While studying food design, I met a guy from Lisbon. Each time someone knew he was from Lisbon, they were telling him how great the city was and how much they fell in love for it.
After 5 times hearing it was the favorite city of someone, I started to think I was missing something. I mean; a lot of people around me said the city was nice, but to have such passion about a place, there must be something more. So when he went back to his country, I decided to go and visit him for a weekend.
Knowing I was a foodie, he asked me to select a restaurant out of a list of 5 for the Saturday night. I told him that I was trusting him and he should select one he’s never been yet so it would be a new food experience for him as well.
He brought me to Minibar.
From what I understood, the chef is a bit controversial as Cracco: he performs TV shows, he has 6 restaurants including one with 2 Michelin stars. He got trained at Le Bristol with Eric Frechon in Paris and at El Bullì with Ferran Adria.
The restaurant is located in a theater. The bar reminds this theater environment, red fabrics and "heavy" atmosphere. But when you arrive in the restaurant section, you feel projected in a Quentin Tarantino movie: a style between the old American dinner and a Chinese restaurant in the 50’s. Something between kill bill restaurant and graceland (mansion of Elvis Presley). On the wall above the counter, you can find the sign “minibar “ written with light bulbs, remembering the circus environment. The graphics design is more the one of a trendy burger place of nowadays.
You can’t really put a style on the place, it's a mix, and I could not say if I liked it or not. I just know it was comfy: you feel privacy, and the dark lights put you in a cozy atmosphere.
A waiter wearing black clothes (between a waiter from a high hand restaurant and a samurai), arrived to explain the menu: the menu was split in acts (like a theatre piece). You can decide to go for the standard menu (11 dishes, 5 acts), the one from the chef with a “surprise” selection, or the personalized one : they give you a form and a pen, so you can select whatever you want just by ticking the boxes.
We opted for the standard menu at 39 euros.
I have to say, I think it has been the best food experience of my life at this price.
This menu was not only about aesthetic and taste, it was about surprise effect and soliciting other senses: contrast of textures, sound in your mouth while chewing... Each plate was coming with a recommendation from the waiter on how to eat it. This is the kind of multisensorial experience where you focus on the sensations to guess each ingredient, it’s a bit like a game. Those experiences usually are not for restaurants proposing menus at less than 40€. The restaurant claims that it’s a gourmet bar where the things are not what they look like. It’s about challenging the appearance.
If one day you want to eat there, maybe you should stop your lecture at that point, not to ruin the surprise effect of the overall menu.
We started the first act with a caipirihna cocktail. But not a cocktail to drink, a cocktail to eat.
They brought us a kind of green chewing gum ball in a metallic appetizer spoon. When we bite the ball, it exploded and all the cocktail liquid went out, surrounding our mouth by a wonderful taste of lime and a buttery end note left by the crust melting.
We opened the second act with "El Bullì" olives. Even if they are famous, I had never tried them. The reverse spherification is quite amazing: when you bite into the firm jelly consistence olive, a liquid with a pronounced taste of green olive gets out, it’s like eating a green olive for real. I heard the olive selection is important, if you pick the wrong one, you can end with a no flavor juice. I didn’t enjoy that much the gluey texture of the shell in the mouth though, even if it’s fading away quickly.
Last sphere was a Ferrero Rocher: same name, same size, same shell appearance apart some gold leaves on top of it. When I bite into the crust, I discovered a hazel nut embedded in a mousse of foie gras. The roasted hazelnut flavor from the shell and the salt flakes, were maybe not the best combination because covering the foie gras aroma. So I would have either seasoned a bit the foie gras with pepper and alcohol, or, I would have reduced the quantity of salt flakes and make the hazelnut taste more plain, not with a toasted flavor.
The following dish has been my favorite: on a slate square, 2 half lime were standing with a raw prawn on top of each. The contrast of the black of the stone with the green of the lime, the prawn was really powerful, remembering a bit a painting of kandinsky. They explained us how to eat it: this was a revisited ceviche : the lime acts like an edible container, on the top a prawn, some chives and aromatic herbs. To eat it, you have to bite the lime, so the lime juice is leaking on the prawn, transposing the idea of ceviché. When I bite it, the walnut that was there made a crunchy contrast with the prawn consistence and the noise emanating while eating resonated in my mouth. Amazing.
The following dish was the roasted chicken: it arrived like a flat chips with some dots of avocado cream and cottage cheese. It was skin of chicken actually that became completely crispy. This one has been the favorite of my friend.
The waiter arrived then with kind of ice cream mini cones stuffed with beef tartare and mustard emulsion. The meat was good but could have been better: first the meat was served too cold, so losing its flavor. Then, the beef was a bit chewy, as if the beef hasn’t been cut in the same direction as the fibers.
We then got my second best plate served : a braised tuna with chives and miso sauce. The tataki of tuna, arrived on a stone, warmed by a candle holder, the metal sticks were planted in a stone in a theatrical murderer manner. If the portion had been small so far, for this plate, the quantities were not insignificant. A tuna, lightly seared, not fishy flavor, super tender, and the sauce on top of it: amazing again…
The dish after was rich in colors as well, they wanted to restyle the traditional “bacalao”, so instead of putting tomatoes, some raspberry vinegar and a pink powder, that was probably the outcome of a dried raspberry grated, were used. The combination of the sour powder with the escabeche and the bacalao was more than enjoyable. If you were eating only the bacalao though, I had the feeling it was too salty, and the fried batter was leaving a slight fat taste in your mouth at the end but nothing compared to a cheap fish and chips.
Last plate was a veal rice with parmesan. It arrived served in a small cocotte, Le creuset style. The meat was really tasty and the rice as well. It’s a pity I was sick once with the truffle oil and the funghi porcini, cause now I always associate those ingredients to unpleasant sensations : methane gas for the truffles and viscous touch for the funghi porcini…
When the desserts arrived: 2, I was full. They served us an old style yoghurt glass pot with a seal that you had to remove. But when we removed it, it was not just a sad plain yogurt, no, it was a whipped cream of mascarpone and yogurt, with a coulis of raspberry at the bottom and meringues sweet, like little candies, on the top. Last we had a tris of hazelnuts, a kind of mousse with sweet white bread and ice cream. Good, but simple compared to the previous dishes. Light though cause I could finish them even if full.
The wine we got was an assobio 2013 from Douro, the tannins were a bit dry. It was a pleasant wine but with such a multitude of flavors, it was not always a good idea to get a sip after each dish.
My confessions for reaching heaven if I dare ?
The ergonomics and the service
. The table were not covered with tablecloth, which is something I usually like. But in this case, they gave us a small plate, like a coffee cup plate, a bit tapas style to put our food on. Well, the plate was too small, design not adapted to the dishes (the metal spoon for example). So I had the feeling to miss hygiena and was concerned the food will fall outside the plate. When you reach this level of food experience, I think it's a pity, I definitely recommend a plate a bit larger and with no rim. I'm sure it's the same cost to wash in the dishwasher...
. The size of the ceviche bite was a bit too big for my mouth, like the appetizer spoons containing the olives and the cocktails. I would recommend size adapted to the smallest percentile of the population.
. The service was too fast, ruining a bit the journey. I believe it’s because they have 2 services for the diner, I understand the ROI speech, but you really feel rushed. For such an experimental menu, it should not be the case. Above all that when the time to eat the warm dishes arrive, we had to wait.
To conclude, I would say I was really happy when I left the restaurant, the quality price ratio was excellent and the experience off the beaten tracks.