Dining in Portugal: Alma**

Alma is the restaurant of chef Henrique Sá Pessoa in Lisbon with two Michelin stars. The restaurant offers two tasting menus with the same number of courses (6) and the same price (120 euros): Alma with chef’s classics, and Costa to Costa with only seafood. We opted for the Alma menu with wine pairing (70 euros).

But first we had a glass of Portuguese sparkling wine from Bairrada, the best region in Portugal for sparkling wines. What I really liked about this wine is that it was made from Portuguese grape varieties: Baga, Bical, and Cercial. This gave the wine its own character with aromas of cherries.

Unlike our previous two experiences with an aperitif in Lisbon, the sommelier inquired whether we would like to have the amuses served with the aperitif, or with the first wine of the pairing. The alternative was to have a glass of port after the dessert.

We chose to have a wine pairing with the amuses, and that was a nice Alvarinho.

The snacks were oyster crackers, octopus with romesco sauce, and bell pepper tempura made with a black batter. This was all very nice, although the wine had some trouble with the sauce that came with the bell pepper.

The palate cleanser was a very nice ‘deconstructed’ gazpacho.

The second wine was from Alentejo, aged in oak barriques and made from old vines of local varieties. It had very nice freshness and complexity.

The first course of the menu: carrots with bulgur, apricot puree, goat cheese, kefir, and pistachios. This carrot dish was very flavorful and so much better than the bland dish at Belcanto. Also a great match with the wine. 9/10

The next wine was a fortified wine from the region of Lisbon, similar to a tawny port.

The wine worked very well with the next dish, seared foie gras with granola, beet root, fluffy sugarless chocolate cake, and coffee. This was a very generous portion of foie gras, that played more a role in the (unctuous) texture of the dish than as a distinct flavor. The whole combination became one new flavor. It was very nice and certainly 9/10, but for me it missed the wow factor that foie gras can have for me and would have taken it to 10/10.

Next a red wine from the Bastardo variety from Tras-os-Montes. This was a bit similar to a Pinot Noir.

It was served with the chef’s take on a classic Portuguese dish of Bacalhau (salted cod) with onion and egg yolk. The seasonings of onion puree and parsley puree were served on the side…

…and the soft egg yolk was inside. It was topped with carpaccio of bacalhau that was made to look like the typical cobblestone pavements of Lisbon. The dish worked well with the wine and was very tasty, although apart from the presentation it was quite rustic. 9/10

Next a Cabernet Sauvignon from Beiras from 1996, so 24 years old! Amazingly this wine still had fruit after all those years and did not appear old at all.

It was paired with suckling pig belly with crispy skin, turnip top puree, pickled onions, and a pepper jus. I really liked that the pepper jus was very flavorful without being too peppery.

The pork belly skin unfortunately was not by far as crispy as at Belcanto the day before. I did like the flavor of the meat and the sauce very much though, perhaps even more than at Belcanto. The wine pairing was excellent. 9/10

The pre-dessert was basil sorbet and grilled pineapple.

The dessert wine was a late harvest Riesling from the region of Lisbon with a good balance between sweetness and acidity.

It was a good pairing with the dessert of almond cake, olive oil cake, almond ice cream, orange, and orange curd. Almonds and oranges are both from the south of Portugal and a classic pairing. 9/10

Finally some petit fours with coffee or tea.

The level of dishes is very constant at Alma. All of them are very good, without any outliers up or down. The dishes are more about flavor than about showing off, and that is a good thing. 9/10 for the food.

The wines were very good and paired well with the food, as well as reasonably priced. The pours were just (but only just) large enough. 9/10 for the wine.

The service was very good. Bread and water were provided proactively and the servers were friendly and checked in with us about the pace of the meal. 9/10 for the service.

As Alma is literally around the corner, they both have two Michelin stars, and we had dinner at Belcanto the day before, a comparison is in order.

The food at Belcanto is more adventurous and more about technique and novelty, and more about flavor at Alma. At Alma the level of the dishes is more constant. Belcanto has more ups and downs. Belcanto is perhaps a bit more special. The tasting menu at Belcanto is more expensive, but it also has more courses (8 ‘real’ courses as opposed to 5 at Alma), so I’d say the price of the food is similar.

Alma wins with respect to the wine: better wines for a (much) lower price, slightly better pairings, and more adequate pours. Alma also has better service.

So it depends on what is more important to you which is better all around. I’ll gladly return to both of them next time in Lisbon.

8 thoughts on “Dining in Portugal: Alma**

  1. Some bells are ringing ! Of this restaurant I have heard before . . . remember liking the menu as I like this . . . Am saving all your ‘meals’ and looking up wines I do not know when time allows. Obviously I lack in wine sophistication as I have not thought of fortified wine in the middle of a repast . . . as I don’t consume foie gras on principle I guess that is one course to bypass even from afar . . . 🙂 ! . . . Just a question . . . when visiting a ‘food city’ and trying to have as many ‘experiences’ as possible, do Kees and you find it necessary to have a ‘night off’ My husbands and I found that every fourth or fifth night we wanted little . . . more in the line of ‘street food’ ere delving back . . .

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