José Avillez's Belcanto, the melody of the New Portuguese Cuisine

A great chef-entrepreneur who does all it takes with his top restaurant, destined to reach important goals because of his ability to create harmony between memories, products and creativity

07-10-2020
José Avillez is the most important representativ

José Avillez is the most important representative of the Portuguese culinary scene, with many restaurants scattered around Lisbon (and beyond) among which the great, great, great Belcanto stands out 

Fertile cuisine. Aware and structured creativity. A talent for innovation with a brilliant interpretation of one's culinary roots. All this can be summed up in a dish, just to give an example: Carabineiros from Algarve with head sauce, xerém with lemon and squid ink, Bulhão Pato emulsion and citrus zest, that is to say a display of the perfect enhancing of exceptional raw materials (the fantastic carabineiros, or carabineros in Spanish) with flavours that come from the local history (xerém, the Bulhão Pato emulsion. For their description see the photos and captions below), all this with an exceptional and innovative synthesis. A great chef. A master.

Sometimes people are a little suspicious – and even rightly so at times – when in front of the champion of fine dining from another country, the forerunner of a whole community-country in the world circus of fine dining. People think that perhaps it's just a question of being emblematic, or of business; that as in the Olympic Games, each country will have its athletes parading at the opening ceremony with no distinction between the untalented who are just there to participate, and those who instead aim for the gold medal, and it will be the competition that will make the huge difference of value emerge. Now, all these bad thoughts had no reason of being when, a few weeks ago, we were in Portugal. This is because José Avillez, born in 1980 in Cascais, is a real champion. His Belcanto in Lisbon, where we tasted the dish mentioned above, has two stars: he will easily earn three, or at least he deserves them unquestionably; he's 42nd in the 50Best, and he will climb further.

Bairro do Avillez

Bairro do Avillez

The man “who is reshaping Portuguese cuisine”, as we said here, had to redesign his small empire as well, during the post-lockdown. He cut something, merged here and there, and focused many establishments in the large Bairro do Avillez, all with separate spaces (Páteo, a sort of gourmet bistro with excellent seafood; Taberna, the place of tradition, of ham, and of cheese; Mercearia, the shop where you can buy delicacies; Pizzaria Lisboa; and Mini Bar, a gourmet place where you can savour and watch, which didn't leave its old location but remained a mix of food, stage and music. He then confirmed the four locations of Cantinho do Avillez (two in Lisbon, plus Porto and Cascais), the three different gourmet offers inside El Corte Inglés in Lisbon, as well as Tasca in Dubai… In other words, he restated his vocation as successful chef-entrepreneur. Of Belcanto, however, we immediately noticed the strength of the chef, his brilliant value.

«You know what guides me? The idea of creating a momentum, of mobilising my country, promoting Portuguese gastronomy, working with my fantastic team, cooking and taking care of my clients. But also, and always, I am excited by moments of creativity, because it is on those occasions that I sense the greatest pleasure and emotion. And then there's the emotional commitment, the possibility of giving to others... This is what we do in the kitchen! Life is a journey, and what's important is to give, to leave more than what you took»

The dining room and, below, the kitchen at Belcanto

The dining room and, below, the kitchen at Belcanto

Belcanto is the heart of this daily commitment. As we said, it has structure, solidity, the importance of a great restaurant. The food is divine. As Avillez explains, «we look for the perfect balance between creativity, novelty, uniqueness and tradition, ingredients, raw materials in their most natural shape, the way they arrive on our doorstep, with our smallest intervention. We're aware that there can be magic in the smallest detail, more obvious than the creative impulse. We seek emotional memories, meetings with the past and the transformation of these memories into a bite. We are history, memory, knowledge, creativity, dream, emotion and action. A timeless cuisine, with all the time in the world».

The chef

The chef

An emphatic but not excessive description. In any case, it's not detached from reality. We mentioned the carabineiros. We'll also mention the Coast prawns with pine nut milk, frozen lupins and caviar, exceptional harmony; the perfect Red tuna tartare and oyster, pearls of cucumber and apple, borage; then Carrot in different textures with cashew nut milk, olive bon bon, mandarin and sprigs of carrots in tempuraPercebes, alga codium, gel of seawater, cherry gazpacho water, thin slices of cherries and tomato snow, the sea meets the sweetness and the acidity…

Ps: please note that in our tasting menu there were virtually only new dishes, from 2020 or 2019 at the earliest. The stop did good to the chef's creativity.

Dinner at Belcanto, in the photos of Tanio Liotta.

We begin. The first bite is a small Brioche of cod liver, trout roe and yuzu (dish from 2019). It's matched with Elderini (Martini with elderberry flowers) with lemon foam and zest and salted paprika (2020)

We begin. The first bite is a small Brioche of cod liver, trout roe and yuzu (dish from 2019). It's matched with Elderini (Martini with elderberry flowers) with lemon foam and zest and salted paprika (2020)

Fantastic Red tuna tartare and oyster, pearls of cucumber and apple, borage (2020)

Fantastic Red tuna tartare and oyster, pearls of cucumber and apple, borage (2020)

Full moon of foie gras and Porto (2020)

Full moon of foie gras and Porto (2020)

Avocado in tempura, with cocoa, kimchi and pansy (2020)

Avocado in tempura, with cocoa, kimchi and pansy (2020)

Carrot in different textures with cashew nut milk, olive bon bon, mandarin and sprigs of carrot in tempura (2020). Another great dish 

Carrot in different textures with cashew nut milk, olive bon bon, mandarin and sprigs of carrot in tempura (2020). Another great dish 

Percebes, alga codium, seawater gel, cherry gazpacho water, thin slices of cherries and tomato snow (2020). The sea meets sweetness and acidity 

Percebes, alga codium, seawater gel, cherry gazpacho water, thin slices of cherries and tomato snow (2020). The sea meets sweetness and acidity 

Coast prawns with pine nut milk, frozen lupins and caviar (2019). Exceptional harmony, a take on the classic Portuguese aperitif of beer and lupins 

Coast prawns with pine nut milk, frozen lupins and caviar (2019). Exceptional harmony, a take on the classic Portuguese aperitif of beer and lupins 

Marinated and braised sardines with cream of black pepper, aubergines, pickles and ash (2019)

Marinated and braised sardines with cream of black pepper, aubergines, pickles and ash (2019)

Egg yolk cooked at low temperature and Jerusalem artichoke in different textures with jus of chicken and truffle, hazelnut butter, smoked eel, mousse of eel and matured eel roe (2020)

Egg yolk cooked at low temperature and Jerusalem artichoke in different textures with jus of chicken and truffle, hazelnut butter, smoked eel, mousse of eel and matured eel roe (2020)

Blue lobster curry with jowl and cod tripe, apple, coriander sprouts and basil (2019)

Blue lobster curry with jowl and cod tripe, apple, coriander sprouts and basil (2019)

Carabineiros from Algarve with head sauce, lemon xerém and squid ink, emulsion of Bulhão Pato and lemon zest (2020). Exceptional dish, the best possible carabineiros. Xerém is a typical Portuguese dish, a mix of corn flour with traditional ingredients from the region where it's made. Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato (1828-1912) was a writer, poet, politician and gastronomist from Lisbon; he was crazy for a simple dish of clams (cooked with white wine, garlic, chilli pepper, coriander, salt, white pepper and olive oil) prepared for him at restaurant Estrela de Ouro. The preparation was therefore dedicated to him 

Carabineiros from Algarve with head sauce, lemon xerém and squid ink, emulsion of Bulhão Pato and lemon zest (2020). Exceptional dish, the best possible carabineiros. Xerém is a typical Portuguese dish, a mix of corn flour with traditional ingredients from the region where it's made. Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato (1828-1912) was a writer, poet, politician and gastronomist from Lisbon; he was crazy for a simple dish of clams (cooked with white wine, garlic, chilli pepper, coriander, salt, white pepper and olive oil) prepared for him at restaurant Estrela de Ouro. The preparation was therefore dedicated to him 

Seabass with butternut squash purée, langoustine, clam dashi, lemon zest and pumpkin seeds (2020)

Seabass with butternut squash purée, langoustine, clam dashi, lemon zest and pumpkin seeds (2020)

Crunchy suckling pig, pepper sauce, broad been purée, savoury pastel de nata with wild strawberries and cinnamon (2020). The savoury pastel de nata is made with pig entrails 

Crunchy suckling pig, pepper sauce, broad been purée, savoury pastel de nata with wild strawberries and cinnamon (2020). The savoury pastel de nata is made with pig entrails 

Almond praline with powdered peach (2020)

Almond praline with powdered peach (2020)

Nutella Cherries and Cruncy strawberries with flower of chantilly and powdered strawberries (2020)

Nutella Cherries and Cruncy strawberries with flower of chantilly and powdered strawberries (2020)

Tomato, figs and goat's milk (2020)

Tomato, figs and goat's milk (2020)

Bola de Berlim (2020)

Bola de Berlim (2020)


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