A City Revived
Re-energised in recent years, Lisbon merges its modern, funky vibe and fresh food scene with its unique charm and untouched beauty
Article by Oscar Udeshi
A good friend of mine moved to Lisbon last year and we have kept threatening to visit. We were warned it was getting a little like Barcelona, where a lot of apartment buildings are being converted wholesale to Airbnb lodgings; the ever present rattle of trolley suitcases on the tiled pavements fills the air, competing with the high pitched shrill of three wheel tuk tuks ferrying tourists around, and restaurant menus in multiple languages are the norm. Lisbon has appeared in almost every magazine as the go to destination of 2017 and 2018. We heard English, American, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Japanese or Mandarin on almost every street corner.
During the financial crisis, young Portuguese fanned out into the world to seek a better life, and ended up in the most unlikely of places. Many returned back home rich with new found knowledge and experiences and set up shop; not with copy versions of what they had seen on their journey, but adapted to the local market and with a unique Portuguese twist. The first shoots of this new outward looking mentality manifested itself in gastronomy and hospitality. Fifteen years ago Portugal was in my experience a gastronomic black hole. Yes, there was seafood, and casas do frangos (houses of chicken) serving grilled chicken with rice, fries and salad. And that was about it. Accommodation was basic or overpriced international hotel chains, and the south was a budget holiday version of Spain’s Costa del Sol. There was and hopefully will always be port, but that was the extent of people’s interaction with Portugal.
The Portuguese government offered financial incentives and people took note and investment started to pour in from abroad. People were no longer content with dried salted cod and greasy French fries. Something had to change and it did. Previous no go areas in Lisbon and Porto are being gentrified, bars are springing up, brunch places are opening such as Frutaria and Dear Breakfast, specialty restaurants like KOB (Knowledge of Beef) near the Botantical Gardens specializing in steak, or authentic Italian pizzerias like ZeroZero are springing up offering culinary experiences on a par with London and New York, and leaving cities like Berlin in the dust. International chains like Ladurée and (sadly) Jamie’s Italian are opening up, cashing in on this new gastronomic wave.
A backward, inward-looking, seaside city Lisbon is no more. The young beautiful things go shopping at Fashion Clinic for the latest threads and pick up a macaroon or two at Ladurée, have sunset martinis and bellinis at the Sky Bar on the roof of the Tivoli hotel, eat at the Time Out Market or restaurant Pap’Açorda and have divine chocolate cake at Landeau Chocolate. On Sunday they would hang out the converted warehouses at LxFactory shopping for vintage fashion and LPs, home products and local delicacies. This place would give Hoxton a run for its money.
And then one heads down a side street, and suddenly the pause button is pressed, and old Lisbon is there, with the shop selling stationary or plumbing supplies circa 1960s for a perfect period black and white photo, and the only concession to 2018 is the sales assistant tapping away on their mobile phone. The ancient trams still crawl up the narrow lanes, albeit graffitied within an inch of their life with English slang, and now accept credit card payments.
Lisbon, like Havana, will never be the same again, go now before the intentional chains suck the culture and history out of one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Europe. It will never be the same again.
Fruitaria: R. dos Fanqueiros 269, 1100-232 Lisboa
Dear Breakfast: Rua das Gaivotas 17, Lisboa
ZeroZero: Rua da Escola Politecnica 32, 1250-102 Lisboa
Ladurée: Avenida da Liberdade 180, Tivoli Forum, 1250-146 Lisboa
Sky Bar at Hotel Tivoli: Av. da Liberdade 185, 1269-050 Lisboa
Pap’Açorda: Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-479 Lisboa
Landeau Chocolate: Rua das Flores 70, 1200-014 Lisboa, and
Rua Rodrigues de Faria 103, 1300-501 Lisboa
Oscar is the founder & owner of UDESHI