Restaurant bread is traditionally a sideshow, an hors d’oeuvre – a nibble-y served-in-a-basket preamble to the main event.
But does it have to be? It’s a question that Pedro Pena Bastos, Executive Chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Cura, asked himself. And the answer he came up with was an emphatic ‘no’. (Or more likely ‘não’, as he is, after all, Portuguese.)
At contemporary Cura, part of the ultra-luxurious 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 be centre-stage.
A little basket of rustic wheat bread and a loaf of milk bread – with aged butter garnished with smoked hay powder and Portuguese olive oil produced by Pedro’s family – form course No.7 and they’re spellbindingly moreish.
It’s bread elevated to gourmet status.
Ted Thornhill dined at Michelin-starred Cura, located on the lobby floor of the ultra-luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon
Crumbs! Bread is a star in the 13-course, 185-euro (£160/$195) ‘Origens’ tasting menu. It comprises rustic wheat bread, a loaf of milk bread (left), aged butter garnished with smoked hay powder and Portuguese olive oil. Pictured right is the tuna tartare
Ted writes: ‘We were transfixed by the restaurant’s gastronomic offerings.’ Above – the lobster and chickpea course
Pedro tells MailOnline: ‘Our bread at the restaurant is made with milled grains, especially ancient varieties of wheat and malted ones, too, that give our bread much more flavour and texture. Then it ferments for 24 hours of cold proofing, and it’s baked just before the 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 set out Pedro’s stall as a chef of some considerable talent.
Above us were striking Dali-esque lampshades resembling a sequence of misshapen letters.
They’d be a talking point at lesser restaurants. And so would the eye-catching banquette we were seated at, with its distinctive tubular cushion.
Squid with toasted seaweed butter and Ossietra caviar
But my partner and I were transfixed from the get-go by the restaurant’s gastronomic offerings, our conversation revolving mostly around whether each dish was almost perfect, or actually perfect.
The brigade, wearing Peaky Blinders-style flat caps, kicked off proceedings by sending out a mushroom tartlet amuse bouche from the open-view kitchen. ‘Stupendous,’ I wrote in my notes.
Then came dishes that included delicate strips of mackerel with a tiny dome of the sweetest sweet potato; a perfectly formed sphere of tuna tartare with a smoked broth and green beans; and squid with toasted seaweed butter and Ossietra caviar.
Post-bread came Atlantic wreckfish, cubes of mouthwatering Iberian port and perfectly cooked pigeon with broccoli and beetroot.
The matching wines were just as wonderful as the culinary creations, with the standouts for me being a white Entre Pedras 2022 from the Azores, a rustic Quinta da Caldeirinha 2017 red and a fresh and zesty Quinta da Pegadinha 2021 from the Vinhos Verdes region, one of Europe’s hippest wine-producing zones.
The service, meanwhile, was impeccable – an almost ballet-like spectacle with the dishes placed on the table by one team and another member of staff then explaining with sincere enthusiasm how they were put together.
Thorough-bread cook: Pictured here is Executive Chef Pedro Pena Bastos
The street-level entrance to Cura, a restaurant Ted describes as ‘a temple of the finest of fine dining’
The wines too, were expertly described – with the staff here not just knowledgeable about their own list, but how wines in general are made.
Every table seemed to be as thoroughly mesmerised by the Cura experience as we were, save for the table of gents next to us, who seemed more interested in watching music videos on their phones.
Sacrilege in a temple of the finest of fine dining.
Ted was hosted by Cura. For more information and to book visit www.fourseasons.com/lisbon/dining/restaurants/cura.
PROS: Sublime food and wine matched by sublime service. Plus, a suitably swanky environment to experience it in. And if you love a loaf, you’ll be in heaven.
CONS: If you’re only satisfied by meals that entail plates piled high with food, then this isn’t the place for you.
Rating out of five: 5.