If you are visiting Porto, make sure to plan an evening of dining pleasure at Rui Paula’s DOP restaurant for stunning food and wine and the modern face of Portuguese gastronomic culture.
Rui Paula is a name that any visitor to the Douro should be familiar with. Self-taught Chef Rui Paula is the name behind DOC, the very successful gastronomic destination housed on a pier (unfortunately for the pun, not a dock) sitting on the Douro River itself on the main road between Régua and Pinhao. DOC is a must-visit destination offering fantastic views, food, service and wines.
DOC established Rui Paula’s reputation not only for quality, but also as an inventive chef whose creations are beautiful without being outlandish, and are also very firmly rooted in the Douro and in Portugal, using local ingredients, but often presenting them in new ways. I’ve been to DOC twice and been incredibly impressed both times.
With the success of DOC, Chef Paula decided to open a second restaurant, this time in his birthplace, Porto: Rui Paula’s DOP. This modern space is a great example of the regeneration happening in Porto right now. The restaurant is housed within the classic Palacio das Artes (Palace of Arts) building, in the very heart of Porto, yet is furnished with comfortable minimalism and cleverly divided to create more intimate spaces. The white & cream decoration of the space is relaxed in an almost ‘Scandinavian’ way, with comfy, if a little angular, seating. It seems to neatly reflect a respect for tradition with a welcoming modern face that is Portugal today.
That “welcoming face” is a very personal thing at DOP, as Chef Rui Paula makes a point to walk around the restaurant speaking to diners each night, and came by to speak to us, in English. It is a small touch that makes a big difference. In fact, the whole staff were very welcoming and accommodating from the moment we arrived, and managed to balance an impeccable, professional white-gloved service with nice personal touches that made us feel relaxed and well attended. This was all the more amazing, and important, since we were a group of 6 plus a sleeping baby, something which would have thrown most establishments anywhere in the world, but in Portugal is still welcome. As a father myself, I have to say I do love this country!
The food and wine was fantastic, and lived up to the hype I had heard from others. Read below for the dish by dish run-down of the tasting menu. The wine list too is a welcoming sight, as it is not only extensive but prices are VERY reasonable, especially considering it has a range of aged Portuguese wines. On a related note, the wines marked ** below were ones we brought. The restaurant is used to winemakers presenting their own wines, but “corkage” is a new concept, so do call ahead to discuss corkage charges for wines you wish to bring to accompany your meal as they are willing to consider it.
The DOP experience was wonderful and I suggest you make a point of adding both DOP and DOC to your Douro travel itineraries.
The Douro Tasting Menu Experience
We had gathered there in a small group for a celebration, and chose in advance to sample the ‘Douro’ tasting menu – a mere 6 courses!
The experience began, as many such events do these days, with additional food experiences to ‘amuse’ one’s bouche between courses. The first was an interesting collection; a bread pocket with a tomato broth that bursts in your mouth, wafers of potato crisp with salmon & lemon mousse, and a ‘faux truffle’ which was in fact Alheira sausage coated with cleverly roasted black olives. Amused? We were. These tastes were excellently balanced by the suggested pairing with the Douro valley’s premier sparkling wine, a Gouveio from Vértice.
The first dish of the menu itself was a ‘timbale’ of creamy foie gras, topped with slices of granny smith apple, plus a drop of port wine reduction. This was very tasty, but possibly a rather rich and heavy way to start an evening with so much good food still to come. If I’m to be completely honest, the apple was touch too sweet and the dish lacked a little crispness to freshen the palate.
However, this introduction was swiftly followed by what might have to be my favourite dish of the night, a seafood dish that proved sublime and delicate. An elegantly presented combination of scarlet prawn (Carabineiro), lobster tail, vegetables and perfectly cooked beans, in a broth and topped with a calamari foam. Superb.
This dish was nicely matched with an aged bottle originating far from Porto, a 1997 Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva** (white) whose nutty complexity and acidity worked well with the rich fish stock.
Next, we moved on to Rui Paula’s take on “Tamboril com Arroz Carolino do Mondego” – a dish combining a rare local rice with an amazing texture, with perfectly presented monkfish and a salty bite of caviar on the side. We actually switched to a light red for this dish, with a really amazing bottle of Kalecik Karasi from Kavaklidere**. Although we discovered the wonderful potential of Turkish wines in 2012, this was in fact a bottle from 2003 proving the ageing potential as well as the versatility of this grape.
At this point we had the ‘intermezzo’ in artistic experience. The dish was simple – a single bite each of a beautifully charcoaled meat, but presented as “Chef’s memories of his childhood cooking experiences with his grandmother” in a glass domed dish full of fragrant wood smoke. The effect was appropriately theatrical and tasted amazing.
Our culinary journey then continued with a visit to the ‘Tenderloin field” when the actual meat dish arrived not only with tasty Wagyu beef with sweetbreads, but a dramatic presentation of the potato as a field mushroom, filled with the meat gravy.
This dish was perfectly matched with a bottle bought from the restaurant list for what a simply amazingly affordable price for a great wine with age. The São Domingos Garrafeira 1983, expertly decanted for us, was a mere €35 a bottle and was elegant, smooth and a mesmerising match for the dish.
At this point our palates and appetites were freshened up with a delicate fruit salad as an introduction to chef’s amusing puzzle of a dessert. Chef Paula, having already demonstrated several times his penchant for humour and misdirection, has created a false ‘Orange’ that involves an outer layer of orange paste, around a light pastry and a fondant core of … basil (believe it or not) that gives a herbal freshness that actually balances all the flavours without the acidity of a real orange. Wow!
Our group’s wine choice to match (which we brought, but there was a similar wine on the list too) was a bottle of 2006 Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine**, a wine that combines the tropical fruit to match the dessert but a truly impressive freshness to round out the meal.
There’s only one way to finish a meal like this, and that is with expertly presented fresh mint tea and a HUGE smile on your face.
Restaurant DOP Porto
Largo São Domingos 18, 4050-292 Oporto, Portugal
+351 22 201 4313