Alistair Houghton finds a taste of Portugal at Liverpool’s Café Porto
CAFÉ PORTO is, it seems, pretty much the definition of a restaurant that’s hidden in plain sight.
The Portuguese restaurant sits on Rodney Street, one of the city’s best-known addresses, opposite the landmark ruin of St Andrew’s Church. Yet so many people I’ve told about my visit have never heard of it, even though they pass close by every day.
As soon as I say it’s next to Puschka, though, their eyes light up. That brilliant restaurant is such a culinary heavyweight that it overshadows its shyer neighbour.
But Café Porto has a relaxed charm all of its own and, it turns out, a tasty line in Portuguese tapas that’s well worth a try.
It’s an agreeably homespun place that’s clearly a labour of love for its owner Pedro Almeida.
There are just six tables in the white-walled dining room, whose walls are adorned with photographs taken by Almeida.
The kitchen is in the room next door, through an arch, partly hidden from diners by a small screen through which you can still hear all the sounds of busy chefs. And our server, rather than hovering in the dining room, spent much of her night busy in there.
It’s all reminiscent of a smalltown French bistro, with a charm that’s refreshingly different from flashier venues down the hill in the city centre.
M and I sat down at a table overlooking a sunshine-splashed Rodney Street and began our meal with Pao Fresco, a basket of lovely warm sweet bread with a scallop bowl of deliciously fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s an often-overlooked fact that great olive oil can turn a simple dish into a delicious one, as here.
Café Porto’s menu is not as long as those in other tapas restaurants, but there’s still a great choice, including several vegetarian options.
Tapas is a great meal to share with a vegetarian. I can taste M’s dishes at will – but she, of course, can’t dip into mine. Ah well. So I was able to try the Legumes Gratinados, a bowl of roasted vegetables in tomato sauce topped with cheese.
When I read that description on the menu, I half-expected something worthy and reminiscent of a vegetarian café from the 80s. But Café Porto delivered a rich feast, packed with flavourful veg including red onions, peppers and particularly tasty carrots.
M had wanted the mushrooms in garlic and olive oil – but our server apologetically told us they’d run out.
“But we have a spinach and cheese pie”, she said. So that’s what we chose.