Monday, May 5, 2014

Senhor Vinho: The Best Fado House in Lisbon

Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul and arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th-century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs coaxed from the rolling waves by homesick sailors and fishermen. Whatever its origins its themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: “Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.” It’s sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.

Fado star Maria da Fé owns Senhor Vinho in Lisbon as was a respected Faddista in her time

The list of Fado artiss playing at Senhor Vinho the evening we were there — In 2011, 'Fado’ was declared world heritage by Unesco.  

With a reputation as the most sophisticated and famous Fado house in Lisbon, Senhor Vinho was the perfect restaurant to celebrate our first evening in the city. Fado star Maria da Fé owns this small place, welcoming first-rate faddists. Even the legendary Mariza has performed here. Exposed beams, tile and plaster walls, brick arched doorways, and dark wood accents set the stage for the country's top fado singers and musicians who perform at Senhor Vinho each week. The menu features traditional Portuguese cuisine with starters, or 'couverts' of regional bread, local cheeses, olives, meats and deep fried cod cakes. Signature 'entradas' include 'peixe frescos' of Stone Bass Monte Belo, Braised Monkfish, Senhor Vinho-Style Roast Codfish and 'carne' of Veal or Grilled Entrecôte a Portuguesa, however Shellfish Rice with Lobster, Lagareiro Octopus and Pork Loin with Arabic Rice are house specialities. 

Our lovely table for two at Senhor Vinho with a perfect view of the Fado singers to come

Strict rules apply in this 'Casa Fado', so don't dare speak during the show unless you want to be escorted out of the place early. During the evening's performance, there’s an impressive silence at the dinner tables. Nobody eats, nobody touches their cutlery or moves their wine glasses and many have their eyes closed. In the delicate candlelight, you can see lips move gently along with the words of the faddistas mournful ballads, and can almost hear hearts break and see tears cascade down moist cheeks, as the audience laments the sadness of life. The music is heartbreakingly beautiful, however it's impossible to feel too melancholy on our first night in this nostalgic jewel on the Targus.

Before every meal in Lisbon, a 'couvert' or series of amuse-bouche usually arrive before even the menu: tonight's couvert was olives, mushrooms, tuna paté, deep fried cod cakes and Portuguese black ham, or 'presunto' topped with Queijo de Serra cheese

Sautéed Mushrooms with garlic, chives and parsley

Senhor Vinho's dep fried cod cakes

Tuna Paté lightly seasoned with lemon juice

Portuguese presunto ham with sharp and gooey Queijo de Serra cheese

The menu at Senhor Vinho features many fish and seafood dishes as well as beef and goat

The staff were all enormously warm, welcoming and friendly

Amêijoas com Alho: A Portuguese specialty of clams in a garlic broth

Senhor Vinho-style Roasted Cod 'Lagareiro' with roasted potatoes

Grilled Entrecôte a Portuguesa garnished with hose made 'crisps'

A glass of Senhor Vinho's red 'vinho da casa'

A Trio of Gelato: Chocolate, Pistachio and Mint

To finish off the meal: a glass of Ginjinha which is a Portuguese sour cherry liqueur

The Portuguese guitarra player Paulo Parreira was sitting right in front of our table which provided us with a 'front row' seating for the Fado evening 

Lilliana Silva was the first faddista singing this evening

he second faddista of the evening was Ana Margarida

The best and last of the night was the renowned Aldina Duarte

Aldina Duarte's 'Apenas o Amor' CD, which I bought during the evening, and was autographed by Aldina to both my husband and I