This week, just a day after we returned from Istanbul, I travelled up to London to do some research and to source new ingredients. It turns out that Wednesday was the hottest June day on record since 1976 when, as a young girl, I lazed about all summer on the lawn reading Françoise Sagan novels and pretending that I was a part of the wealthy and disillusioned bourgeoisie living in a beautiful white villa on the French Riviera. Bonjour Tristesse; not that I was sad or anything, I was just curious about the wider and wilder world out there. So, it was really hot that evening and, when I met my husband for a drink at Borough Market, he remarked that it wasn’t going to be a good night for London’s chefs. Not so for Tiago Santos, head chef at Bar Douro who exuded an air of cool and calm efficiency which he managed to maintain for the duration of our visit despite the intense heat – all 400 degrees of it – crashing out of his Josper grill. We know this because we were seated opposite him – and that grill – right next to the pass.
I’m really impressed when chefs are able to talk and prep at the same time (I can’t) so I was blown away by Tiago’s relaxed conversation about Portugal – Porto in particular and the beautiful Yeatman Hotel (where he used to work) – food, wine and, of course, port. It was almost as if we were sitting at a table enjoying dinner with him rather than being served by him and his interaction with us made an eagerly anticipated visit to South London’s new foodie hub in Flat Iron Square into something really special.
The restaurant itself has been designed to deliver an authentic Portuguese experience inspired by the cerveijarias and tascas of Lisbon and Porto by matching brilliant wines – co-founder Max Graham is part of the family that founded Churchill’s Port – with Tiago’s modern interpretation of traditional Portuguese dishes.
Pataniscas de Bacalhau, salt cod fritters.
Octopus with sweet potato.
Obviously, despite this being a plant-based blog, we do eat fish occasionally, especially when we’re in Lisbon and Porto where we trust chefs to respectfully transform relatively simple ingredients into something extraordinary. Tiago is one such individual and every single dish he presented to us was just delightful as the ones before, each of them transporting us back to the sunny beaches of Caiscais and Aveiro.
Char-grilled sardines with blistered peppers.
Aubergine with lime chilli dressing and 18-month cured Serra cheese.
These four dishes between the two of us was enough on a hot evening; clearly, we loved everything, the sardines in particular.
The people behind Bar Douro – all of them – represent the kind of eating experience that we really like; light and airy, friendly and inclusive, beautifully interpreted, deeply loved and absolutely authentic. It’s an absolute beauty.
Arch 35B, Flat Iron Square, 66 Union Street, London SE1 1TD
020 7378 0524