no frills are the best frills


First meal out in a weekend full of treating ourselves because we are both a year older within a few days of each other.

We were in a proper old school high-ceilinged cervejaria-marisqueira. The decor hasn’t been changed since the 80s. Painted white above shoulder height, below this all high contrast polished granite wall tiles with black edging, nondescript tiled floor, black tubular steel chairs and wooden tables with paper tablecloths. There’s a clock, a few bad paintings of fishing scenes, big windows looking out to the water. There’s nothing to cut the echo in the huge room except the human bodies. The tableware is all stainless steel and thick white crockery, and the cheapest white paper napkins given to us in a pile, because we’re eating crab and we’re going to need many.

The front of house staff are all men, although in this kind of establishment saying “front of house” seems out of place and hipsterish. They range in age from mid twenties to late sixties, all dressed in black trousers and white shirt, with a small apron if they feel like it, except the boss who is dressed in civvies, a checked shirt and jeans. From the staff you never know if you’re going to get old school nonchalance or old school “I hate you from the base of my very soul” with an occasional sly smile, both of which are properly traditional.

This is my idea of heaven. There is no asking if everything is alright every two minutes, there is no explaining the chef’s concept, there is good beer and and good wine, and less good wine if you buy it in a jug. Nobody in there is looking at you to see if you are the right sort of person. Everybody is in there to eat a meal with their family and friends.

The best thing about Portuguese eating out is not the esplanadas, nor the weather, nor the decor, nor any fancypants food that has been reinvented as Portuguese cuisine.

It’s ONLY about eating good simple food with people. A plate of clams with no more than 3 ingredients, a huge crab boiled, cracked open and dressed, paying the bill when you’re good and ready, and praying that it doesn’t get worked over by a new owner any day now.