A Lisbon Getaway

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DonQui is in Lisbon for a couple of days. It is a spur of the moment idea prompted by a desire to visit a great city he has never been to before along with the opportunity for a bit of southern European ambience and warm sunshine.

 

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Readers will be well aware of DonQui’s love of food. When he stumbles upon the Mercado da Baixa he feels that he has come to the right place.

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After a grazing on some of the delicious free samples on offer he cannot pass up the temptation of purchasing some smoked sausages to take home with him.

For a major city, Lisbon is relatively small and compact which should make it perfect for simply wandering around. Perfection, however, is marred by the choking traffic belching fumes up his nostrils with cars, vans and motorbikes leaving their engines to idle as they wait to move on.

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Fortunately there are many pedestrianised roads but these too have their hazards. Uneven and very slippery cobblestones mean that he has to tread very carefully.

His chosen stable is the very pleasant Lisboa Carmo Hotel, on the Largo do Carmo square which is where the revolution of 1974 overthrew the dictatorship. Close to the Bario Alto with its many bars, cafés and restaurants, the Hotel is perfectly placed as far as DonQui is concerned.

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Despite the cobblestone hazards, DonQui enjoys the fact that he is able to walk everywhere he wishes to go without needing to use public transport. This allows him to slowly explore the city and there are plenty of interesting back roads providing respite from the traffic.

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When some of the many hills become a bit much he takes advantage of the funky funicular trams which whisk him back up to the top of the hill for a very reasonable price.

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The weather is just about perfect. Each day is sunny with the temperature reaching 27º C in the day and dropping down to around 15º at night. Neither too hot nor too cold it makes for a very comfortable few April days.

One of the great joys of southern Europe is the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely lunch or a drink outside with good food and wine at reasonable prices. Lisbon is no exception. Although there are perhaps fewer restaurants and cafés spilling out into the streets than DonQui might have expected there are still plenty of good places — the danger of traffic fumes not withstanding. The first place DonQui stops at for a beer is marred by the fact that he does not notice the bus stop nearby. When a tourist bus pulls up and leaves its engine idling for a good 10 minutes, DonQui decides to move on.

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A far better choice is Flor Dos Arcos, at the end of a winding ally in the medieval Alfama district near the Fado museum. Here he samples for the first time the delicious cheese that is offered (for a small price) along with bread and olives. With freshly caught sea bass to follow DonQui has an excellent lunch under the shade of an umbrella in a friendly, casual atmosphere.

Rules

Before going off to see the antics of Nell Gwynn and Charles Stuart, DonQui thought it would be a good idea to have a proper lunch.

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And what could be more appropriate than Rules — possibly London’s oldest restaurant although the title is contested by Simpson’s Tavern and Wilton’s.

Opening in 1798, Rules is probably the closest one can get to a restaurant of Nell’s time, not that they really existed back in the 17th century. Nell would have frequented taverns but the concept of a ‘restaurant’ did not really come into being until after the French Revolution. One theory is that in the revolution the chefs of headless aristocrats found themselves out of work and therefore started to set up on their own.

Started as an oyster bar by Thomas Rules it then expanded to include more substantial fare. Contemporary writers mention ‘rakes, dandies and superior intelligences who comprise its clientele.’

Just the sort of place for me’, DonQui thinks.

Serving proper food such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, rack of lamb, pies and a wide variety of game, Rules is not the sort of place to bring a vegetarian, some Californian on a weird faddish diet, nor someone who is in a hurry. It is the sort of place to go to if you are looking for a long leisurely meal and old-school atmosphere.

DonQui booked in for a late lunch at 3:30, leaving plenty of time to build up an appetite before, and plenty of time to linger afterwards. He was surprised that even at this hour the place was full, with waiters in black and white weaving their way around tables of casually well-heeled patrons.

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With a lovely glass of bubbly Crémant de Bourgogne to sip on while he contemplated the menu, DonQui sees that meat from rare breed, slow maturing cattle is on offer. With Duchess on hand to help out, rib of beef for two seemed just the ticket.  After an appetite warming partridge salad to start with, DonQui was ready for the main event.Rules 4.jpg

Although he was well aware that Rules tended to go for old fashioned large portions, he was not quite prepared for just how much food arrive at the table.

It certainly looked good. So DonQui took a sip of Côtes du Rhône to fortify himself, girded his loins, and prepared to do battle.

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The beef, served along with the bone it was carved from, was delicious with a nice charred, salty outside while remaining rare in the middle. Ordered medium-rare it was on the rarer side of medium which was fine for DonQui but a little too visceral for Duchess. Fortunately there were sufficient outside pieces of greater doneness which suited her tastes. The Yorkshire puddings were magnificent as were the accompanying spinach and dauphinoise potatoes. DonQui is not keen on horseradish but Duchess, who is, assured him that it was creamy with just the right amount of bite.

Service was professional, helpful yet unobtrusive and the bill was… well… as magnificent as the food. Even by London standards Rules is not cheap, but then it is an experience as much as a place to eat.

Resolutely old-fashioned and English, in DonQui’s opinion Rules is a wonderful respite from the modern world’s obsession with the new, fast and transient. It is well worth saving up a few shekels for the occasional visit.

Leisurely Lunch by the Beach

DonQui had one of the best of his Spanish long lunches a short stroll up from the beach at La Azohia.

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He found himself on a large terrace overlooking a classically curved Mediterranean bay. The restaurant — Antipodas — was at the end of the road, literally where the road ran out and the mountains began. This gave the place an exclusive and quietly secluded feel.

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DonQui looked out over the harbour and contemplated the wine list. There was a good Rioja on offer which after tasting it he deemed far better than average. The service was friendly and the place had relaxing a vibe that DonQui thoroughly enjoyed as he settled in for a couple of hours out of the sun.

The four course set menu of the day seemed interesting and at €12 it was great value. It was duly ordered and DonQui was delighted. Starting with a crisp fresh salad, the next course was a choice of chickpeas or vegetable soup. Both were very good.

Beef Stew

Then came a lovely beef stew which was aromatic and tender, with small pieces of meat and potatoes that stirred his senses. Now DonQui is not much of a potato lover but all the potatoes he ate in Spain were so much better than what he was used to. Instead of being floury and mushy they were firm and full of flavour.

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Duchess had a wonderful local fish — Melva, or frigate mackerel, which is a sort of cross between mackerel and tuna and an Andalusian speciality. It had been marinated in lemon and Duchess declared it was one of the best fish dishes she had ever tasted.

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The light crepe with soft dark chocolate was a melt in the mouth experience that perfectly rounded off the meal. So intent he was in finishing it off that DonQui forgot to take a photo until it was almost too late. Readers will have to forgive him for a moment of chocolate gluttony.

Sipping a café solo and contemplating a stroll back to the beach, DonQui began to think he might just dine at here again.

And indeed he did. In fact DonQui visited three times and each day tried the daily menu with varying success. Most courses were truly yummy but there were one or two not quite to his taste. On one visit Duchess went à la carte and decided to try the goat’s cheese salad which she reported to be ‘perfect’.

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The house wine by the glass was indifferent but there were some very good reds and rosés by the bottle at exceptionally reasonable prices. DonQui did not try any of the whites so cannot venture an opinion on them.

DonQui felt that luncheon at Antipodas made La Azohia a really great place to visit.

A Lazy Sunday at the Beach

First impressions were not great. The beach looked grey and deserted, and a lady warned of jelly fish.  However, a little cove by the Paraiso de Nerja was just inviting enough to tempt DinQui down the steps to explore. In worst case he could have a coffee and then head off to find a better place.

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At a pleasant 26 degrees with clear sky and an off shore breeze, Nerja started to feel like a place to stay for a few hours. Close up the gritty grey sand was not so bad and some inviting parasols clustered amongst palm trees were enough to convince DonQui to shell out €4 each and stay a while.

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As Duchess basked in the late morning sun, DonQui went off exploring. He clambered over the rocks at the bottom of the grey slate cliff, which gave its colour to the sand and then paddled back along the shore.

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Apart from a lone fisherman and a couple of other humans, DonQui had the place to himself.

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After a little rest on the sun bed DinQui was in need of some refreshment. Fortunately just a few metres up from the beach was El Avalon – rated on TripAdvisor as the #1 place to eat in Nerja. DonQui agrees. The food was delicious and the setting on a high terrace overlooking the beach was hard to beat.

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The pawns in garlic butter sauce were the highlight…

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…but all the dishes were excellent.

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Than it was back down to the beach. There were more humans there but still pretty peaceful. DonQui found a nice shady spot under a fan palm and had an afternoon nap, the sound of the breaking waves gently sending him off to sleep.

DonQui Recommends:

El Avalon for a long, leisurely, luxurious,  lunch