There is no sign, there is no grand entry, there is simply a wooden door with a knocker.
“How do we get in?” I ask Sara, who was dutifully watching over Mica in his portable carseat.
“The door isn’t open? Really?! Is this the right place?” she inquires, a little concerned that the three of us would be stuck outside, a touch cold and very hungry!
Knowing that our coworkers had confirmed the exact location, and were most likely enjoying a refreshing drink within, I take a step back to assess the two wooden doors positioned on either side of the lit menu display. Feeling a little childish, and foolish, I slowly raise my hand, grab the antique metal knocker on the opposite door and have a go.
Two seconds later, the creaky hinges open to restaurant that felt distinctly like a Medieval Hobbit house lined with thick stone walls, dark wood ceilings and warm, smiling faces, “Welcome to O Paparico Gabriella!”
“Paparico is a masculine noun meaning caress, cuddle, present to a loved one, as well as delicacy, titbit.”
O Paparico is nestled in the suburban outskirts of Porto. If you aren’t savvy to its location and elusive entry, you could easily pass it up for a local watering hole filled with neighboring residents; but one peek inside, and you’re absolutely clear that you’ve entered a parallel dimension filled with glowing candelabras, cozy wooden ceilings and ridiculously friendly staff.
The concept of the menu is centered around sharing, to create an opportunity where guests can converse with the person across the table about the moment, the food, the experience. Every dish is portioned for at least two people. Hence, the entire menu is tapa-esque in that it’s meant to be divided among many. It’s a lovely way to step away from our individual experience to something more intimate, more personal, a concept that is mimicked in the decor.
Walking through the front door, you enter a charming room, no bigger than a bread box, with a wooden bar, a few chairs and a handful of books. Simple, quaint, it’s difficult to conceptualise that this was the entire restaurant prior to its recent expansion. Now, one traverses through the “library” into a slightly larger room decked out in 12th century accoutrements where our table sat with six starters awaiting us. Small, white platters were filled with an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese called Azeitão that’s produced at the foot of the Arrabida Mountains; a Veal Terrine with a sweet Port wine sauce sprinkled with fennel seeds; an Octopus Ceviche with olive oil, onion and coriander; a Codfish Ceviche with olive oil, onion, parsley and cornbread; a Black Pork Smoked Sausage and a Black Pork Prosciutto, both of which were amazing. Though admittedly the Octopus was by far our favorite with its soft, buttery texture which paired beautifully with the Wijion, Blanc de Noir, Espumante from Bairrada which we chose to start the meal. Yes, Portugal does produce insanely good sparkling wines!
“Our mission is to try to push the Portuguese cuisine as far as we can, while retaining the authenticity and respect for our traditional gastronomy.”
There have been a few times in my life that a dish has had me buckle at the knees, literally. The first was when Ryan made a batch of chocolate truffles when we were first dating. Standing in the kitchen of his loft apartment, he placed a small football shaped dollop into my mouth and in one fell swoop, my legs gave out from beneath me as I grabbed onto the counter for dear life. The flavor was so heavenly, so perfect that I ate the entire bowl of frozen ganache the following day. No regrets, I assure you! The next time was in the mountains of Rioja, Spain, where we enjoyed scrambled eggs with native sautéed mushrooms drizzled with a homemade vanilla sauce. May not sound exotic, but I assure you, it was and oh so good! And last, but not least, was here at O Paparico with their single, solitary, grilled scallop with coral butter. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this dish was. The flavor was so spot on, the texture silky and smooth, the finish lingering for hours, it was absolutely mindblowing, especially when paired with their house white, the O Paparico Reserva from the Dão. It’s a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life….second to Ryan’s chocolate truffle, but a close second.
As far as the rest of the meal, well, it would be difficult to pick out something that wasn’t spectacular. The Grilled Octopus with baby potatoes, shallots and cherry tomatoes was exquisite; the Veal with marrow bone sauce and wild mushrooms was sumptuous and juicy; and the Lemon Meringue Tart in a lime sorbet was light with and tantalising.
“We love wine! We can’t think food without it. And as a result of that passion, we try to stock our favorite Portuguese wines to share with our guests, not forgetting to serve it under the best conditions, with the utmost respect, and most importantly, to convey its story.”
Sergio, the owner, manager, sommelier and all around good guy, cares deeply about wine, but in a fun conversational sort of way. As the entire theme of the restaurant is based on sharing, where each dish is meant for a minimum of two people, he wants the wine to equally play an “interactive” part of the meal. Stocking his menu with over 500 Portuguese wine selections, he’s keen to find a wine that suits your needs, your palate. He wants to share the experience with you, seeing that “wow, that’s damn good” look creep across your face. Granted, we brought some non Portuguese interlopers to the table including the Kavaklidere, 2003 and the Beronia, 1982, but in the spirit of sharing, our sommelier for the evening was more than happy to partake, which in turn, made us considerably happy!
“The most important element about our restaurant is hospitality. Over the professionalism, over knowledge, over our mise-en-scene style is hospitality. Without it, there is no sense of belonging, of comfortability, of exploration. We want you to feel at home.”
As a 15 year veteran waitress, I am highly sensitive to good service. For me, this is a delicate balance between professionalism and informality, between a customer feeling they are in a quality driven restaurant and someone feeling at home. The balance is precarious, a minuscule step away from being inauthentic or pretentious. O Paparico delivered every dish with a warm, genuine smile, was fastidious in their attention to detail and never missed a beat to care about our little one. This last point may sound mood for those of you without children, but let me assure you, it couldn’t be a better tell for a restaurant with or without soul. The simple act of bringing over crustless bread, temperature friendly soup or herbal tea is paramount for a parent to enjoy their own meal.
“We are young, hard to satisfy, ambitious, and there is always something changing every day.”
O Paparico is planning on big changes in the future including a new cellar open to customers, an expanded logistics and kitchen, and a special area dedicated exclusively to a garden where they will grow their produce internally. For a restaurant that’s only been open a few years, hats off to them for continuously aiming for the stars.
Ironically, we typically end our reviews with a few suggestions for the restaurant itself, but in this case, we honestly don’t have any. From the menu to the service, everything was spot on! I suppose the only suggestion we might end with is, make a reservation now!
O Paparico Restaurant
Rua de Costa Cabral 2343, 4200 Porto
+351 22 540 0548
Open today · 7:30 – 11:30 pm