Atlântico, Estoril

“There’s no way we’ll get a reservation on the same day for a Saturday night in July…” These were my (legitimate) thoughts as I dialed the Hotel InterContinental to see if–by any chance–they had room for our birthday party of six for the evening.

The name alludes to its aspirations: Miguel Laffan at Atlântico, a new restaurant and lounge tucked into a house next to the hotel with a sweeping view of the ocean for which it is called. The star chef, Miguel Laffan, made his name first in Alentejo, where he’d helped to elevate L’And Vineyards restaurant to a Michelin star–the first for the region. He’d honed his skills at Forteleza de Guincho, another starred restaurant by the sea. Raised in Cascais, he wanted to return, and bring his gastronomic talents to a local restaurant. He found the opportunity with Atlântico.

We’d celebrated a friend’s 50th birthday with a week of shopping, beaches, and wine based in Estoril, so the venue was perfect for a splash-out dinner on her birthday itself. I didn’t even try Atlântico at first, but they must have had a cancellation, because they called back after checking and were able to accommodate us. So very glad they did!

The staff welcomed us with a house cocktail–a refreshing spritz of elderflower cordial (St. Germain) and strawberries–while I dove into the wine list. What a delight–I found several very intriguing wines, including the Quinta de Soalheiro Nature Pur Terroir organic wine, which would appeal to my group’s healthy streak, and a bottle of 1969 Viúva Gomes Ramisco de Colares. We couldn’t pass that one up, given 1969 was our friend’s birth year, and I’d just shown them the old vines in the DOC earlier in the week. While I think the sommelier was a bit nervous about my choices, both went well, were intriguing, and showed something of Portugal that most mainstream wine lists in the Lisbon area don’t reach. We balanced those bottles with a hearty Dão red, and glasses of Port with dessert.

We started with an amusé bouche sure to elicit appreciation amongst those familiar with percebes and curious looks from those not–a single, perfectly prepared claw bathed in sea foam. It was probably the best one I’ve ever had–many turn out a bit chewy for my taste but this was beautifully tender.

At the waiter’s suggestion, we took a series of entradas to share, including a lovely scallop served with a crisp evoking seaweed, and a clutch of garlicky shrimp tossed with arugula. A salad surrounding a burrata cheese complimented these two.

For my main dish, I had the duck, which came accompanied by a foie gras risotto and pickled vegetables. The duck was cooked well and stayed tender despite its initial appearance of being a bit past that stage. The vegetables cut through the richness of the rest of the dish well, in a good balance.

Dessert meant more sampling between us–once the ladies got beyond the somewhat abstract names for each lovely plate. What, exactly, would a Chocolate Nest look like? And a Raspberry Texture? Not what I expected, but incredible fresh flavors and interesting marriages of mousse and crisp and sweet. I had the chevre mousse, with honeycomb and blackberries that did just that, with a savory note thrown in.

When the staff came out at the end with a special miniature chocolate cake, singing “Happy Birthday” to our guest of honor–first in English, then in Portuguese–we knew we’d found fortune indeed. The meal came in without an outrageous price tag for the level of gastronomy achieved–and the restaurant also offers a weekday “Portugalidade” menu for €30 as a way to sample the chef’s concepts first hand…with an incredible view.

Miguel Laffan at Atlântico, Hotel InterContinental, Estoril; +351 218 291 049

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