There are two countries called Portugal in Europe. One is a slim procession of coastline and villa complexes along the length of the Algarve. The other is, well, the rest of the country.

Most of us know the Algarve (many of us still miss Stanley Street’s homespun restaurant of the same name), far less have experienced the country north of Thomas Cook’s zone of all-inclusive fleshpots.

SevenStreets, having just returned from Porto, is keen to do that ‘extending the holiday’ thing we’re all guilty of. Only, I don’t really have to leave the house to do this. A bottle of port exploded in my luggage on the way home – cheers Easyjet – giving my entire summer wardrobe a blotchy pink colour and an exotic, fruity odour. You might have smelled me around town?

I’m wearing selected items as I investigate Cafe Porto (I’m hoping a hint of Sandeman’s vintage tawny might endear me to the chef), Portugal’s sole outpost in a city with Iberian eateries by the bodega full.

But which Portugal does Cafe Porto attempt to recreate? The omission of fading pictures of plates of egg and chips outside is a good sign that we’re a long way from Albufeira.

Cafe Porto features fresh, simple and authentic plates of Portuguese-style tapas (three course dining available on request).
Based on the simple hole-in-the-wall style grill houses and bars tucked into the back streets of Porto’s teetering Old Town, the cosy space is a relaxed, informal alternative to the buttoned-up and showy Puschka next door.

Most workaday restaurants in Portugal offer Platos do Dia – filling and fresh plates of meatballs, salt cod, pork and rice or grilled sardines. Cafe Porto takes the idea, gives it an English twist (well, Scottish. The restaurant is a Portuguese-Scottish affair) and dishes out a selection of specials and set choices to an increasing crowd of devotees. Lunches too are equally simple and surefooted.

Trouble is, when we were there, there was a table of diners screeching their way through the evening, nipping out between mouthfuls for a fag, disappearing off into the toilet in curious clumps, and generally making the evening unbearable for the rest of us.

They were, most definitely, Praia Da Rocha to Cafe Porto’s Douro Valley. And another depressing reminder that there’s a significant subset of people around here who have no concept of communal etiquette. We’re aware we sound like snobs, but in a space as intimate and friendly as Cafe Porto – with half a dozen tables – there is a limit to how much ear-shredding bon homie you can take before the experience becomes like a Tough Mudder challenge.

Cafe Porto offers a short selection of fresh and grassy Vinho Verde wines (Portuguese wines are criminally underrated), but it also offers corkage for those who opt to bring their own.

The braying table of ‘beauties’ next to us were glugging down bought-in bottles of Tesco rosé between verses of California Dreamin’ and sentences which, invariably, started with the immortal: ‘I’m not being funny but…’ and ended with some bitchy observation about whoever it was who’d just nipped outside to suck up another Marlboro Light.

Our food arrived in a succession of bite-sized chapters (and sympathetic whispers from our hosts, apologising conspiratorially about how ‘lively’ it is tonight). A board of meze-style starters (homemade hummus included), delicious crispy-on-the-outside and fluffy-on-the-inside saltcod fish cakes, marinated chicken and chorizo strips, chunky tortilla, chunkier meatballs in a fiery tomato sauce…a touch of olive oil, the heat of garlic, a dollop of lemony mayo…nothing earth shattering going on here. Just wholesome, filling, great value (all around the £4-£6 mark) plates of food. Prepared from scratch. Served piping hot. Washed down with a glass or two of zingy Alvarinho.

Owner Pedro Almeida admits his venture suffered a rocky start, due to the recession, and even considered selling up last year for personal reasons. But the Porto native has fallen in love with the city and, he says, “I’ve put everything into this, so I’m not going to give up that easily.”

“I have nothing against posh places, but I don’t think that people do not need to go posh if they want to eat well, have nice atmosphere and enjoy wonderful wines,” he says, when we call him the following morning to tell him we’d slipped in for a review.

We remind him about the very ‘relaxed’ diners from the previous evening.

“Well, if you drink two bottles of wine, that’s what happens,” he audibly shrugs. “I might have to re-consider the bring your own policy, and just limit it to mid-week. In a cafe like ours, atmosphere and service is so important to us. If one table is taking all our efforts to control well…it’s not what we aim for.”

Together with Scottish partner, Mary Walker, Pedro works hard to ensure everything is right: with authentic ingredients sourced from a London-based Portuguese importer. Together, it’s evident the team works its collective ass off – you can see them toiling away in the open kitchen. And they’ve created a wonderfully idiosyncratic outpost at the top of the town. It’s galling to see some customers treat the place as a cheap bar, with the occasional plate of nibbles thrown in. Show some respect, people.

Is it authentically Portuguese? Maybe. Or maybe it’s more a greatest hits of the Med. Who cares. It’s in Liverpool – and here, we very much hope, it will stay.


Cafe Porto
14 Rodney Street
Tel: 0151 708 5276

20 Responses to “Don’t Pass The Porto”

  1. Green

    The reason he’s struggled is because Porto is the slowest service in a city which now recognises that some only have half an hour for lunch. It takes him 20 mins to cut his (lovely) tortilla and add a few leaves of salad. He seems to have refused even the most basic advice about marketing – he’s a real candidate for the Ramsey treatment. I’m surprised he’s still here when he really can’t compete with Shirley Valentines and Dory’s at lunch though he has better food. Chaotic and obstinately retro, he needs advice if he’s going to survive.

  2. Wow. Is that what you call tough love? I guess for ‘obstinately retro’ you could say ‘refreshingly traditional’! But one man’s jamon, etc. Anyway, the slow food movement wouldn’t advocate necking a wedge of tortilla down, anyway, would it? Service may be, as I say, idiosyncratic. But it’s all done with love, yeah? That’s what matters. You can always make up the time after 5pm, if you’re late back. (manfully resists hare and tortoise, Cadbury’s caramel analogy)

  3. Green

    Faster service, the Ramsay treatment and better marketing, are you serious? The best part of Cafe Porto is the atmosphere and relaxed casual charm, which it has in spades. Do all of those things and it looses any sense of its originality. It’s lovely food in a great little restaurant that is completely original for this city. Long my it continue.

  4. Thanks for the support.
    Comparing Cafe Porto with sandwich shops, just shows that some people know nothing about food.
    There is something else out there, apart from junk food and posh food.
    I will pack up in the day that I have to follow that philosophy.
    Note- Take time to get to Cafe Porto

  5. JD Moran

    Firstly, I am not sure why Easyjet would be responsible for the fate of your bottle of port. Unless you’re suggesting the hold was set at the incorrect pressure?

    Secondly, I’ve always been a bit wary of getting too snooty about whom we share our restaurants with. While certain parties can taint an otherwise perfect dining experience, surely the more inclusive a restaurant scene we have in the city – one where even “the plebs” amongst us are encouraged to venture into gems like Cafe Porto rather than always following the expected route to your lowest common denominator restaurants – the better it is for such places to thrive.

    I appreciate such an experience is enough to cause some diners to look elsewhere for a quiet AND tasty meal so it is a difficult balance to strike; my fear would be that if people are kept in their place so to speak, it does nothing for spreading the experience of good food throughout the city and it breeds an environment where bog-standard reigns supreme.

    That said, the review does sell the place well and it’s a timely reminder to make the most of such places lest we lose them.

  6. I agree completely with Green’s point regarding Cafe Porto’s slow service. Unfortunately, this is the main reason why I (and several others) haven’t returned to Cafe Porto, even though the food is very good. Yes, good food deserves the time needed to prepare it. I do not argue against that. However, some people cannot take longer than one hour for lunch or need to be somewhere else in the city (e.g. theatre, concert) after dinner. I don’t think more timely service is an unreasonable request. If some people “know nothing about food”, then take the time to show them how enjoyable food can be….just don’t make them wait too long for it.

  7. Ok, you’re all right about the speed of service, and while we are at it I’ve got a few other complaints to add about other restaurants.

    Why doesn’t Il Forno do a good curry and nan bread.

    I wish Panoramic would have some sort of blind system over the windows it’s too bright in there and the light hurts my eyes.

    And I’ve never understood why Tribeca doesn’t do full silver service.

  8. Great place. To be honest, I’m always suspicious of any place that takes less than 20 minutes to prepare your food. Doing something properly takes time. We tend to break it up anyway but placing our order, then going to get our wine from the ten til ten.

  9. @ Sid…come on, a bit of constructive criticism never went astray. A reasonable wait time is usually no problem for me, but when the time between one course ending and the next course starting stretches over 45 mins

  10. Ok lads, I can take criticism, it is positive and I will always improve where it is needed..
    But I suspect that there is a “Green Bee” that has something about Cafe Porto. Maybe competitor(s)?
    I do not know where he got that stretches of 45 min between courses, when I serve Tapas, not courses!
    Some places around, do serve Coq-au-vin without wine, and the amazing thing is that hardly anyone complains!!!
    What we do at Cafe Porto is hard work, loads of love, and I do not criticise who works for profit only, kind of food factory outlet. There an art on it too. But not mine
    . I enjoy every single thing that I produce/create and the customer is the ultimate destiny of my work.

  11. Green

    Pedro, your food is excellent and you mentioned that you nearly closed. I’m not competition, I’m one of those that spends money at Porto but I also have a job. You have lost customers cos urgency is not your forte – it’s gentle criticism from someone who knows colleagues who love your food but rarely go because despite what your fans above say, we both know, you need more business and you won’t get it from the leisure class above. Don’t be defensive. You’d be packed if you were as perfect as the review.

  12. Daniel Nunes

    Just a small correction … we say “Prato do dia” and not Plato. Hope you do not mind this small remark. Good article and all the luck to Pedro!

  13. No competition from this side….just someone who would love to see your place succeed as you obviously run it with care, dedication and passion. Hence I spent the time to give my honest opinion.

  14. Despite the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted in Liverpool, I have not returned to this restaurant only because of the disappointing service experienced. Although the woman serving our table was apologizing to us for the lack of professionalism from the manager/owner, it was not enough to make us want to return. Sadly we have encountered others who have reported receiving a similar indifference and lack of courtesy. A true shame because the food is lovely and a good representation of delicious Portuguese cuisine. And no, I am certainly not competition of any sort. Just someone who truly enjoys exploring the culinary delights found in Liverpool.

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