porto’s waterfront it was approaching evening and definitely wine o’clock. We popped into a little place for red wine and feasted on bread, olives and some of the nicest Padron peppers I’ve ever had.
There was a football game on which meant that none of the locals were out and this caused a few problems when we tried to find a lively spot for dinner. We stumbled (two glasses of red wine on an almost empty stomach can have that effect on a girl) into a little place called Casa de Santo Antonio where we made friends with the waiter who fed us olives, broad beans and some lovely carrots cooked in cumin. I then tried tempura green beans (a Portuguese speciality) and a hearty stew made of black-eyed beans. Much more red wine was consumed.
Not surprisingly, the next day we were a little bleary eyed and by the time we’d sorted ourselves out and left the apartment it was lunchtime. Walking in the rain with a rumbling stomach looking for a vegan-friendly place to eat isn’t much fun (sorry, Al) so we were lucky when we took a punt on Clerigos Vinhos e Petiscos. This is a restaurant that serves all types of cuisine, from pizza to sushi and steak. There are even vegan options marked clearly on the menu. We both went for the sushi and boy was it good. It’s not often you see so much thought and creativity put into a vegan dish at a restaurant and I was impressed by the fillings which included strawberry, mango, avocado, cashew nuts and seaweed.
After an amble around the city’s modern art museum and an amusing if slightly stressful experience in a taxi, it was time for another drink. We were very lucky to be in town during the Essência do Vinho wine festival and we decided to take full advantage of it. For the bargain price of 14 euros we were given an empty wine glass and let loose in the beautiful Palácio da Bolsa where there was stall upon stall of Portugal’s fine wines and ports. We had some great chats with some of the wine producers and learned rather a lot (who knew that vino verde isn’t actually green?) but you can guess how it ended.
By about nine o’clock, we most definitely needed something to soak up the booze and headed to Da Terra, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant (thanks to Ed for this recommendation) which offers an all you can eat buffet for about 11 euros each. All I remember is that I inhaled my dinner and ate far too much, but it was tasty and good value. I think.
After a big sleep, we woke relatively unscathed by the previous night’s exploits and a big breakfast of tomatoes on toast made using ingredients from the local supermarket soon sorted us out. We’d booked a table at a fancy restaurant for dinner so after walking around Porto (it’s not a big city so we did this a lot) we decided to go to the rooftop restaurant at the Ferreira Borges Market. It might be a cool hangout but the service was terrible and we waited ages for some pretty substandard food. Al’s sausage was undercooked and if there was a lesson in how not to prepare tofu, this was it.
Dinner at Cantinho do Avillez was more of a success. It was a very intimate experience as the tables are squished together but a large gin mare (think goldfish bowl-sized G&T with rosemary and orange) soon put us at ease. I started with a beetroot ceviche with avocado which lacked substance but the vegetable tagine with orange couscous was warming and benefitted from the addition of prunes – sexy they ain’t but they are sweet. The fruit salad with Mojito foam was a light and refreshing way to end the meal.
Mind you, after a porto and tonic (basically port and bitter lemon), the bottle of red we shared and more drinks afterwards, I was still hungry. We ended up back at the apartment eating crisps and watching US election coverage (go Hilary) and the Portugese equivalent of Senedd TV.
On our last day in Porto the sun finally made an appearance so, ever so slightly the worse for wear, we headed over the Dom Luís Bridge which has stunning views of the river and the city. It’s a pretty hairy experience with a hangover, mind. We decided a long and leisurely lunch would be a good way to while away a few hours but were wary of wandering into one of the tourist trap places on the river so ended up at Taberninha do Manel. The food wasn’t anything to write home about (more beans, bread and chips, plus an apple, walnut salad ordered minus the cheese) but it filled a hole. Unfortunately we were sitting right next to the door which kept opening and poor Al was freezing cold. To add to insult, the waitress pretty much bullied us into leaving a tip so it wasn’t the nicest of experiences.
I’m really pleased that I managed to eat well on this holiday and pleasantly surprised by the many vegan options available in Porto. I probably ate too much bread – (wo)man shall not live by bread alone – and we never made it to the port lodges, but it was a relaxing break, and we laughed loads and ate and drank well. Plus it was nice to come home still capable of fitting into my jeans. Result.