I have never been one of those adventurous kinds when it comes to trying unique food experiences. Especially, those I know nothing about. I think this stems from my hate for surprises and always wanting to be in the know about everything. A bit like Dans Le Noir, which is essentially eating in the dark and not knowing what you’re eating or seeing anything around you. Kind of scary! I didn’t get far in Lisbon, but I pushed my limits to try a 17-course tasting menu at 1 Michelin starred LOCO. Now, you don’t need to speak Portuguese or Spanish to know what LOCO means. On top of that, there were only two oppositions on the menu, no a la carte, just two blind tasting menus. Each of them varied in how many courses that were served.
Going in with an open mind, we sat down in the small and spacious restaurant. I remember counting something along the likes of less than 10 tables, that’s how exclusive it was. Apparently, people struggle to get a reservation, so we were very lucky.
We started with a glass of sparkling Portuguese wine called Quinta dos Abibes, produced in the Bairrada region with 50% Arinto wine grapes.
Our waiter then went to discuss with the chefs, what would be on our menu. The whole concept of LOCO is that the diners won’t know what they will be served, but you can be assured it will be luxurious and quite likely filled with seafood. I sadly didn’t know what, so when asked about any allergies or dislikes, I mentioned about my hatred for seafood. You should have seen the look on his face as he revealed that 90% of our menu was based on seafood. Nonetheless, we proceeded and we returned back to have another meeting with all the chefs. They changed up our menu to serve the dishes that were the least fishiest and most edible for people like me.
Whilst we waited for the ‘experience’ to begin, I watched the LOCO chefs hard at work. The kitchen spanned across one side of the restaurant and all the tables were sat directly in front of it. This allowed everyone to get a comfortable view of their food being cooked and presented right before their eyes. Only you didn’t know what was coming next or if the dish being made was for you.
To start, we both had to pick one key each from the almost invisible strings above. Apparently one of the two would open a special box at the end full of goodies.
The meal was made up of four different sections and 17 moments, normally 18 but because one of the desserts contained pork, we had to remove it from the experience.
We commenced with our first moment of a cracker which had cod fish, egg yolk and parsley on. It really delicious, especially as i’m a huge fan of cod. It was a light way to get our taste buds activated and ready for a sensational experience.
The next snack was organic asparagus with lime gel and pine powder. I do love asparagus, so this was definitely a snack for me. The lime gel added a nice tang to to the asparagus but was balanced out by the earthly flavouring of the pine powder.
The third snack (yes, we’re still going on the snacks) was broccoli mousse with clover and reduced cream. The broccoli was blended with the cream to give a really lovely, creamy vegetable mousse and was then balanced out by an intense grassy flavour.
We then had our next wine pairing to go with the next few snacks. A Portuguese red wine, Quinta dos Termos, Beira Interior. A beautiful ruby red colour with hints of purple. This particular wine has won many awards, including the wine masters challenge back in 2o13.
We were doing so well until the fourth snack. My sister just laughed when she waiter approached the table, because she knew I would absolutely freak out – so did the waiter. However, I went in with an open mind and tried the Mohogany clams with green chilli sauce and chives.
I was brave and tried the snack. It wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it would be, much to my surprise. The clams were a bit crunchy in places, so the texture did put me off a little but it certainly was not fishy.
The fifth snack was a slice of Gunard fish that was marinated in fermented bean sauce. This is when the moments started to get really challenging for me, but I soldiered on. Quickly swallowing without getting too much of the fishy flavour or texture in, I prayed for it to be over really quickly.
The sixth and final snack literally left me hanging on the edge of my seat. The oyster with pickles, elderflower and an avulsion of orange and olive oil was just too much. It left the LOCO waiters and chefs in hysterics though – a nice bit of entertainment for them.
That was the end of the first section of the four, which was signified by refreshing hand towels.
We then went on to have some Kvass, a Russian drink made from dark bread, mint and raisins, which is the original recipe. However, the Portuguese add lemongrass too.
The starers had begun. The first one was white sourdough and brown mullet bread, served with olive oil, steak sauce and four different kinds of butter. There was a choice of sheep’s milk, garlic and parsley with onion powder, seaweed or roasted pepper. The roasted pepper butter was my favourite of them all, followed by the garlic and parsley butter.
Served with the bread was a lovely white wine, Barbeito Madeira VB Lots 4 Reserva. This particular wine has three different version, but on the fourth attempt a blend of younger wines was used to make it more dry. Therefore, giving a dryer, critic and zesty flavour with notes of lemon and mango.
Another starter was brought out, of semi-cooked mushrooms with celeriac and a soup made out of cows hooves. It’s something that didn’t phase me as I have grown up having ‘Paya’ which is a soup made from cows hooves, it was one of my grandma’s specialities. The dish itself was really flavoursome and the mushrooms looked a little further in the hot soup.
We were served up another fresh, white wine by Vieira de Sousa to accompany the dish.
This moment was mackerel cured with salt, sugar and citric juice. Served with sunflower mayo, smoked beetroot gel and black radish. The mackerel was so fresh that it didn’t taste at all like fish, although the ‘raw’ texture was a bit too much for me. Although, the flavours were lovely.
The next wine was paired with the new two dishes. A sweet white wine from Lisbon itself by Casal Figueria, quite delicate with notes of apricot and honey.
The next moment was horse mackerel with onion and duck sauce. A light dish, with again, quite soft textured mackerel. I did brave it and have a little, although the flavours were great.
That was the end of the second stage of the moments and we moved into the third section, which was the ‘main course’ section.
This dish was gunard fish cooked with chilli and garlic, cooked in a banana leaf. The fish was extremely soft and it just fell apart, marinated so beautifully it was a lovely dish. It was served with seaweed crackers and a rice.
The penultimate wine was served (I know, I feel a bit drunk just writing this up) was a rich red wine with a lovely ruby colour with orange blossom and blackberry notes. It was paired with the next two meat dishes and went perfectly.
The duck was served with parsnip purée, burnt cabbage and some kale. The duck was simply seasoned with some rock salt and it all the ingredients complimented each other really well.
Guilty as charged, the above isn’t actually my photo. Thank you to the amazing and LOCO’s talented chef Ricardo for sending me over this photo. Clearly I got a bit too bemused by the dish mixed with a bit of tipsiness and forgot to actually capture the dish.
The chef would not tell us what the dish was until after we had tried it, which turned out to be cows tongue! It’s most likely because he knew I wouldn’t try it if I was told what it was. A rather tender and flavoursome piece of meat with a squishy/chewy texture. Definitely something to try if you ever get given the chance to eat.
That concluded the third section of the tasting menu and moving onto my favourite part, the desserts.
First up was the final wine of the night, a divine dessert wine called ‘Knockout’. I think that was intentionally, as I felt like that was going to happen at the time, especially after all those different wines.
The first dessert was cotton candy from a famous Portuguese fennel sweet. A very unique way to try cotton candy, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Next up was baby carrot cooked in orange juice with mandarin and bergamot sorbet. This was definitely one of the best desserts I have ever had. Especially as it was super hot in Lisbon, this was a perfect, cold and refreshing dessert.
Finally, a selection of treats were pulled out of a multi compartment box. There was milk queijadinhas, cinnamon choux pastries with lemon cream filling, ras el hangout (an African mixed spice) and peanut, also salted caramel and burnt butter truffle and a 70% dark chocolate cookie.
Remember, the key that we picked at the beginning? Well it was time to see who’s key fitted the lock. Whoever’s key opened the lock on the box, had to eat the contents. Of course it had to be mine, of which I opened it to a small packet with some filling. I was instructed to eat the whole thing in one go, including the edible packaging. It was a sweet and sour sweet, which was a huge relief after all the suspense.
We had such an incredible time at LOCO and it truly was a whole experience in itself. Thank you to the wonderful chefs, waiters and sommeliers who looked after us so well, catering to our every need and giving us a night to remember.
If you’re in Lisbon, you must experience LOCO. You will thank me afterwards!
Until next time…