Friday, 31 October 2014

A Taste for Porto

From Lisbon, we drove North to Porto the home of port wine. We arrived to wind and mist and rain but that just served to heighten the romance of this beautiful hilly town with its spires, caves and cobbled alleyways...
First things first. Where to stay... we booked late on AirBnb and were pleasantly surprised to find this listed apartment at just £36 per night on Mouzinho 134 right in the centre. Eugenia and Luis are a formidable mother and son duo with a selection of these incredible apartments to let. We stayed in the Rose room which was at the cheaper end of the spectrum, but felt like a 5* Hotel without the fuss

With the light fading fast, we unpacked, got changed and swiftly headed out to dinner at Cafeina. This restaurant situated in an old town house is a Porto must. The whole interior is carved from rich mahogany with huge bay windows onto the street. You're set just back from the sea, which on the blustery night we had made the warm interior feel extra cosy and comforting. 

When it came to the food, every detail of every course was perfect. 

Tuna tartare

Pickled sardines

The wine list at Cafeina is so extensive that they have their own website for you to flick through (on an iPad menu) when you arrive. This is no bad thing as they get very busy and the wait can be long if you leave it to the last minute to book as we did. Their sommelier is really helpful and can explain the intricacies of Duro valley wine to you for hours. Explore and book here.

Lobster and thyme
King prawns and pasta in a saffron cream

We woke still full to a drab morning and determined to make the most of it, set off to sight-see via some pastel de nata at the workers cafe just across the road from the apartment. This place looks very basic (and it is) but in most places in Portugal, that translates to perfectly brewed coffee and perfectly baked custard.

After a stroll through the central town area, we crossed the river and headed to Taylors Port caves where you can go on an educational tour of the caves including a tasting at the end for just 5 Euros.
The Taylor's tour teaches you the difference between vintage and non-vintage port. Non vintage must be drunk within a few years after producing (and a few months after opening) and is sealed with a rubber cork. The vintage, cork sealed ones are aged in barrels for years before bottling and are best drank years - centuries even - after their vintage. 

My favourite part was learning about how the Tawny port is infused with different spice and honey notes whilst it's still in the barrel. I hadn't known that Tawny was my favourite until this trip - I'm looking forward to making the most of that this Christmas. 

After the tour, we went onto the Taylors terrace with our tasting glasses to look out onto the view of Porto over the river. The peacocks had recently had some bubbas in the ornamental garden too.

I am not ashamed to say, we spent most of our time in Porto eating and drinking because that is exactly the thing to do there. A rustic cafe lunch spot provided the best value of our stay. Many of the other restaurants have become more pan-European gasto tourist pleasers, but where you can find proper Portugese food, stick to that. 

Fresh octopus salad
Bacalhau (Portugese deep fried salt cod)
Shredded duck and cheese bake (I forget the Portugese)

By dinner time, we had abandoned hope that we might feel less full and committed ourselves to a wine tasting with cheese and charcuterie as a happy compromise on another full meal. Wine Quay Bar turned out to be the perfect way to finish up our Porto experience. The cost interior of the riverside wine bar, yawning orange light onto the narrow pathway outside overlooking the river.  
We started with two glasses of dry white port
...and swiftly moved on to two glasses of Soalheiro alvarinho, which was particularly delicious with the soft melt-in-the-mouth portugese cheese. 

With so much cheese and meat to get through, we couldn't resist a second glass. 

...oh and then finishing up with a tawny accompaniment to chocolate truffles of the casa. 

Porto is absolutely magical. We will be back.