Friday, December 30, 2011

Restaurante O Zé Magala, Lisbon

This isn't where you usually come for breakfast, when you're here. You usually go to a bigger place down the hill. But last night your friend asked you to "support the local economy" - meaning "go to the cafe closest to the flat." In a city full of independently owned and run cafes and restaurants, you are taken with the very specific geography of this idea of 'local business'.

It's smaller than your 'regular' place, but seems busy from the four or five customers who are here already. The proprietor greets you on his way back from one of the small blue tables to the stainless steel counter that runs along most of one wall. Once behind the counter he asks you what you would like.

You half-stand at your table to place your order; the room is so narrow you don't need to cross to the counter to speak to him, but it would feel rude to stay seated. As is so often the way in Lisbon, your breakfast is then on your table before you're properly settled, before you have properly established your territory. Café cheio, good, strong, the cup branded with the cafe's name rather than with name of the coffee it contains. Unusual, you note.

You realise that the cafe seems busy because in sitting to face the street, you have your back to the empty half of the room. By the time you order a second coffee and, breaking with tradition, a bolo de arroz, all the other customers have left, and you are alone in the cafe. Even the owner is out back. The TV, which no-one was paying any attention to anyway, plays silently to the empty room.

By the time you are ready to leave, though, four more customers - regulars you guess - are all standing at the counter with their coffees, juices and cakes. And this is the moment that you realise that you have left your wallet back at the flat, in your coat, you were just popping over the road after all, and that you only have 4 euros in your pockets.

It's an honest mistake and you could be back in two minutes with the cash. But you don't have the language to explain that.

So you start to make some expensive mobile phone calls.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Confeitaria Pampulha

A moment of the English uncertainty when taking a seat in a cafe in another country. It isn't full, but the guy behind the counter is getting on with stuff and the three or four regulars all seem to know each other, even though they are all standing, or sitting, apart. Will the cafe staff, y'know, notice that you're here?

Of course they do. And presently a waiter (which feels like the wrong word, but what would the right word be?) appears at your table, having just deposited breakfast at an adjacent one. Café abatanado, sandes queijo and pasteis de nata appear almost instantly. How do they do that?

You quickly find yourself having several unnecessarily expensive text message conversations, and have to actively put your phone down in order to concentrate on breakfast. Stop, for a minute. It's okay.

The coffee is medium-strong with a bit of bite. A second is swiftly ordered.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Clearly Food Kitchen, Sheffield

One of those cafes that has actually been many different cafes in the years that you have been coming here - in fact, didn't it used to be a chip shop? Yes, a good one.

But this is your first visit to it in this incarnation. You have a twenty minute gap between getting off the bus and your appointment, and this place is kind of on the way. Well, not in the opposite direction, anyway.

All of the coffees available are offered in just one size. This is either a Good Sign, or a Bad Sign. So you order an espresso - not trusting them, on this first visit, not to charge you for two if you order a double - and eggs on toast. Well, you've got twenty minutes.

The espresso comes lungo, and tastes great. The eggs on toast are perfect. You can actually see the neat, dark brown spot appear on your mental coffee map.

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?