Restaurant Review: Mini Bar by Jose Avillez, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal is definitely an underrated foodie city!  Lisbon offers both delicious cheap meals and creative upscale food experiences that rival those of Barcelona, Paris, and London.  

Lisbon’s most famous chef is certainly José Avillez.  Avillez runs a handful of restaurants in Lisbon, with his Michelin-starred Belcanto being his most well respected (it was just named the 70th best restaurant in the World in 2017!).  Dan and I ate at Belcanto in 2014 and while it was really, really, really delicious and creative with excellent service, it was quite pricey and came with all the stuffiness that one usually expects at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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One of many courses at Belcanto circa 2014.

This trip, instead of Belcanto, we dined at Mini Bar Teatro, Avillez’s newest restaurant in the Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon (actually, very close to Belcanto!).  Mini Bar is a theatre-themed pestisco (a/k/a “tapas”) restaurant, located in the São Luiz Municipal Theatre, and its described by many food writes as “unlike any restaurant you have ever seen.”  I would generally agree with this assessment, unless you have been to Belcanto!  

Mini Bar’s menu comes in a series of acts, I – V, with Act I being the smallest, i.e. “bites” of cocktails (yes, I will explain that below…), and Act V being the largest dishes.  Mini Bar offers a tasting menu but it is totally acceptable to order a la carte, which is what we did!  Most “plates” run between €3 and €7 euros, and the menu is pretty clear as to what the dish entails (i.e. whether its shareable, etc.).  In addition to the Acts, Mini Bar has a stellar selection of cocktails!

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Fancy cocktails at Mini Bar!

Our meal started with Act I “cocktail bites.”  Cocktail bites are small bites of food, in our case spheres and apple slices, that are meant to be eaten in one bite and taste like a cocktail.  We had something similar at Belcanto back in 2014.  I’m still not sure whether they contain alcohol, but ours were called Green Apple & Spearmint Margarita and Caipirinha.  Our mini cocktails cost € 2,50 and € 3,50 (respectively) for two cocktail bites!

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Green apple and spearmint margarita bites!

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Caipirinha bites.

After the cocktail bites, I had to order the Act II “Ferrerro Rocher” chocolates, which are actually not made of chocolate but of foie gras with a bit of gold on top!  We had had a very similar dish at Belcanto on a previous visit, and this fact that it was previously a dish at Belcanto is designated on the menu!  Two “candies” cost € 6,00.

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“Ferrero Rocher, not what it appears to be! – Belcanto 2011”

From the Act II menu, we also ordered tempura avocado with dehydrated kimchi, coriander sprouts, lime, and lemon .  Two pieces for €5,00.  I really enjoyed this dish!

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Tempura avocado.

And finally from the Act II menu, we ordered the croquettes with mustard emulsion.  Three pieces for €3,75.  Really, these were friend meat balls with mustard sauce.  Good, but probably must least favorite dish of the dinner.  They just seemed too “normal” for Mini Bar.

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Croquettes with mustard emulsion.

Next up was my favorite part of the meal, tater tots with house made mayo from the Act III menu!  Six pieces for €5,00.  We liked these so much, we ordered a second serving.  Oops!  While not super Portuguese or fancy, definitely do not miss the tater tots!!

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Favorite dish – tater tots with house made mayo!

We did not order anything from the Act IV menu; instead, we moved straight to the Vietnamese Bifana from Act V to finish our meal (or so we thought). A “bifana” is a traditionally Portuguese sandwich consisting of flat pork on hard bread.  The Vietnamese Bifana is a modern take on the traditional bifana, done with pork belly on a roll and that house -made mayo at €5,50 a sandwich.  And I have to say, this sandwich was terribly delicious!!  Its also one of the few dishes on the menu that is not shareable.

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Vietnamiese Bifana.

We actually thought that we would be done after the Vietnamiese Bifana, but we were still a tiny bit hungry so we ordered the second round of tater tots and “roasted chicken with avocado cream, cottage cheese, piri piri and lemon.”  2 pieces for €3,00. Interestingly, and just like another dish that I had at Belcanto in 2014, the “roasted chicken” was actually made into a tortilla chip to hold the avocado cream, cottage cheese, piri piri and lemon!  It was very much in the pork rind family!  

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“Roasted chicken with avocado cream, cottage cheese, piri piri and lemon”

We finished our meal by splitting three (yes, three…oops!) desserts!  I honestly do not remember their names and I missed a picture of one, but each dessert was completely delicious!

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Dessert 1.

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Dessert 2.  Some sort of cream theme.

Our final treat, complimentary marshmallows from the chef (which makes a total of four desserts!).  #oops.

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Dessert 4.  Complimentary marshmallows from the chef!

As you can probably tell, Dan and I loved our meal at Mini Bar and it now ranks as one of our top restaurants in Lisbon.  If you are planning a visit, it is absolutely necessary that you call in advance and make a reservation, especially on the weekend and in high season.  In addition, you should know that while not fancy (i.e. jackets NOT required), the feel of the bar is upscale and most customers dress nicely and in a trendy fashion.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Mini Bar:  Rua António Maria Cardoso, 58. T. 351-21-130-53-93.  Open Monday – Saturday 19:00 – ?  Reservations are absolutely necessary and can only be made via telephone.  Dress is casual smart and there is usually a DJ playing music.

ON A BUDGET

Mini Bar is definitely not “budget,” but it is wayyyy cheaper than Belcanto!  You can also order a la carte, which allows you to keep the bill in check.

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