Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cafetaria Doce Doce, Lisbon

The small café directly opposite the door to your flat. You had already found it the last time you were here, but this time it has been recommended. You've been here twice already on this trip, but this is your first visit alone.

The four staff seem to have barely enough room behind the counter, but the service is unfailingly efficient and friendly. Every customer is greeted, engaged in conversation and bade farewell, often by all four members of staff.

During a brief lull, the one guy who works here, who has previously established that you are English and who has explained that he was a student in Winchester, comes over to check that your typical (you think) Lisbonese breakfast of café abatando and 2 pasteis are okay. Perhaps because he didn't get to serve you himself, today.

"Is everything in order?"
"Yes, great. Obrigado."
"Do you like Portuguese food?"
"I like pasteis de nata very much."
"Do you know what I miss most, from being in England?"

You misunderstand the tense of his question, and are about to explain to him that you can get pasteis de nata in England, only they are not the same, nowhere near as good, but he continues:

"Baked beans!" He indicates a large plate with his hands. "A proper English breakfast! You can get baked beans over here, but they're not the same."

A discussion about the proportional cost of posting tins of baked beans from the UK to Portugal begins, but is interrupted by the arrival of new customers. Your friend goes back behind the counter, and you get your order in for another café whilst you have the chance.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Cafe Silvia

Some confusion in the arrangements today. Café choice No.1 turned out to be closed when you arrived, choice No.2 open, friend late, text messages lost in the ether, food order placed before new information received. Consequently you have had lunch in one café (choice No.2) and are now on coffee in choice No.3. Your friend has still not arrived at any of them.

Perhaps this has worked out for the best though – at least in terms of lunch and coffee. And cake. The pleasingly brusque waiter deposits a perfect looking cafe cheio and pastel de nata on your table.

Your friend arrives.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Aeroporto de Lisboa

You are here ridiculously early. Some issue with the taxi company wanting to collect you earlier rather than later, and today is a public holiday about sardines.

But it means time for a leisurely breakfast before checking in. You order your coffee long and decide to risk two pasteis de nata, knowing full well that they are only good when made on the premises in a pastelaria. You choose a seat to people-watch from, near the top of the escalators.

A guy with a good, real, tan, and cut off jeans, faded t-shirt and a battered cap comes to a tentative halt near your table, looking at the escalators with concern. He has his bag on a trolley, and an enormous cardboard box – bigger than himself and originally for a flat screen TV? – which is flapping open at the top, full of holes, and badly held together with peeling gaffa tape. It has an address in New Zealand written on it in black marker pen. You do not feel optimistic for its contents.

The guy perches at the edge of the café seating and checks his laptop.

The pasteis are, surprisingly, fantastic – clearly freshly cooked on the premises. But the coffee is too long – although you must accept some share of the responsibility for that.

The guy from New Zealand puts away his laptop, and drifts off, away from the escalators, looking worried.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pastelaria Orion II

A different seat this morning but, once again, the only free table. The waitress appears almost immediately. She’s still wearing the shades, even though today is overcast with drizzle.

“Bom dia,” she greets you.

You order your cafe abatanado, your sandes queijo, and, er, tres

“…pasteis de nata,” she finishes your order for you, smiling. Does she remember you from your single visit the other day, or is it just that that pasteis are the one thing that customers regularly have to think about exactly how many they want?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pastelaria Bernard

A confusing range of payment options. Outside, on the street it is table service, and there’s also a take-away window. Once inside, though, you are directed from the service counter to the pre-payment till opposite it. When you place your order there, the woman perched on the high stool asks if you want to sit at a table or stand at the counter. You say table and she indicates that you should just sit and someone will take your order at the table. The back of the room, it turns out, is Restaurant Bernard. Once seated you see that in the corner of the room there is a glass door leading to Restaurant Salandeclia.

You order your lunch, water, and a café cheio. You’d like the coffee now, before your food, yes, thanks, which is why you are ordering it now, and they (the waiter in particular, but the Portuguese in general) think this is weird. During this negotiation the waiter is of course talking to you in English, and around you you can hear English tourists who haven’t even bothered to learn obrigado/a or por favor. But you soldier on, using your minimal but well practiced café-ordering Portuguese.

So you order your café cheio for before your meal. And you will order another one after your meal, just to keep your waiter happy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pastelaria Orion

You have had to walk through Lisbon from your accommodation to find the end of the power cut that the room you are staying at has been caught in. You know from experience that you are not just looking for a café - a snack-bar - for breakfast, you are looking for a Pastelaria. You find Pastelaria Orion at the top of the hill, near the upper entrance to Elevador Bica, and at the edge of the power cut.

It is pleasingly familiar inside, even though you have never been in here before: a counter all along one wall, regularly laid out square tables filling the rest of the rectangular room, window seats to your left.

Your English uncertainty flickers briefly, but the waitress, despite her very dark sunglasses, has seen you arrive and is at your table to take your order almost instantly. You don’t have much Portuguese, but what you do have is well practiced: sandes queijo, dois pasteis de nata, café abatanado. Por favor. The waitress nods, and returns moments later with a laminated yellow card, bearing the number 150, which she leaves without explanation, and doesn't remove when she brings your order.

Initially you sit to look back out at the street, but a beer fridge blocks all of the nearest window, so you turn round to face the room. Most of the other customers have arrived alone. 5 or 6 have chosen a table like you, but a similar number are standing at the counter. Watching the room you realise that the yellow number card is your bill – to be taken to the counter when you are done. No need to mime writing on your hand, eyebrows raised, at the waitress when the time comes.

The waitress is, naturally, brilliant, despite the indoor shades. Busy but calm; cheerful and efficient. You think, as you have thought before, that going for a coffee in Portugal isn’t just a visit to a café, it’s actually a visit to quite a different lifestyle. Many of the customers seem to know both each other and the staff, just through being breakfast regulars. And even though it is normal to stand and eat at the counter, this isn’t a sign of hurry sickness – it’s a social thing.

You’ve been here about 30 minutes, and the clientele has changed completely, apart from you; but it’s just as busy, and with the same atmosphere. You’ll know you'll be back, but for now, it’s yellow ticket time.

Monday, May 31, 2010


A well known branded chain of coffee shop. For a person who professes to prefer independent cafes, and, indeed, tries to seek them out, you certainly carry a lot of coffee-chain loyalty cards.

It is the first day of the year when sitting outside to eat has felt like a realistic option. But you don't take it, instead opting for the halfway-house of the table closest to the propped open double doors, facing the street.

You haven't had a coffee since breakfast, but you are giving yourself a proper lunch break - in order to do some work on your laptop - so you opt for double espresso, followed by lunch and a cold drink, followed by another double espresso. Catching up, as it were.

After trying to entice you with pastries, the girl on the till asks you if you would like to buy just the extra shot in your doppio using your loyalty card - as that's all you can afford in points. You decline. You're saving up for a whole one.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Cafe in Bruxelles

You know that you could just speak English and be understood, but the girl calls "Bonjour" to you as you walk in, and so you commit, to yourself, to trying to speak French.

The girl tells you something in French, pointing. You nod, planning to take a look at whatever she is pointing at just as soon as you have taken your coat off. She tells you again, more insistent this time, as you are putting your coat over your chosen chair. She is pointing, you see when you look up, at a row of coat hooks on the wall. You stutter a "Merci" and hang your coat up.

You look at the menu and plan the task of ordering an espresso and a bagel in French. Simple. But when it comes to carrying out the task it seems that the few words of French that you do have are now all mixed up with the even fewer words of German and Portuguese that you've got, in a single compartment in your brain marked 'Ordering in Foreign Cafes'. You start by thanking her (very much) in German, then asking her for an espresso and er, where am I, please, in French. She smiles at you. Or is it a gentle laugh?

Look back at the menu. "Bagel." "Nature." OK. Cream Cheese is written "Cream Cheese" on the menu. What is "with" in French again?

She asks you, in French, if you would like more time to look at the menu. You really wouldn't. Come on. Avec.

"Bagel, nature, avec, Cream Cheese."

"Just?" she asks.

"Yes, just," you sigh.

When the espresso arrives it is pretty extravagantly presented. And the bagel, the simple, humble bagel, is heavenly.

Your friend arrives.