Eat, Drink and be Merry – 48 Hours in Porto
In my last two days in Porto, Portugal I am going to do my best to cram as much culture, sightseeing and a whole lot of eating into my last two days. I have already gorged myself on Portugal’s most famous pastry the Pasteis de Nata (aka egg custard tarts) and now I am in search of its signature sandwich the Francesinha. With only 48 hours in this amazing and plenty on my itinerary, I won’t be able to eat at all the places I’d like to, but I have sourced four great spots including one in Vila Nova de Gaia across from Porto on the other side of the Douro river. Oh, and because I’m in Porto I will also visit one of the great Port Houses for a tour and tasting. Who’s ready to feast Portuguese style?
A Cuban sandwich and a Croque Monsieur walk into a bar and have a one night stand. Nine months later a Francesinha is born. Francesinha means Little Frenchie and it is a uniquely Porto take on the Croque Monsieur. Layers of different meats (usually wet-cured ham, linguiça, and fresh sausage like chipolata) between two pieces of bread topped with melted cheese and surrounded in a tomato beer sauce. If you order a special Francesinha it comes topped with a fried egg.
For my first Francesinha, I went to Brasao Cervejaria. Talk to anyone in Porto and they are going to give you their own answer about who makes the best in town. A secret is it is all about the tomato beer sauce that surrounds the sandwich. Just like we all have our own favourite Turkey & Stuffing recipe, the tomato beer sauce recipe at each institution and family is protected.
I can only speak of my visit to Brasao and exclaim that it was amazing. Served with french fries that beg to be dipped in the sauce it is a MEAL. I’m a big eater and I couldn’t even finish mine. I ordered mine with a fried egg on top and it was amazing. Truly a signature sandwich I will only eat when I am in Porto.
Cantinho do Avillez in the heart of old Porto and not that far of a walk from the River Douro boardwalk is Chef Jose Avillez’s “little corner” or cantinho. A very low key facade hides an absolutely delightful culinary experience that is as unpretentious as it is delicious.
Lunch started off with Liver and Onions sauteed in Port Wine. I’ve eaten thousands of burgers in my life but this Barossa PDO Hamburger topped with caramelized onions and Foie Gras was divine. To finish off the meal, an espresso. Simply perfect.
Oficina Porto is literally right around the corner from my hotel the Eurostars des Artes. It may appear to be a lazy choice as it is only a two-minute walk, but after eating here I would travel 30 minutes for a repeat dinner. A very modern design esthetic pairs wonderfully with the culinary art that Chef Marco Gomes puts on his plates at Oficina.
Our meal started off with an appetizer of Grilled Cheese and various textures of Tomato with cured Ham. A very light and refreshing start to dinner. For my main course, I dove into the Ox Loin Medallion served on a gratin of potatoes with mushroom sauce. As for wine pairings, they have a very impressive selection that I was quite comfortable letting them pair with my meal. I made my way back to the hotel sated and very happy and perhaps a little tipsy.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Crossing the Douro river to Gaia is a must. I took the Ponte Luis I bridge which gives some of the best views of Porto you will find.
Along the waterfront promenade, you will find many warehouses and restaurants. Gaia was where the Port was unloaded and stored in warehouses before being shipped off to England and beyond. The riverfront maintains many of these old warehouse facades with some having been renovated to appeal to a 21st-century visitor experience.
One such restaurant you should visit is Espaco Porto Cruz. There are two restaurant dining experiences including a rooftop for sunny weather days and on the main floor a port tasting experience. I chose to dine at DeCastro Gaia Restaurant on the second floor under the culinary direction of Chef Miguel Castro Silva.
We started the experience with a White Port which I paired with a Port Poached Pear & Stilton Salad followed by Pork and Cured Ham Siders. A light but delicious lunch with a gorgeous view across the Douro River towards Porto.
Taylor Fladgate is one of Porto’s oldest Port Houses dedicated to only producing Port Wine since 1692! Touring a port house must be on your Porto bucket list of things to do and this is one of the best to visit in my opinion.
The tour will take you through the barrel room where some of the Port wine is aged. The tour will continue through various rooms that highlight where the different vineyards are that the grapes come from along with the changing methods of Port production since Taylor Fladgate began.
The tour will end in the tasting room where you can sample your way through some of the different Port Wines produced. Everything from a White Port to a Tawny and if you are lucky a vintage Port. To a comprehensive definition of the different Port, styles check out their website here. My favourite would have to be the 10-year-old Tawny which is rich and mellow with hints of a butterscotch aroma.
That is all I could squeeze into my 48 hours in Porto. Combine these culinary adventures with my walking tour and cultural adventures and it was a very full two days. All I can say is that I have fallen in love with Porto and I can’t wait to return to uncover more of the awesome that is in Portugal’s northern capital.