The Pena Palace in Sintra
We were spending only one night in Sintra and while I was still thinking of where to dine on that one evening, this message came in from Antonio, my new email BFF from Lisbon Explorer:
While in Sintra, you may want to try what many consider one of the best eateries in Portugal. The name of the restaurant is a bit embarrassing, but the dishes are always amazing. It is called "G-Spot", and the prices are mid-range. The whole staff is wonderful and the menu is a good representation of the food revolution that is happening in Portugal. The restaurant started as a collaboration between the chefs of 100 Ways in Cascais, João Sá and André Simões, and Award-Winning Sommelier Manuel Moreira who are very well connected with some major names in the New York culinary scene. If it makes you feel any better, the "G" stands for Gastronomia.
It's an unusually named restaurant I agree, (but remember that chocolate cake that was very popular in Manila long long ago, called BTS? Marketing genius at work there) but with that kind of recommendation, we were hooked and booked.
But alas, after finally getting to Sintra and dropping off our bags at our beautiful palace hotel at 7:30 pm, and turning the laptop on (I keep the data off on my Blackberry when I travel), we find this message from Antonio in my inbox:
I just received a call from the G-Spot that they are having an issue in their kitchen at the last minute and they had to close their restaurant for tonight. The owner is very regretful. However, they have arranged for you to dine at another restaurant located very close to the G-Spot, and they will make sure that you get a 25% discount. The name of the new restaurant is called A Raposa. Although I have never eaten there I must trust that João is a reliable source. If you go to the G-Spot at 8:00pm, João will be waiting for you and he will walk you over to A Raposa. I also left this message with Pedro at the front desk, in case you're not traveling with a smartphone.
Like spies in the night, we meet João in front of his closed restaurant at the appointed time. He knows we're just passing through for the night and he is ever so apologetic, explaining the electrical mishap in the kitchen and not wanting to risk opening for fear of making the problem bigger, etc etc.
After chatting briefly about restaurants and food, we hopped into his car and around the corner we went to A Raposa. We are greeted by Sergio, the chef-owner with whom João has worked alongside in the past. More chatting and reassurances ensues, with João telling Sergio to take good care of us.
Sergio of A Raposa
João and Sergio then said their goodbyes to one another, but not without João telling us (when Sergio was out of earshot), "Sergio's is the number 2 restaurant in Sintra, so it's also very good and you will enjoy your dinner." With this kind of extraordinary service from João, GSpot just earned 5 stars from us--and that's without even trying the food.
So now we are in A Raposa, and I'm liking the interiors. We're the only diners on this low-season evening, except for a lady who is probably Sergio's wife, finishing up dinner in one of the tables near the kitchen door. Sergio is our cheerful waiter, maitre d' and chef all rolled into one.
Aperitifs are brought to the table: two glasses of sparkling rosé compliments of João, and amuse bouche compliments of the house. GSpot's bounceback is way over and above what is necessary. But extra attention is always appreciated.
amuse-bouche of duck with melon on crisp wonton
rustic house bread and first-press olive oil
our deliciously deadly foie gras with apples
We ordered one appetizer to share--Foie gras with apples, and finally settled on Bacalhau (Portuguese spelling) for me and Salmon for B. By the way, before going out for dinner, we ate all the "welcome pastries" that were in our hotel room--baaad idea! We were not as hungry as we should've been.
Salmon with lemon risotto
B's salmon with lemon risotto was superb. I really liked this a lot (and I think I ate half of the risotto.)
Bacalhau A Raposo
My bacalhau was nicely prepared and delicious, but it made me wonder if this was really the bacalhau dish that was described on the menu. It wasn't a fillet--it was flaked, there was no cornbread, and I don't think the "signature side dish" is supposed to be a bed of lettuce, potatoes and onions. Nevermind. It was good too.
Considering we were the only ones in the place, the service was very slow. Sergio was very pleasant and accommodating--when he was in the room.
But we were left by ourselves for long periods of time which actually gave me time to walk around the whole dining room inspecting all the interior details. I even looked out all the windows to try and figure out where we were. The ambience was nice and music was Frank Sinatra type. But dinner, although delicious, took longer than necessary.
The view outside the window
When the bill finally came, it included the 25% discount that was promised by João according to Antonio's email. With all the personal effort that João took to make sure we had a good dinner that night, we completely forgot about it--but it sort of made up for all the lingering we did at A Raposa, so again, it was well appreciated.
Sergio called us a cab, and as we headed back to the hotel, we agreed that while the food was good in A Raposa, we would just have to go to GSpot if we came back to Sintra. With a chef-owner like João, it's no wonder GSpot is number one.