Dining at Belcanto is magical. This Chiado-based restaurant, with its 50-odd year history, was reopened in 2012 by superstar chef José Avillez, fresh from a refurbishment to both its visual and culinary identity. Now, mossy green velvet chairs and tan leather banquettes surround tables with bright white table linens, and the cotton-coloured walls are punctuated with art and illuminated by striking, pendulous overhead lights. It’s an elegant space, to be sure. And one which, with only 10 tables, feels welcoming, despite the obvious exclusivity.
And the food follows suit. Creative in concept and stunning in taste, it’s unsurprising that Belcanto won a place in the Michelin firmament within its first year of opening. And its second star, won in 2014, only further reinforced what we all knew; José Avillez created something special here, and in the process became the first Portuguese chef to be awarded two Michelin stars in Portugal. Through his food, Avillez tells stories. Diners feel this particularly in the way course gives way to course in his two tasting menus. The Discoveries Tasting Menu, for example, takes the conquest of Ceuta in 1415 as its starting point and moves through Portuguese history in its dishes until arriving at the 21st century. A bold starting point for a meal, but one which Avillez carries off with aplomb.
The a la carte menu, meanwhile, is studded with many of the chef’s now-famous dishes, including the Leitão Revisitado (“Suckling Pig Revisited”), a Portuguese classic which is taken to new heights, slow-cooked and served with perfectly crispy crackling, orange puree and potato. And when it comes to drinks, if you haven’t had your fill from the “Inverted Martini” during the amuse bouche phase of your dinner, there’s a wine cellar with around 350 bottles to choose from, many of which are Portuguese.