Cantinho's chic, mis-matched interior — Photo courtesy of Nuno Correia / Cantinho do Avillez
It’s somewhat the fashion these days to deck out a Lisbon restaurant with mis-matched furniture and jumble sale décor to achieve that shabby-chic appearance.
Only one, however, looks like this and offers a menu designed by a Michelin-starred chef.
At Cantinho do Avillez – a homely bistro-style eatery located in Chaido – the domestic ambiance rather disguises the sophistication of the food on offer, cuisine designed by José Avillez. In fact, this Avillez is currently the only two-star Michelin chef working in Portugal’s capital city.
The interior of Cantinho do Avillez — Photo courtesy of Nuno Correia / Cantinho do Avillez
The menu, largely inspired by the traditional Portuguese cookbook but colored and textured by Mediterranean influences, reflects Avillez’s empathy with his homeland and the flavors of southern Europe. He draws inspiration from time-honored regional recipes handed down from generation to generation and then promptly re-writes the cookbook.
Delicious "camaroes a bulhao" (shrimp stew) — Photo courtesy of Agencia Zero / Cantinho do Avillez
But this is not a man playing the nostalgia card, and while Cantinho do Avillez may remind you of an oddball tasca with its car boot bric-a-brac (And look out for the vintage utensils art installation by Joana Astolfi.), some very serious cooking is going on in the kitchen: canteen grub this definitely ain’t!
Art installation by Joana Astolfi — Photo courtesy of Nuno Correia / Cantinho do Avillez
What’s more, this is accessible, well-priced fare, so forget the Michelin connection; the restaurant is about Avillez being relaxed and enjoying himself, and he wants you to have fun, too.
Avillez looks to Portugal’s interior to create dishes like succulent Alentejo black pork, garnished with razor-thin French fries, coriander and garlic farofa (manioc flour), with a dollop of black beans for good measure.
The ocean also calls, with the plump red Algarve shrimps (spiced up with a bit of Thai-style dressing) typical of how he’ll reinvent the wheel without steering too much off the traditional track.
But it’s the (deceptively) simple plates – meals like his Portobello mushroom risotto, thatched with bacon and generously sprinkled with Parmesan cheese – that truly capture the imagination. Are you eating in France, Italy?
A nice touch is the marrying of some excellent wines with the dessert choice: the hazelnut cup is matched with an extremely agreeable five-year-old Madeira.
Hazelnut dessert — Photo courtesy of Agencia Zero / Cantinho do Avillez
José Avillez is a product of the age. Young, ambitious and armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, this media-savvy kitchen wizard has worked hard to earn his Michelin credentials. His flagship restaurant, Belcanto, is only a short walk from Cantinho do Avillez, and that's where his two stars reside.
For its part, Cantinho do Avillez is a huge success and gets pretty busy during lunchtimes, when Chiado’s smart set pops in to catch up and gossip over a bite to eat. However, when evening falls, a more intimate atmosphere prevails, and the restaurant becomes an altogether more beguiling place to wine and dine.
Relaxed and informal lunchtime dining at Cantinho do Avillez — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt