Portuguese cuisine seems to be enjoying a bit of a moment currently with local deli ‘A Portuguese Love Affair’ opening in Hackney plus the roaring success of Nuno Mendes’ Taberno Do Mercado in Spitalfields. So it was with great excitement that we discovered Bar Douro only six weeks into their opening and already making a name for itself.
I dined with a real wine and port enthusiast (and connoisseur – he would want me to add!) so this lunch date nearly turned into dinner. Incidentally, that wouldn’t have been a problem as I would have happily eaten the rest of the menu we had no room to try. I’m a sucker for bar dining; I love the ‘chef’s table’ aspect in a voyeuristic way. I’m curious and seduced by the pace of the kitchen, completely enticed by everything they do with the payoff that I get to eat their creations at the end.
The beautiful black and white marble bar, specially imported from Portugal sets the tone for this informal dining spot and stretches both sides of the restaurant. One faces the chefs the other looks out on the hustle and bustle of the ever-bourgeoning flat iron square. I can’t touch upon on the décor without crediting the original Portuguese tiles that top and tail the restaurant walls in pale blue and white. Delicately drawn hanging game and meats dominate the tiles adding a distinct sense of origin to the converted tin-roofed railway arch, so masterfully converted you easily warm to the calmly lit space.
Food wise, Bar Douro is less for the vegetarians amongst us. That said all dietary requirements are keenly catered for. Specials always include a vegetarian option, but on this occasion, I couldn’t have been swayed. The garlic king prawns, coal cooked octopus with sweet potato plus the salt cod cakes were the first dishes to catch my eye and get me chomping at the bit. As always and much to the bemusement to The Vegetarian (who wasn’t present for this one) I enquired with the waiter (and chef- we were so close, I couldn’t help but ask) as to which dishes we had to try and we trustingly followed their lead. Game sausage with lemon mayo, salt cod cakes and chourico bread were the first ‘petiscos’ snacks to arrive. The Bolinhos de Bacalhau; salt cod cakes with a hot red pepper sauce stood out for me and would have me back in an instant. The real crowd-pleasers came in the guise of the ‘small plates’ Bisaro – pork ribs, Octopus with sweet potato, green olives and paprika, those garlic prawns and finally the roast suckling pig served with sweet grapefruit and broth.
Dessert championed a specially imported baked sheep’s milk Monte da Vinha served with sweet shortbread and tomato chutney, a combination that I can safely say I was passionate about. We also had to try the custard tart, Pastel de nata alongside a coffee (my dad would have been furious at me for not).
With the enthusiasm of the Portuguese sommelier and my dining companion’s love for port we then went on to taste four out of the five ports on the menu which were produced by the owner’s father, the Churchill estate. The wine I can vouch for, we drank Churchill’s Estate Douro crisp white wine and also sampled the increasingly popular Vinho Verde – a lighter slightly fizzy ‘green wine’ typical of Portugal and absolutely worth a try in the spirit of embarking on all things Portuguese.
This family restaurant feels like a project of love and shares it’s passion for Portuguese cuisine proudly. Word is out about Bar Douro already so get in the quick before the queues start forming.
Arch 35b Flat Iron Square, Union St, London SE1 1TD
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