Clean cooking in principle and practice
Claim to fame: Minimalist experimental cuisine with a soft touch
Reason to go: Texture-sensitive ingredient trios paired with well chosen wines
To look out for: The pineapple, cucumber and creamed avocado dessert
Leopold had to be minimalist. When Tiago Feio and Ana Cachaço (husband and wife; he in the kitchen, she in the dining room) opened in a former bakery in Mouraria, just over three years ago, they had four tables and no kitchen. They couldn’t install a stove because there was no extractor fan, nor could they host more than ten guests as even that was a tight fit. But that’s how they wanted it. Low initial investment, low overhead, lots of room for experimentation.
Tiago Feio, who once worked with Porto chef Miguel Castro e Silva (at his Lisbon restaurant, Largo), put his faith in vacuum-sealed and low temperature cooking, which creates no fumes. He concentrated on quality, using almost exclusively Portuguese ingredients and added a certain discreet, very personal flair for combining flavors and textures.
Leopold’s almost immediate success surprised the couple. Two years later they accepted an offer, one of many, to open a self-contained restaurant in the exclusive, ten-room Palácio Belmonte hotel in the Castelo district. Now with 24 seats (but spread over only four tables), a suitably minimalist interior and an open kitchen, Tiago Feio has nonetheless stuck with his initial idea.
After a delicate start of cherry tomatoes to be nibbled and dipped in a basil sauce with leaves of Hottentot fig and black sesame seeds (a hit with tomatoes), the tasting menu picks up character with a crescent of barely-cooked, seared pumpkin served with an intriguing sauce of coconut and cumin. An algae salad with capers follows (a favorite from the first Leopold), and while the next dish, a slow-cooked egg with shiitake mushroom and buckwheat, may not be cutting edge, it’s a lastingly delicious combination of aromas and textures.
Grass-fed beef from the Azores is next, succulently tender and nicely choired by a mild garlic yoghurt and mizuna, but its surface browning could have been a shade or two darker. The Azorean archipelago also contributes the fish dish, a small fillet of John Dory, skin side seared, served with its stock, dried boletus crumbs and seaside ‘herbs’ including salicornia and saltwort. A symmetrically soft conclusion to the cooked dishes. A first dessert of pineapple- and cucumber spirals with avocado cream is a flavor and freshness revelation; the second dessert of strawberries marinated in their juice is less fresh, but the accompanying spice mixture and goat’s milk yoghurt add character.
In another holdover from the first Leopold, the meal ends with a tin box being placed on the table. No, it’s not the bill, but a handful of greengages nestling amid crumpled wax paper. The tarter ones are a great palate refresher.
The suggested wine package is excellent, featuring non-mainstream Portuguese and Spanish wines, well matched with the dishes and elucidated by the personable sommelier sporting a mohawk haircut. His hairstyle highlights the only grouse that comes to mind after an evening at Leopold: they could be just a tad more reckless.