Palco - 1 I’ve been following the work of the young chef Arnaldo Azevedo for quite some time now (elected as Chef to Watch in the Flavors & Senses Awards – the Best for 2014), but for strange reasons, I just now went to visit his home, Palco, where he is the main character since it opened.

Concerning the restaurant, it is inserted in the charming Teatro Hotel, a Design Hotel, that occupies the space where once was the Baquet Theater, with the signature of the brilliant Nini Andrade Silva. Entering the heavy door, illuminated by Almeida Garret, we enter a play, with each division becoming a different scene of the play, and for some moments, we’re not sure we’re watching or participating in a play ready to start!

Palco breaths the same concept, with warm tones and soft illumination, transporting us to a certain romance, with a sober decoration where some elements of exclusive design fill the space.

Coming back to the star of the play, Arnaldo Azevedo, and despite his age, he didn’t become na actor by chance, he grew watching his father cook (his father has a traditional cuisine restaurant in Ermesinde – Toca da Formiga), he learned and graduated in the famous school at Santa Maria da Feira, before heading to the restaurants of the Pine Cliffs, the wistful Mesa (you know how much I miss that kitchen of Luís Américo) and the starred Amadeus, where he shared the kitchen with the Austrian Siegfried Danler Heinemann.

Meaning he didn’t lack experience before his debut in this monologue.

Palco - 2Soon after seating and while taking a glimpse at the Menu, we are received with the welcoming from the chef, a corneto (chefs can’t get tired of cones these days!) with a codfish brandade and dried olive. Correct temperature and textures, in a creamy and tasty beginning.

Among the 3 available menus, we chose the menu Almeida Garrett (52€ – 5 dishes), being also possible to ask à la carte the several dishes and desserts of each menu.

Palco - 4Followed the bread, as it should be, with a nice brioche e a good seed bread, accompanied by a good dried tomato tapenade, and good butters, of foie gras and wild pepper (tasty and at the correct temperature), besides the always delicious olive oil from Acushla.

Followed the snacks, where the chef shows quite well how he likes to melt, in his cuisine, the respect for the classic side with the techniques and presentations of a more contemporary cuisine. We tasted a great smoked eel with sour cream and beluga caviar, an unusual and well fried mackerel spine with brandade and mackerel ceviche and avocado puree.

Palco - 5 smoked eel with sour cream and beluga caviar

Palco - 3mackerel spine with brandade and mackerel ceviche and avocado puree

A “suckling pig sandwich”, in a delicious reinterpretation of this classic from Bairrada, in which a small piece of the suckling pig belly, succulent and with crispy skin, is served with a small tortilla. And also, an homage to the master Joel Robuchon, with his famous potato puree with black truffle. You can’t ask for much more to start a meal! Technique, flavour, presentation and distinction!

Palco - 6

Palco - 7Crayfish, foie gras and trompetas da morte
I confess I went to this dish with some suspension points, crayfish is one of my favorite ingredients and I was afraid of the connection with the foie, where it’s natural sweetness and delicate flavour could easily get lost next to the weight and intensity of the foie. But I was conquered, the sauce had the right amount of foie to be felt without overlapping the crayfish (well cooked), nicely sided by the earthy notes of the mushroom. A great dish, where the balance stood out and the rightful principle of “less is more”.

Palco - 8Hook hake, Clams and barnacles xerém, joselito
A dish that mixes the Northern roots of Arnaldo Azevedo with his work at Algarve, combining, well, the hake with the xerém (typical Portuguese dish, a mash with a maze flour base to which are added ingredients). Fish on spot and moist, lacking the crispy skin. Tasty and well prepared xerém, with highlight to the clams and barnacles, enriching the sea flavour. High score to the adding of the pea, which sweetness balanced the dish, and of the prosciutto, with an enrichening greasiness. Less interesting was the celery, although I understand it’s adding, for its flavour and freshness, it missed some texture.

Palco - 9Green Risotto, 63º egg and black truffle
When copper pot cover is lifted and the entire room fills with the “dark gold” aroma – without the terrible oils and olive oils – all our senses arouse. Well prepared rice, with a beautiful green colour, with a basis of spinach and asparagus, and also a well accomplished egg, resulting in a combination of revisited comfort food to the good way of the haute cuisine.

Palco - 10Pork from Alentejo, Brussel sprouts and pickles
Elegant presentation, where once again we realize that the signature of Arnaldo Azevedo is not adding several elements to the dish, but to allow that 3 or 4 he uses to shine together and alone, with one or more textures. Delicious artichoke puree, despite its less appealing colour, perfect pork jus that helps all the elements to connect. Speaking of meat, it was the less interesting part of the dish, needing a bit more flavour and a more succulent texture. High score to the onion and saffron pickle, which freshness and acidity gave that kick to elevate the dish.

Palco - 11Apple, Yuzu and toffee
In the sweet chapter we ended up accepting the challenge of the chef and tasted his three proposals, starting with this one, apple based. A dessert that convinced, for its freshness and well balanced sweetness. Two small apples, filled with roasted apple puree that explode in the mouth and immediately transport us to that classic, well matched with the freshness of the yuzu and of the granny smith, with the Greek yogurt ice cream, and of course, with the sweeter notes of the toffee, presented in several textures. Also high score to the “plate”, an ice bag moulded to receive the dessert. Very, very good!

Palco - 12Raspberry, coconut and pineapple from Azores
Another dessert that fills my measures, with a combination of several raspberry textures, from its natural form, to the cake, through the thin coulis gelatine, involving the coconut panacotta. Highlight also to the pineapple ice cream, in a harmonious combination of the three fruits. Mandatory!

So far we accompanied our meal with an Encruzado do Dão, the Munda 2010 (24€), a wine which freshness, minerality and acidity allowed a nice harmonization with the fish and seafood dishes, as well as its body and well integrated wood allowed the connection with the pork dish. A beautiful wine, representing well the qualities of the caste.

Palco - 13Chocolate, coffee, tonka beans
To finish, and because it can’t be missing in any menu, the chocolate, in a classic combo with the coffee and the fragrance of the tonka bean. Several textures, of the chocolate, the bomboca to the tempered chocolate. Good use of the coffee, once again prudent and balanced, in order to not overlapping the remaining elements. A gourmand ending!

Shining was also a wonderful Tawny 40 years from Graham’s, which complex nose, caramel and chocolate notes revealed as the perfect company to end this meal.

Palco - 14Mignardises

While finishing the Port we had the company of some classical mignardises, like the red fruits pâte de fruit, the white chocolate and anise bonbon and the rose macaroon. All well accomplished.

The Service ran efficiently, showing the knowledge and taste of those working there, not only the knowledge of the dishes, but also that little sparkle in the eyes of those running with pleasure and happy to be where they are.

Final Remarks
If on the past I was sure that Arnaldo Azevedo was one of the main promises of his generation, I left Palco with the certainty that he is no longer a promise, but a serious case of talent and work. Arnaldo practices a cuisine in which I see myself, not falling into the temptation of dedicating only to a more contemporary cuisine, whether Nordic or Spanish, or staying in the past of the French and Austrian schools. His menu is, therefore, a combination of classics with more creative dishes, allowing himself to be bolder in the snacks and desserts, reigning the technical rigour of the dishes, allied to the taste. Flavour that was present in every dish, both in the best and in the less accomplished.

It is said it’s not a cheap restaurant, and it is certainly not, but however it is one of the restaurants where the relation between the price and quality of the product and offer are more balanced. Time will make sure to turn it into one of the greatest restaurants in Porto, and one of the main stages in the country!

A play to repeat!

Restaurante Palco – Hotel Teatro
R. de Sá da Bandeira 84 – Porto
+351 220 409 620

Versão Portuguesa

 Text: João Oliveira | Photos: Flavors & Senses

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