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“Hi, can I book a table for this evening please?”
“Could we make that 8:30pm?”
“Okay then. See you shortly.”
I ended the call and checked the time, 7:20pm. The restaurant was a 10 minute walk away and I was still lounging around the room not having showered yet and intending to wash my hair. As we stepped out from the Rio Art Guesthouse into a cold and blustery March night, my hair was still wet and I hadn’t had time to put lipstick on.
This had better be worth it, I muttered, as we headed down the Avenida.
Where is 490 Taberna STB?
Lying at the mouth of the river Sado, just across the estuary from Lisbon, Setúbal is an historic port city dominated by its fishing industry which dates back to the 1st Century. An eclectic hotch-potch of narrow, cobbled streets lined with pavement cafés, bookshops, boutiques and old fashioned haberdashery stores; buzzing harbour-side restaurants; small blue and white fishing boats moored in orderly lines along the waterfront; wide avenues and a decadent air of bygone glories, it’s a mini Lisbon without the crowds and trams. 490 Taberna is located in the city centre, on the Avenida Luísa Todi two streets back from the harbour.
Urban chic design featuring wood panelling and chunky tables, and walls adorned with black and white prints of historic Setúbal set the tone for the narrow interior where our bijou table for two was located, alongside the Hobbit-sized toilet door. There was a larger dining room just inside the door where a large group of friends and their families were enjoying a night out while outside, on the cobbled terrace, patio heaters were working hard to combat the chilly wind that was battering the plastic sides of the patio cover. When we passed by a couple of days earlier as the sun beat down from a cloudless sky, the outside terrace was buzzing with diners seeking shade beneath the black awnings.
At the owner’s suggestion, we opted for a tasting menu of small dishes which would enable us to try much of the menu in bite-sized portions. We began with a tasty amuse-bouche of red pepper stuffed with crab paste before our medley of dishes began to arrive, each perfectly timed so that we never felt rushed but were not left waiting. Given how busy the restaurant was, with a line of people waiting outside on the off chance of a free table, the service was flawless.
First up on our tasting was croquettes, two of choco frito (fried cuttlefish) and two of alheira, a traditional Portuguese sausage. Setúbal is famed for its choco frito which adorns every menu board and although I’ve never really been a big fan of cuttlefish, finding it to be on the chewy side, this little croquette quite simply melted in the mouth. Equally tasty and tender was the alheira, the sausage that isn’t a sausage. Both were served with tasty mayonnaise sauces.
Next up was a large field mushroom stuffed with smokey, cured goat’s cheese and spinach, served alongside a lip-smacking basket of fried potato skins. When a small piece of fried bread topped with a strip of bacon and a perfect quail’s egg arrived, I wasn’t particularly excited by it. I’d had a similar tapas before and thought it was just okay but this tasted like a mini Irish breakfast, the flavours completely belying its diminutive size and propelling it to top position in the evening’s ranking. At this point the waitress asked of we had room for a meat course or if we wanted to head to the dessert. We opted for the meat course which, in hindsight, we probably didn’t need and although the succulent strips of beef in a light gravy was good, it was the weakest of the dishes.
Rounding off our gastronomic selection was a trio of desserts comprising a light and zingy strawberry cheesecake in a jar, a rich and salty chocolate mousse and a soft, light sponge.
Did I think it was worth getting dressed while still wet and rushing out into a cold night with wet hair and no lipstick? You bet.
We love Portuguese wine and have yet to open a bad bottle. Again, at the owner’s suggestion we enjoyed a bottle of Piloto Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard in Palmelo, just north of Setúbal. Soft, spicy with blackcurrent aromas, it was the perfect accompaniment to our tasting menu and at €16.50 not cheap, but not overly expensive.
Our tasting menu plus wine came to €52.80, expensive for this region of Portugal but remarkably good value as far as we were concerned. This is creative cuisine using local ingredients and traditional dishes but prepared and presented with skill and flair. If 490 Taberna is anything to go by, Setúbal’s culinary scene is definitely on the up.
490 Taberna STB, Avenida Luisa Todi 490, Setúbal, Portugal; open Wed-Mon 12:30-23:30, closed Tues; +351 934 760 982
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, DK Guides, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, easyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+
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