As we stepped though to the cosy bar area complete with open fire, sofas and chess set, I felt the tingle of anticipation you get when you suspect you are on the verge of something fabulous.
Can there be many things more daunting than choosing a restaurant, blind, in a large city? Well okay, not strictly blind thanks to the genius of the internet and not an especially large city, but can you really trust the travel advisor review websites? I always imagine management forcing everyone from the Maitre d’ to the pot washer, to invent three new identities, purely to push their restaurant up through the ranks. That could just be me though, I accept that.
We found ourselves in this terrifying predicament last week in Porto. We duly asked for recommendations from friends for the various areas of the city, but whilst we had stopped for a little liquid refreshment (it was my birthday, readers) I chanced a look on one of the aforementioned review websites and saw that the top rated restaurant was in fact on the very same road as the house we were staying in. The friend we were with was at a loss - he had lived on the road for years during University and had never heard of the place. Intrigued, I had a look at their website and discovered to my delight that the restaurant looked for all intents and purposes like an ordinary house and to gain entrance, as you would into a normal house, the door must be knocked. I was hooked.
So, we hopped in a taxi and crawled along the street looking out for the correct number. When we arrived we duly knocked on the door which was answered by the owner, Sergio. As we stepped though to the cosy bar area complete with open fire, sofas and chess set I felt the tingle of anticipation you get when you suspect you are on the verge of something fabulous. We waited for a moment and were shown to our table where we found a selection of appetisers. Sergio explained that they like to set up the table this way so that things are ready for you as soon as you sit down, as it would be in someone’s home. You can leave any of these tasters that you don’t like or particularly fancy that day. We demolished a silkily, delicious veal terrine with Port and some of the best black pig presunto we have ever tasted.
The menu at O Paparico has been designed for two people, which is fairly typical in Portugal and is also a nod to saving the planet (although the staff are more than willing to prepare individual portions). The gastronomic creative process at this restaurant always follows three basic rules:
1. All dishes are inspired by Portuguese cuisine.
2. The most innovative creations have to be based on ingredients that culturally belong to the Portuguese culinary heritage in the past or present.
3. The most avant-garde culinary techniques are welcome, but only to improve the traditional, not to change the essence of the ingredients.
We decided to share the baby rack of ribs but a large table somewhere else in the house had ALL ordered these so there was only one portion left. Ever helpful, Sergio recommended having a single portion of octopus to share as a kind of fish course and then the one portion of ribs to share for the main course. We commented to each other that the octopus had better be good as we’d had some outstanding dishes of it recently. After tasting this one the others all seemed fairly ordinary!
With our taste buds sufficiently whetted, we looked forward to the ribs - one of my husband’s favourite things. When they came the meat was so soft we immediately guessed they were cooked sous vide and marvelled at how any professional kitchen could think of being without a magic tub of warm water.
The dessert menu had a recommendation for dessert wine with most of the offerings (not mine though because it was already full of vodka!). Tangerine sorbet with a potato vodka shot on the side was my sweet course choice. I was a little wary but duly poured the lot in, noticing as I did that the waiter had left the vodka bottle with us. Dangerous. To my amazement the whole thing together reminded me exactly of a very good G&T: utterly refreshing, zingy, perfumed goodness. My husband had ordered the “drunken” pears which came with a smoking cinnamon stick on a separate little wooden block. Very dramatic but still linked to the flavours in the pudding. Very well thought out indeed.
Replete and happy we ordered the coffee required to get us up out of our seats and back home, but wait...there was more. Another wooden block but this time with chocolate truffles – well it would have been rude not to!
I thoroughly recommend this gem if you ever find yourself in Porto or the surrounding area. It’s absolutely worth the short cab ride from the centre of the city and we will certainly be back.
O Paparico: Rua de Costa Cabral 2343, Porto 4200 232, Portugal.
For more information, visit http://www.wix.com/opaparicorestaurante/opaparico
Reviewed by: Tara O'Reilly