A love letter to Lisbon: Part one of two


By Callum Ruddock, Third Year Politics and International relations

The Croft Magazine//He had fallen in love with the idea of loving someone. Having chased a close friend to Portugal for a summer of platonic romance, their afternoon jaunt had ended in the hills of Lisbon.

The air was soupy and lacked energy. Below I spied hilltop houses and the silhouette of a beautiful girl. The pace of life there wasn’t poetically slower; nor was my desire for it to be. Back then I didn’t smoke – I certainly drank a lot. I was slimmer; thought of myself as a more interesting person, and truly hoped my naïve emotional sails would catch the proverbial winds of love. Lisbon seemed foreign and that alone was exciting.

These things aside, I will spare you the romance and emotions. I live better off the page than on it. And, whilst I often wish for the latter; deep down I know this to be good. Here then are some stories of our favourite places. For each location I provide context and comment.

Epigram/Callum Ruddock

Bairro Alto’s buzzing streets felt a thousand miles from our apartment. The throb of the crowds could be found a mere two blocks away, and yet our position opposite an old metal works felt untouched. We had managed to bag ourselves a comfortable downtown spot. Not cheap by any standard, but  what we received in return was far better than what we deserved.

A varnished solid wood banister led-up to a spacious and light 3-bedroom apartment, with a stunning cream tiled kitchen complete with large unpolished marble surfaces. The terrace and balconies were covered with a rich array of house plants; the front room beautifully furnished with Scandinavian furniture, as we sat humbled by the breadth and scope of the things that lay before us.

Each room led well into the others through floor-to-ceiling double doors in that way European summer homes often do. Mopeds would speed by in the dead of night and make way for the sound of  accomplished violinists rehearsing at the orchestral school below come morning.

Music was to define our time in Bairro Alto. Be it the sound of the Wiener Philharmonic (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) who’d set up shop just down the street offering passers by an impromptu summers evening concert, or the hum of battery powered radios which bled from small independent mercados.

I was in proverbial heaven. Bairro Alto’s charm lifted my spirit and fortified my confidence. I tactfully avoided tourist restaurants as one might avoid bad pubs. Because let’s be frank – any restaurant that employs someone to stand outside and entice tourists in isn’t worth your time.

Good restaurants don’t need to advertise when word of mouth is king. It is the case in Lisbon as it is anywhere else that locals know best. Portuguese cuisine is built on locality.

Bairro Alto was kind to us. It suited our needs and helped us feel part of the city.

If you’re hoping to stay central you can’t go wrong with Bairro Alto. Busy if a little touristy, it’s transformation from shopping district by day to party hub by night is at least worthy of a visit.

Portugal is a nation of fish-eaters. Bacalhau (dried salted cod) and other fish of all kinds remain restaurant staples. Why then, at 7pm on a Thursday evening, was I sat alone eating steak?

Epigram/Callum Ruddock

The Decadente was an extravagant place for steak, set in the Swiss ambassador’s former residence the modern restaurant was to be centre stage for my daring deceit. I’d sat down with my notepad and begun to write. My friend had reliably informed me that she’d found the “best rooftop bar in the city” and had run off to grab a table, a glass of fizz and a phone call home. “I don’t like steak anyway”, she remarked as I was left alone. I would have to entertain myself. I got a cheap bottle of house red and set to work on my food.

No sooner than I’d started I was disturbed by the head waiter. He enquired as to what I was writing about. “Just reviewing for the Guardian” I softly replied, a grin across my face. And just like that, out came more food and new dishes filled with surprising zings. Tuna steak and pak-choi, and enough of it to feed four. I gobbled it down unapologetically grinning to myself over our misunderstanding.

The waiter let out an almost weary cheer as I fired a thumbs-up his way. Compliments to the chef I thought. Chefs always take pride in their food (or at least you’d hope so) and this chef was no different. I almost felt sorry for the poor person stuck behind the service hatch readying dishes for a fib-filled nineteen-year-old.

The Decadente can be found 1 min walk from Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, on R. de São Pedro de Alcântara. Come for food. Stay for late night drinks. Two courses and a bottle for around €30.00.

The food was outstanding and I’m sure if you visited them today, you’d be as satisfied as I was then. Maybe if you ask about their Guardian review they’ll say, “oh yeah we’re still waiting for that to be published.”

Featured image: Epigram / Callum Ruddock

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