In a town like Guimarães that boasts a surfeit of picturesque, medieval squares filled with enticing pavement cafés, it’s easy to overlook the smaller plazas hidden away from the main tourist drag and to completely bypass places such as Largo dos Laranjos with its fruit laden orange trees, ivy clad tower and resident sun-basking felines.
Even having stumbled across it once, we struggled to find it again and spent ages circling Europe’s Capital of Culture 2012, ducking up promising looking alleys and criss-crossing the same praças over and over again in a desperate bid to relocate it and a restaurant we had marked out as a ‘definitely eat here’ in the notebook.
Apart from being pretty as a postcard, Largo dos Laranjos is home to Pimenta Moscada, a restaurant whose menu was a bit different from other restaurants in Guimarães as it included dishes that seemed to have a more imaginative take on the traditional offerings elsewhere.
The interior décor reinforces this view – both sleek and rustic at the same time; modern with exposed whitewashed brick walls, contemporary lighting and elegant linen tablecloths. This considered fusion of old and new is an attractive look for restaurants when it’s done well. It says ‘we’re proud of our past, but we’re not stuck in it’.
The menu that had drawn us to Pimenta Moscada included trad favourites like the ubiquitous bacalhau (cod) dishes but it also had other choices that sparked the culinary interest such as monkfish chowder and folhados ( savoury puff pastry pies).
An opening salvo of a couvert (a sort of surprise appetiser that most restaurants dish up) consisting of spicy red peppers, marinated olives and a creamy tuna dip accompanied by a selection of different flavoured breads was perfect for stirring the appetite.
The warm bread remained welcome for Andy’s choice of thick and creamy tomato soup with croutons (an ideal body warmer for a January night in Guimarães) whilst I chose a dish because I was intrigued by its name; ovos Indianos. It turned out to be two fried eggs snoozing on a bed of caramelised onions in spicy olive oil. It sounds and looks simple, but a spicy seasoning gave it a perky boost which raised it above being just egg and onions.
Main courses were folhado de pato and a bowl of delicious bubbling lasagne so deep that it could probably have doubled as a bath tub afterwards. Its volume was a challenge for one person.
The folhado de pato, tender duck in puff pastry with sweet chestnuts and wild rice, had been the main reason I wanted to try Pimento Moscada. When I combined the three on my fork and let their rustic individual flavours unfold in my mouth I was magically transported to a woodland stroll through a sun dappled, autumnal forest. You could say it was a dish that hit the bullseye.
Whilst the food lived up to expectations raised by the menu, the wine recommended by the cool and courteous waiter engaged a turbo booster and screamed past them.
The bottle of Monte Mayor (2008) that accompanied our meal was simply the best wine that I’ve welcomed into my mouth in years. I had no idea that Portugal produced such good wine. Fruity and peppery with a silky vanilla aftertaste, it was a smooth and mellow triumph.
The down side is that it has completely ruined just about every bottle I’ve had since.
A good blend of contemporary and traditional Portuguese cuisine with pastas, pizzas and fish dishes to widen out its appeal. There’s a set menu of the day which at under €7 is a good value lunch option for day visitors.
Our bill came to €43 for two courses plus wine and water which is exceptional considering the standard. A bacalhau speciality for two is €17 whilst main courses range from around €10 to €18.
Largo dos Laranjas (near the post office), Centro Histórico de Guimarães; tel: +351 253 419 020