“You peel my prawns, I’m going for a run and then I’m coming back to eat them”, the small dictator instructed her father. On his birthday. Servitude aside though, he couldn’t have been happier. Lori had wanted fish on his 41st and we’d stumbled on the perfect place to eat it.
There’s a place in Lisbon called Cervejaria Ramiro. It has the best seafood in town. It has spectacular queues. And it has beer taps to keep the hordes happy while they wait.
Anthony Bourdain went there in his hit ‘No Reservations’, you see, and where his rough charm and rare eloquence go, everyone follows. Hence the wait.
Don’t get me wrong. Drinking on the street actually sounds brilliant, but given the fact that beer hates me and River’s tendency to surgically attach himself to my nipple and/or scream from dinnertime onwards, it seemed less appealing. Luckily, however, we had a last-minute realisation that Andrea, an old friend from Rome now lives in nearby Cascais with his wife Tatiana, who strangely had her birthday on the same day. And they had an awesome alternative up their sleeves.
Marisco na Praça is a marisquería -or seafood restaurant- in the Mercado da Vila in the coastal resort that was once a humble fishing village. It’s unpretentious, it lets the produce talk for itself. Or more accurately, walk for itself, because –
“Mamma, they're REAL!”
Our wide-eyed daughter is gesturing wildly at a tankful of lobsters, shuffling tolerantly along the bottom of their tank. She knows her ingredients but this may be the first time she’s seen her dinner alive in the restaurant.
We’ve never shied away from telling Olivia what food really was. Sure, we had the usual hidden vegetable sauce or Hulk (spinach) pasta – we are human and she is allergic to green – but meat was always approached with absolute honesty. She chewed on duck hearts in a Buckinghamshire pub, the resident dog chasing her around in carnivorous excitement. She pops chicken hearts like a junkie pops pills. Meat has names, not just ‘meat’. Meat is parts of animals, not something that comes in plastic tubs from Tesco. Meat is a leg or a shoulder or a breast or a cheek.
Fish is no different. It’s usually the first thing a fussy toddler rejects. But a trip to Mersea Island, age two, saw her face-deep in smoked mackerel, crab claws and potted shrimps. She gobbled crispy sea anemones in Menorca without batting an eyelid. So it never occurred to us to hide it in nice neat rectangles under a layer of breadcrumbs.
The formula at Marisco na Praça is simple. Croquetas, rough-hewn ham and bread arrive. The rest, you pick from the exceptional array of seafood on ice at the counter, paying by the kilo. There are no garnishes, no gimmicks. Just really good, get your hands messy food. And the added advantage of a huge outdoor area where your kids can wear themselves out without getting run over.
We snapped the prehistoric fingers from the startling percebes barnacles to reveal purplish flesh and a high probability of spraying the contents over our dining companions. A plate of razor clams arrived, shells glistening and pale white insides humming with garlic. Prawns came in five different types, some the length of our forearms. They were grilled simply, aware that anything else would be overkill.
We rounded things off with an out of tune ‘Happy Birthday’ and a candle perched on a slice of the lightest lemon cheesecake. Although, thinking about it now, it should have been a prego, that slender steak sandwich the Portuguese call pudding.
Next time, Cascais. There will definitely be a next time.
Marisco na Praça
642, R. Padre Moisés da Silva 34, Cascais, Portugal
Phone: +351 21 482 2130
Open daily 12pm - 12am