Seafood that is second to none
Text & Photography by Stefan Jermann
Ramiro is what the Portuguese refer to as a cervejaria (“beer hall” in English) but locals flock to it more for its menu than what you can get at the bar. When I spotted the long line outside its entrance one evening in Lisbon, I decided it was best to return for a late lunch to avoid the crush of patrons. Ramiro opened in 1956 and was a place where blue-collar types would come to eat. Today, down-to-earth locals still frequent it but the joint now attracts a fair share of tourists, local politicians and well-to-do types who like to eat good. Ramiro is still very reasonably priced for a place that has been called a temple of seafood. In fact, in any other major metropolis one would probably spend a small fortune for this kind of quality seafood (tiger shrimp, clams, goose barnacles, if it’s from the sea there’s a good chance you’ll find it here on the menu) but here prices are within reach of even working-class stiffs. It’s one of the charming aspects about the place and yet another reason why it is always booked full.
Long a local institution on the Lisbon dining scene, Ramiro gained a global reputation after it was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s highly acclaimed television show No Reservations – Bourdain was brought to the restaurant by two famed Lisbon chefs José Avillez and Henrique Sá Pessoa, the former now regarded as the country’s leading culinary star. It’s a sign that a restaurant is doing well if top chefs, those whipping up fancy sauces and foams, hang up their aprons after work and come here to tuck into hearty fare. But what is the secret recipe to this restaurant’s incredible success?
After I spent some time with one of the main cooks in the Ramiro kitchen, I saw the preparation was extremely simple: there are no “haute cuisine” secrets behind what they are making. Instead, they rely on the freshest seafood daily delivered and the ingredients are usually salt, olive oil, garlic and cilantro. In the end, the langoustine and clams are brushed off with a homemade sauce and that is about the only recipe that is kept secret. Again, the menu’s fair prices accommodate the top tier of the ladder to low-wage workers. And of course the first-rate service reacts to customers’ needs instinctively – small glasses of draft beer were brought to my table whenever one had just been quaffed. That left a lasting impression on me.
Once you take a seat at Ramiro you feel like you don’t want to leave and the meal just keeps on going as the beer keeps flowing. I navigated the menu and tried various dishes, starting with some oysters and then followed by tiny clams and tiger shrimp. Up next I was handed yet another plate with various grilled langoustines, whose taste was accentuated by the brisk, rough waters of the Atlantic, a key ingredient in ensuring top quality seafood. For the grand finale, a lobster landed at my table. One could get the impression that all this food would fill you up but there is easily room for dessert, which in the case of Ramiro is a savory one: a steak sandwich called a prego is delivered to your table. Served in a bread roll and prepared with garlic the prego helps absorb the beer one’s had over the course of their meal. This culinary experience amounts to an explosion of the sea in your mouth followed by a rich protein overdose of beef and it is simply sublime. I, for one, can envision my Last Supper taking place at Ramiro. It’s heaven on earth and, fortunately for me, it’s right here in Intendente.
The only downside to the place is if you come at the dining rush hour in the evening (expect to wait up to an hour outside on the sidewalk for a table). Once seated the waiters might seem a bit stressed at first but given the fact that every seat is taken and that the service is well oiled you might cut them some slack. After all, this isn’t a place for a romantic dinner with your loved one. Ramiro is not about the romance, great ambiance or cutting-edge cuisine. But if you are a seafood lover then it is a must stop the next time you are in Lisbon.