Despite the fact that I ate amazing food during my recent weekend in Porto it was the tiny fish restaurant of Toupeirinho in the nearby resort of Matosinhos that stole my heart.
It’s up a side street - you could easily miss it - and the tables are cramped but the warmth of the welcome and the quality of the simply cooked seafood from the family-run kitchen makes it a must if you’re anywhere in the area.
As soon as we’d sat down - rather earlier than the locals who drift in about 9 - we found food waiting on the table - a couple of small crabs, piled high with crabmeat, a dish of fat sardine roes in chilli-spiked oil, a pool of vivid green grassy oil from the Douro and some tiny, sweet oily black olives, Perfect accompaniments for a welcoming glass of chilled white Ramos Pintos port.
That was swiftly followed by inevitable plate of presunto - Portugal’s answer to Iberico ham, glistening with fat and served with freshly baked warm cornbread rolls. Then a plate of tiny sweet shrimps and scary-looking goose barnacles (percebas) looking like the sort of snack that Hagrid might tuck into. Tender as a langoustine though.
Feeling we’d passed some kind of test we were rewarded with two kinds of lobster - a crayfish-sized spiny or 'slipper' lobster (lavagante au naturel) served simply boiled and a more elaborate lobster salad with a punchy parsley and onion dressing - both delicious with our bottle of richly textured 2009 Borges Douro Reserva branco which appears to sell for under 10 euros locally in Portugal.
They’d asked if we’d like seabass baked in salt as our main course so that’s what we were expecting next but instead got presented with the best clams I’ve ever eaten - again, ridiculously plump and cooked in white wine, olive oil and fresh coriander which seems to be widely used in seafood dishes.
The seabass finally arrived, dramatically presented on a flaming bed of salt then cracked open and served with dry roast potatoes and drizzled with the inevitable oil though it wasn’t in any way oily. And a great side of fried onions, carrots, courgettes and greens to offset our otherwise protein-fuelled meal.
By this stage we were utterly stuffed so passed on dessert which didn’t prevent them bringing a couple of custard tarts with our infusions (worth ordering in Portugal instead of the extremely strong coffee at night.)
Lest you get too carried away I should say that the prices at Toupeirinho are not cheap (Matosinhos, along with neighbouring Foz, are very well-heeled neighbourhoods). The salad alone cost 65 euros a kilo though I would guess ours was more like 300-400g and the walls were lined with expensive looking bottles including Dom Perignon, Cristal and Portugal’s famous Barca Velha.
But you don’t have to eat the ridiculous amount of food that we did though I would place yourself in their hands rather than ordering from the menu to get the best of what’s on offer that day. Giving them a price to work to, I suggest.
Toupeirinho is the kind of restaurant you yearn for when you travel, somewhere that couldn’t be anywhere else and full of locals rather than tourists though admittedly it was December. If you’re staying in Porto don’t miss it.
Toupeirinho is at 27 Rua Godinho, 4450 Matosinhos Tel: 229 387 016
You can get to Matosinhos via the blue line of the Metro do Porto.
I ate at Toupeirinho as a guest of the restaurant