This tiny, unpretentious gem of a restaurant on trendy Principe Real in Lisbon stops pedestrians in their tracks. Partly when they see its Instagram-famous octopus sculpture and partly because of the commotion of hungry punters waiting their turn at the door, sipping wine and cocktails. The interior of A Cevicheria in Lisbon is beautifully decorated in blue and white tones reflecting the sea, but it is the masterful ceviche of chef Kiko Martins that is the real draw-card of this inviting place.
It takes a special kind of talent to capture the energetic young chefs of A Cevicheria in Lisbon on camera. This small but buzzing spot on trendy Principe Real has the chefs dashing about and working at lightning speed behind the marble-clad counter, turning out dishes in an impressively consistent fashion.
A Cevicheria is where Portuguese chef Kiko Martins puts his own Portuguese spin on imaginative Peruvian ceviches. Born in Brazil to Portuguese parents one can almost say that he was raised on tiger’s milk (ceviche broth).
He graduated in marketing but quickly realized that his passion was in cooking. After completing his studies at the famous Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris he sharpened his knife in the much-admired kitchens of The Fat Duck, Eleven and AM Le Bistro and then left for Mozambique for a humanitarian project. After travelling through 26 countries with his wife, which resulted in his book ‘Eat the World, he settled in Lisbon and started spreading his wings.
Chef Kiko first opened O Talho (‘The Butcher). This butchery and restaurant rolled up in one, as you may have guessed, dedicated to seriously good meat, both to shop or enjoy in the restaurant. Then in 2014, A Cevicheria was opened as an ode to the zingy and succulent South American cuisine known as ceviche. This move caught the imagination of the public and the city’s most respected food critics and propelled him into stardom, accumulating several accolades and awards, a phase that has not yet passed.
A Cevicheria is now part of Lisbon’s DNA and a special way for locals and tourist alike to enjoy the incredible selection of seafood the city has to offer. Each morning chef Kiko hand-selects fresh seafood from Portuguese markets which will be expertly sliced and marinated in citrus juices along with complimentary seasonings to prepare these light and delicious dishes.
The stars of his repetoire is stand-outs such as Ceviche Puro featuring white fish, sweet potato puree, onion, algae and tiger’s milk, and Ceviche Português made with codfish, rosemary vinegar, chickpea puree, dried olives and corn bread with sausage.
We suggest securing a counter seat from where you can watch the spectacle of food theatre. Service is fast and animated and you will be amazed by the careful selection of ingredients, precise measuring, beautiful plating, clarity and dedication that goes into every dish.
To start you will be served a medley of bread, seaweed butter, a spicy yogurt dip and toasted corn. If you feel indecisive about what to eat, surrender control and order the tasting menu. You will be delighted with an exciting 6 course tasting journey with punchy dishes such as Green Gazpacho and scallop with celery, green apple, ginger, and tapioca and tuna ceviche served with grated foie gras, lychees, hazelnuts, tigers milk and beetroot.
Whatever you decide, save room for some non-ceviche dishes, like the beef tartare taco, mini surf-and-turf sandwich stuffed with fatty pork belly and shrimp steak, or the unusual BBQ Octopus causa with squid ink mashed-potatoes, roasted onion, pepper, pork rind and and smoky barbeque sauce.
You might be tempted to skip dessert but don’t leave without something sweet to round things off. The desserts are light, bright and not too sweet, with lashings of tropical flavours such as quinoa, passion fruit and guava with banana cream, guava sorbet and cashew powder. It is just the perfect end to this parade of vibrant flavours.
The inviting white-washed, light-filled interior belies the seriously great food. An arresting giant octopus sculpture by artist Joao Parrinha hung from the ceiling dominates the space and resides over the spectacle, demanding the attention of passers-by. The artfully designed space is the handi-work of talented designer Antonio Martins who cut his teeth in the hotel industry in Asia before setting out on his own.
He took inspiration from old Portuguese fish markets where ‘Castelo Branco’ marble was traditionally used and applied this same white marble lavishly thoughout the restaurant such as in the large back-lit counter that dominates the space and a large marble tub, filled with ice that displays the catch of the day. White tiles and the marble forms a clean backdrop to the continuous blue and white cushioned banquette and azulejos tiles of the floor.
Striking exterior doors and windows welcomes you at the door. They were inspired by M.C. Escher’s woodblock ‘sky and water’ and are made with laser cut cold rolled steel and features cut-out fish motives morphing into birds.
A Cevicheria in Lisbon likes to turn on a dime, so don’t expect a languid atmosphere, or for your server to linger over small talk. The brisk service however makes it a breeze to order as you go, instead of formally all upfront. Servers are knowledgeable and you can rely on them for menu suggestions and great explanations when your dish hits the table.
This popular spot doesn’t take reservations, but all we can say is get yourself in queue and while away the time with their super delicious signature pisco sour cocktail (a typical Peruvian drink made with Peruvian pisco, lime juice, syrup, egg whites and a dash of Angostura bitter).
The wait can be 30 minutes or more, but hey, who needs to be a clock-watcher when the sun is shining and you can enjoy a drink alfresco in a convivial atmosphere? Once you’re in, you will be sitting at one of the best tables in Lisbon, so eat your way through the menu. Yes! It is that good!
Location – Rua D. Pedro V, nº 129 Principe Real – Lisbon, Portugal
If you are heading to Lisbon soon and are looking for fabulous places to stay you will be interested to read our write-up of uber-stylish apartments Baixa House and the lush inner-city haven, Valverde Hotel. Plus you will also discover more tips of great places to eat.
Photography: Liezel Norval-Kruger | A Cevicheria | Antonio Martins