Friday, 12th July 2019 – DOP, Porto
After a day of food, we were still ready for dinner! Friday night we headed out down the street towards the river, finding the pedestrianised streets full of street musicians, strolling people and cafe tables spilling out onto the pavements. We were headed for DOP Restaurante, a rather impressive looking establishment in one of the older parts of town. The restaurant is based in the refurbished Palácio das Artes down on Largo de São Domingos and used to be part of the São Domingo convent. The place has had a chequered history since its religious days, being used as the HQ of the Bank of Lisbon (now Bank of Portugal), and of the Douro Insurance Company, as well as having been an auction house, and serving as the city hall. It’s been beautifully kitted out, in shades of turquoise, greens and browns that really works well, so much so that I really want to know where they got some of the soft furnishings and light fittings from!
We were asked if we wanted to sit in or out, and decided we’d stay in, but by a massive, open French window would suit us best, thus giving us the best of both worlds. After a glass of white port we decided we would opt for one of the two tasting menus, in our case the one named The Sea, and we would also have the matching wines.
We were soon nibbling on the appetisers, a pair of fishy tidbits, one of them a roll of salmon tartare wrapped in nori seaweed. I didn’t catch what the other one was but it was good!
The sommelier promptly showed up with a bottle of sparkling white wine, a CC & CP Brut White 2007 made from Pinot Noir and grown in the Bairrada region, which seems to be a source of the best Portuguese sparkling wine. Or at least of the ones served in the high end restaurants. I asked a few questions about it, and that was about the time the sommelier started to treat me as if I had an idea what I was talking about, despite me confessing my distinct lack of knowledge about Portuguese wines of any kind.
It went very nicely with the very good first starter, an octopus carpaccio with pomegranate, and a Parmesan tuile to set it off. The salad and the oil used to dress it was also very good, the olive oil nicely peppery and green, and the lettuce having a crisp edge to it. It was all looking very promising so far and the staff were very obliging too, taking the bread away to save us from ourselves (not for fear of having to pay a couvert charge but because it looked so damn good there was a real risk of eating it all and not being able to finish the menu).
After we’d finished we asked for – and got – a short pause while my friend the sommelier returned, this time with a bottle of Quinta da Pedra Alvarinho 2014 from Garrafeira 5 Estrelas in the Vinho Verde sub-region of Minho. It was, as might be expected, a crisp, fresh white and it would prove to be excellent with the next starter.
The second starter was a scarlet shrimp, with celery and a “risotto” of pearl barley, with some tiny little mushrooms, lightly pickled, the latter reminiscent of things I’d expect to eat a lot further north than Porto. The shrimp was juicy and tender, and the pearl barley had some tremendous flavours running all the way through it. This was very assured cooking.
Another wine appeared for the first of the fish courses. This was a rare sort of wine from Vinho Verde, being both organic and aged, and I have to say I liked it. If you see a bottle of Afros Vinho Verde Loureiro Branco 2009 anywhere, you might want to let me know… I’d be interested in buying some for drinking with fish at this time of year! So should you, actually.
The fish put in front of us next was a tiny but satisfying piece of perfectly cooked seabass, the flesh soft and just starting to flake apart, the skin crisp, served with a mussel tartare, which was unusual in texture terms, and cauliflower, both a small roasted slice and a puree. And now the waitress was asking us if we wanted to pause between courses, which was a nice touch.
We had an intermezzo next in the shape of an oyster, and I have to say I really have changed my tune on the subject of oysters now. I used to think I hate them, but either my tastes have changed, or I’m going to places that understand how to treat them and/or buy better one in now, because while I still don’t think I’d want to eat an entire platter of them, I’m quite happy to consume one now. The dressing was piquant and needed to be drunk from the shell once the oyster had been eaten. It wasn’t something I wanted to let the kitchen have back.
We were a long way into the menu now, and were delighted that the kitchen and the staff were not rushing us. And now the sommelier decided he was going to challenge me. He brought the next wine but wouldn’t let me see all of the label. He told me we’d get a free round of port if I could guess the age of the wine within three years, after I’d drunk it! Based mostly on the colour, which I looked at very closely, I was right, having guessed it was at least 20 years old. It was a 23-year old Caves São João Arinto Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Beiras. I was quite impressed with myself!
I was also quite impressed with the second fish dish, a squid ink linguini dish with clams, monkfish, and squid. Again the fish was perfectly executed, and the sauce was rich and creamy, everything coming together nicely to create a rousing finale to the savoury courses.
We moved slowly rather then swiftly on to the pre-dessert which was various textures of apple both in a sorbet and a syrup, with a creamy ice cream. It was small and the ideal palate cleanser before the final act.
Served with a glass of tawny port to accompany it, dessert proper was just listed as perfume (but turned out to be all sorts of fabulous forms of strawberry including a soup). It was delicious, the strawberries themselves still holding their shape where they’d been chopped up into tiny pieces. It was a simple dessert in many ways, but it needed careful treatment to make it work. It worked.
Happy, stuffed, and on a second glass of port, we turned down tea or coffee (way too late for me to want caffeine) but still ended up with petit fours, each of which had a great deal to recommend them, even if they filled up the last space in my digestive system.
We paid up happily, and staggered back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.