Restaurant bread is traditionally a side dish, an hors d’oeuvre – a snack served in a basket in preparation for the main event.
But should that be the case? It’s a question that Pedro Pena Bastos, chef of the Michelin-starred restaurant Cura, asked himself. And the answer he gave was an emphatic ‘no’. (Or more likely ‘não’, since he is Portuguese after all.)
At the contemporary Cura, part of the ultra-luxe Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, bread is a star in the 13-course 185-euro (£160/$195) ‘Origens’ tasting menu, as I discovered.
And believe me, it deserves to take center stage.
A small basket of rustic wheat bread and a milk loaf – with aged butter topped with smoked hay powder and Portuguese olive oil produced by Pedro’s family – make up course No. 7 and they are enchantingly delicious.
It is bread that has been elevated to gastronomic status.
Ted Thornhill dined at the Michelin-starred Cura, located on the lobby floor of the ultra-luxury Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon
Crumbs! Bread is a star of the 13-course 185-euro (£160/$195) ‘Origens’ tasting menu. It consists of rustic wheat bread, a milk bread (left), aged butter topped with smoked hay powder and Portuguese olive oil. Pictured on the right is the tuna tartare
Ted writes: ‘We were fascinated by the restaurant’s gastronomic offering.’ Above – the lobster and chickpea course
Pedro tells MailOnline: ‘Our bread in the restaurant is made with ground grains, mainly ancient wheat varieties and malted grains, which give our bread much more flavor and texture. It then ferments for 24 hours and is baked just before service.”
The accompanying cold-pressed olive oil, he adds, is “bread’s best friend.”
Leading up to the loaves were half a dozen dishes that showed Pedro’s stall as a chef of considerable talent.
Above us were striking Dali-esque lampshades that resembled a series of misshapen letters.
They would be a talking point in smaller restaurants. And that includes the striking sofa we sat on, with its signature tubular cushion.
Squid with roasted seaweed butter and Ossietra caviar
But my partner and I were fascinated by the restaurant’s gastronomic offering from the start, with our conversation focusing on whether each dish was close to perfect, or actually perfect.
The brigade, wearing Peaky Blinders-style flat caps, kicked off by sending out an appetizer with mushroom tart from the open kitchen. “Baffling,” I wrote in my notes.
Then came dishes of delicate strips of mackerel with a small dome of the sweetest sweet potato; a perfectly formed ball of tuna tartare with smoked stock and green beans; and squid with roasted seaweed butter and Ossietra caviar.
After the bread came Atlantic wreck fish, cubes of delicious Iberian port and perfectly cooked pigeon with broccoli and beetroot.
The accompanying wines were just as delicious as the culinary creations, with the highlights for me being a white Entre Pedras 2022 from the Azores, a rustic Quinta da Caldeirinha 2017 red and a fresh and spicy Quinta da Pegadinha 2021 from the Vinhos Verdes region, one of the hippest wine-producing zones in Europe.
The service was impeccable: an almost ballet-like spectacle where the dishes were placed on the table by one team and another staff member then explained with genuine enthusiasm how they were put together.
Thorough Bread Chef: Pictured here is Chef Pedro Pena Bastos
The street-level entrance to Cura, a restaurant Ted describes as “a temple to the best of fine dining”
The wines were also expertly described – with the staff here knowledgeable not only about their own list, but also about how wines are made in general.
Every table seemed to be as thoroughly mesmerized by the Cura experience as we were, except for the table of gentlemen next to us, who seemed more interested in watching music videos on their phones.
Sacrilege in a temple of the best gourmet food.
Ted was presented by Cura. For more information and to book, visit www.fourseasons.com/lisbon/dining/restaurants/cura.
Pros: Sublime food and wine combined with sublime service. Plus a suitably chic environment in which to experience it. And if you like bread, you’re in heaven.
Cons: If you’re only happy with meals where the plates are piled high, this isn’t the place for you.
Rating out of five: 5.