You know all those things you say you’ll never do when you become a parent? Bribery. Ketchup. Cooking a different meal for everyone in the family. Well, it turns out that each and every one of those is necessary for the preservation of basic sanity, but that last one is a real pain in the ass.
Mealtimes as battlefields are bad enough at home, but we have zero interest in it continuing when we’re on holiday. So we were very happy to find the solution in Lisbon. Launched in 2014, The Time Out Market is a smash-hit reincarnation of a traditional food market, the Mercado da Ribeira. 3.1 million people ate their way around it last year, making it the Portuguese capital’s most popular attraction. And that’s saying something when you consider the centuries of history, iconic tram rides and infinitely instagrammable tiles.
This great hall of a market is based on the concept of curated dining. And the curation in question has been done by the clever creatures at Time Out, everyone’s knee-jerk first stop when looking for somewhere to eat in a new city. Based on the theory that “if it’s good, it goes in the magazine. If it’s great, it goes in the market”, each vendor behind the slick black and white typographic signs represents the best in class of a particular type of food. Put simply, it’s the best Lisbon has to offer in one cavernous place. It’s a formula so simple, so obvious when you hear it, that it’s bemusing that they haven’t rolled it out anywhere else.
You want the best burger in town? Head to Honorato.
You need the best Portuguese custard tarts in a country full of Portuguese custard tarts? Of course you do. The legendary Manteigaria has an outlet here. Of course it does.
There are gorgeous graphic tins of preserved mackerel and tuna, slimmed-down menus from superstar Portuguese chefs, baba éclairs ready for their injection from a syringe of rum.
Food aside though, the process of eating here is a vast improvement on any other market we’ve attempted. Borough Market it ain’t. As much as I love the place and would consider trading my firstborn for one of their Brindisa chorizo rolls, the experience loses its shine a little when your seating options are a choice between leaning against a wall outside a pub and finding the bit of kerb that isn’t covered in bird poo. Here, it’s different. The centre of the market is one huge dining hall, where blonde wood tables and civilised stools are actually available, where real cutlery and Time Out branded crockery are the tools of choice.
A family or group of friends can nab a table and then take it in turns to grab whatever takes their liking whilst still eating together. So everyone’s happy.
By the time we get to the market, however, we’ve already had an almighty stand-off with our daughter, so we’re pretty much all tear-streaked, sweat-drenched and jangle-nerved. Two things can fix the situation. Food. And wine.
We start off with a croqueta dégustation from Croqueteria, the three of us taking a bite each from crisply-fried cylinders of salty bacalau and chorizo, chicken with an unidentifiable but addictive smoky edge, and pork and beef slow-cooked, then shredded to a tangle.
Next up, the prego at O Prego Da Peixaria. A Lisbon classic consisting of the traditional bolo de caco bread, spliced open and stuffed with a thin-sliced steak dripping in garlicky herbed butter. No frills, no garnish, just happiness and a handful of chips.
Then, the craving. Since falling pregnant with River, I’ve had one wish. Not for me the blue-veined cheeses or elegant sushi. No, I’ve wanted steak tartare. And here in Lisbon is my heaven, La Tartar-ia. They offer fish and vegetable tartares, sure, but the beef is firmly in my sights. Ruby red, hand-chopped. Studded with capers and cornichons, shallots and herbs, all surrounded by a forest of rocket and a lake of potato foam. Let’s just say it was a hell of a way to break a fast.
We could have carried on all night. But the baby went bonkers and the budget was in danger of doing the same. And there’s the thing. There have been understandable shouts of gentrification. It’s definitely not the cheapest way to eat in Lisbon, unless you possess unnatural levels of self-restraint (we do not). But when it comes to a ceasefire of a meal, a communal table to break bread or custard tarts or whatever your belly desires, this one’s hard to beat.
They even have ketchup. But we don’t have to talk about that.
Time Out Market
Av. 24 de Julho 49, 1200-109 Lisboa, Portugal
Sun to Wed: 10am - 12am
Thu to Sat: 10am - 2am