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Vegan in Lisbon: A weekend's eating

Lisbon had never been on my top ten list of places to visit. Probably not even on my top 100 places to visit. It had passed me by. It was only Mr Flicking the Vs' insistence, having visited the city before, that I'd love it that eventually persuaded me to book a plane ticket.

You can guess how an opening paragraph like that is going to be followed. I fell in love with the city in about 10 minutes. After we picked up the keys to the apartment we'd rented for the long weekend, we took a stroll down to the waterfront. The stone walls had seats built it, asking for us to rest and enjoy the horizon for a while, while tourists and local families did likewise. Stalls sold cocktails, buskers played music, and the sun shone down. With those first few minutes, I was pretty sure I'd be coming back to Lisbon before too long.

Nothing that I saw during the rest of the weekend convinced me otherwise. You could go to Lisbon, see all the big sights, and have a good few days, or you could spend your time strolling around the narrow streets, getting lost, and still have spent your time in the city enjoyably. Whatever you want, it seems like Lisbon can easily oblige.

We took the strolling option, walking around the city whenever there seemed to be a good vegan meal or a sunny square to rest our legs in. We strolled around the traditional district of Alfama, enjoying the beautiful tiled houses and narrow streets.

We took ourselves out to the Torre de Belem to marvel at the stonework.

And we stopped at every mirador we could find to take pictures of the gorgeous skyline.

We even admired the graffiti.

And the food? Yeah, there was a lot of good food.

Our first top was a buffet restaurant Jardim das Cerejas, where every dish is vegan. You pay a fixed amount for your plate, and then fill it up as many times as you can manage (I restricted myself to a mere one and half plates, though I would happily have gone full Mr Creosote.)

There's a soup plate to start if you're of a mind to begin with a bowl of liquid, and then a table of salady and cold dishes, and several warm ones.

Having chosen a few raw veggies as a half-hearted hat-tip to my five a day, complemented by as many of the other dishes as I could squeeze on my plate.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of all of them, the lentil curry was better than you had a right to expect, the lasagne and broccoli dishes were both moreishly creamy, and the Portuguese version of what I now as cake sale was an unexpected delight.

A mere €8.50 (I think!) will get you as much food as you like, though drinks and the divine looking desserts are extra.

The only bum note was struck by three English tourists who, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to come in and grab a couple of plates of food before listing to each other all the reasons they didn't like 'vegan food'. Too sweet, apparently. Quite why they should come into a vegan restaurant if they disliked vegan food so much, I'm not sure. Equally, why they chose to detail their dislike loudlky to a room full of people that didn't share their views, as well as to the people that were providing thei hospitality was a bit of a mystery.

The next evening, we went for dinner at AO - Vegan Food Project, another all vegan restaurant (there are a few of them around Lisbon, happily.) AO is more of a fanicer type place than Jardim das Cerejas, but the prices are not a million miles apart.

The food is brilliant. AO had already won my heart as soon as I opened the menu. The starters included a cheese board, and the description said 'some may know it as Gary' - it seems the news of vegan cheese's renaming has spread as far as Portugal now!

Mr Flicking the Vs decided he was hungry enough to get a starter to himself, but the plate of 'couvert' that arrived was more than big enough to feed us both, even at the princely sum of €2.50. We snacked on good bread and oil, lupin beans, beetroot dip, olives, and more.

Mr FtVs followed it up with a very wise decision to eat something from the specials board that day, a ceviche melon, avocado, and smoked tofu, with a crostini of cheese, tomato, and basil. I think owing to its popularity, it sold out soon after he ordered it, and the avocado was notable by its absence, but it was nonetheless a good plate. I was particularly surprised by the inclusion of what seemed to be the first packet Gary that I actually put in my mouth and didn't want to spit straight out onto the table and scour out my mouth with sandpaper.

My scran was a bit more like a winter's meal that had escaped its confines of the winter months to rock up in the height of summer and spring on unsuspecting tourists. A hearty meal of cornbread topped tofu, roasted new potatoes, chestnuts, and creamed spinach may have been better suited to a cold December evening, but everything was so well done I wouldn't have swapped dinner with Mr FtVs for love nor money.

We managed a creditable chocolate cake before retiring for the evening. I think it was possibly my favourite meal of the weekend - everything was prepared with care and thought, it was impossible to not be pleased with the whole thing. Side note: it does get busy on weekends so might be worth booking if you don't want to miss out. We didn't, and we ended up waiting in the queue outside for 10 minute or so. We agreed that the wait definitely worth it.

Mr FtVs' favourite meal was the brunch we had at Aloha Cafe.

At over €15, it's not cheap, but you won't leave hungry or unhappy. For your euros, you get a whole heap of glorious food. Our first round was basket of several different types of good bread, from dark rye to cornbread-type slices, with two types of jam, and some homemade vegan chocolate and hazelnut spread.

While we grazed on that, coffee (or tea!) and fresh fruit juice turned up. The juice is made according to whatever's in the kitchen, and ours was a refreshing mix of apple, watermelon and berry, I think.

Then more food came - a porridge for him, yoghurt for me, salad and fruit, scrambled tofu, and a smoked tofu carpaccio.

Having made our happy way through all that deliciousness, we loosened our belts and sat back, sated. And then the pancakes arrived...

... and they were great too! I think we probably could have fed three people on the amount of food we ate, but for a Sunday indulgence and the fuel for a whole nother day of walking, it couldn't be faulted.

Our last meal out in Lisbon was in Princesa do Castelo, in the Alfama district. After so many storming meals, Princesa do Castelo rather faded into the background.  The prices were similar to a lot of places we stopped into, but the food just wasn't in the same league - it was the sort of thing I'd cook at home than something that blew my socks off.

Don't get me wrong, the food wasn't bad, but nearly €5 for a plate of nachos and salsa from a jar didn't rock my world. I liked getting the chance to try a vegan version of a Portuguese dish called rancho though - here it is:

The traditional pork (bleurk) was replaced by beans (yay!) and the rather imaginative addition of yuba. And there was bread with it, which is always a welcome addition on my plate.

We ordered ice cream for dessert, and got mango sorbet. Nothing wrong with that, but it is a standard vegan option, and not massively exciting.

Princesa do Castelo rather suffered in my mind from being the last in a series of storming dinners, but it was the only one that I wouldn't rush back to. Probably worth noting they don't take cards, so bring cash. We didn't know that, so we didn't, so Mr FtVs had to run around trying to find a cash machine at 11pm, while I stayed in the restaurant to prove we weren't doing a runner.

To try and cheer us up during the journey home, we stocked up on vegan food from Celeiro on Rua 1 Dezembro for the plane.

The shop is more like a chemist chain, but it has a health food store attached with all sorts of interesting food to takeaway - tofu, nut cheese, chocolate and so on. We picked up a couple of empanadas. Mr FtVs said his tofu one was a bit bland, but I liked it. He didn't try my shiitake one, as he's a confirmed mushroom dodger, so that meant I got it all to myself.

It got bonus points for looking a bit like an alien spacecraft:

As well as some unexciting sandwiches (unflavoured tofu and salad does not a happy vegan make), we did pick up what seemed to be a vegan nod to the classic Portuguese pastéis de nata. The main ingredient was listed as oats, but it should have been gloriousness.

The tarts were the perfect end to our weekend: like Lisbon itself, it was perfectly sweet.

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  1. Lisbon has always been on my 'maybe' list, but never seems to get bumped up. Until now! It looks like such a pretty place, and it seems you did very well with the food. Love the spaceship empanada!


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