Regular visitors of Wonderful Wanderings will already know I'm a huge food fan. I just love to eat (cooking, that's something else…) and I'm always open to new food experiences. You can only imagine my excitement when the tourism board for Porto and the north of Portugal invited me to dinner at Rui Paula's DOP Restaurant in Porto, Portugal.
DOP – chef Rui Paula
- Rui Paula opened his first restaurant, the Cêpa Torta, in Alijó in 1994. It was open for 16 years.
- DOC Restaurant followed in 2007, at the Folgosa pier between Régua and Pinhão.
- Three years later Paula opened the restaurant DOP in the Palace of Arts in Porto.
- In 2011 Paula became the Consultant Chief of the Vidago Palace Hotel.
- Planned for April 2014 is the opening of a new restaurant in Recife (Brasil).
DOP Restaurant Porto: getting there
We had a dinner reservation at 8 pm on our first night in Porto. As we didn't want to be late and still had to discover the area, we left our apartment on the Rua Campo Lindo half an hour beforehand, leaving us with enough time to find a parking spot and the restaurant.
Our GPS quickly directed us to the Largo S. Domingos, where DOP Restaurant Porto is located. We were a bit worried about finding parking space, but quickly found a spot across the street from the Palácio das Artes, the 14th-century building that houses Rui Paula's restaurant and that is classified as World Heritage. Turned out you only had to pay for parking until 8 pm. Lucky us!
Although we had parked right across the street from where we had to be, it still took us some time to find the entrance. We first walked all the way around the Palácio das Artes but started in the wrong direction. We left our car in the Rua Dr. Sousa Viterbo and walked downhill (of course we walked downhill…) to the Jardim do Infante Don Henrique. We turned right there and saw the Palácio da Bolsa in front of us, mistakenly thinking it was the Palácio das Artes.
We should've known we were wrong, though, as there were journalists standing outside and official-looking people coming out. We went in anyway, found the wrong restaurant (the Restaurant O Comercial) and quickly left again. We later learned that the event that had been going on inside was the goodbye of bishop Don Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente of Porto, who would go on to become the Patriarch of Lisbon.
After asking for directions, we finally made it to the entrance of Rui Paula's DOP Restaurant… just a couple of meters away from where we had parked our car.
The Rui Paula Dop Restaurant: our experience
I have to admit we felt a bit uneasy when we arrived at DOP. You see, Boyfriend and I aren't really frequent restaurant visitors. We love good food, but our budget doesn't allow us to eat out all the time and definitely not at the “nicer places”.
I don't know exactly what we had expected, but whatever those expectations were, they were surely exceeded. The food, the service, the ambiance… everything was exactly as it should have been.
DOP Restaurant: the decor
Don't expect anything artsy fartsy or super-modern when going to DOP Porto. The restaurant consists of a rectangular room on the ground floor with another room on the first floor. Space is efficiently used, but you never get the feeling that you're too close to your neighbor.
Now I must say that when we were there the restaurant wasn't full. Funny enough, though, one couple sitting close to us was also from Belgium. We sure know how to find great food!
I really appreciated the service at DOP Restaurant. Personnel were friendly, but never too present (you know what I mean). Our glasses never went dry (nor my glass of water – which came from the Vidago spring in the north of Portugal – nor Boyfriend's glass of wine) and we got a rundown of what was on our plate with every new course.
This was pretty useful as we'd been offered the menu of the chef and didn't know beforehand what we would get. Exciting!
Rui Paula couldn't have chosen his dishes better, I must say. But before I get into the food I just want to say one last thing about the chef: at one point in the evening, he left his kitchen to personally ask each of his guests if everything was okay and if the service was good. In English, I must add (by the way, all personnel spoke English as well).
And when we left the restaurant that night we saw him outside with his personnel, chatting and having a smoke. Of course, those two small things might not say a lot about the chef as a person, but they did leave a positive impression on us.
The food… oh gosh, the food
I'm just going to say it like it is: I've never had a better dinner than at Rui Paula's DOP Restaurant. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever eaten anything that tasted more refined, more balanced, more exactly as it was supposed to taste, than at DOP Restaurant.
My apologies to all the great places I've eaten at so far, especially in Portugal, but this food was just amazing.
We started with a welcome from the chef: a crispy potato with salmon and lemon, something piggy and a ‘fake truffle’ (if I understood it correctly).
After that came the starter: veal carpaccio with chili ice cream.
It looked like such a weird combination but this ended up being my favorite dish of the evening. The veal was so fine, yet had such profound taste and the chili ice cream was a perfect match for it. As you can see on the picture I couldn't contain myself and already had a bite before taking a picture.
I'm actually thinking of making this my signature, as I always seem to start eating before taking a picture. I just can't help myself.
But back to the food. Our starter was accompanied by three different kinds of bread: chili, focaccia and truffle.
Then came the fish… or fishes, as we were served the typically Portuguese dish ‘caldeirada': three different kinds of fish (in this case turbot, sea bass and red fish) in a bouillabaisse with pepper and Italian potatoes.
Looks delicious, doesn't it? Well, it was.
After the fish came the meat (no photo because I couldn't help myself and ate it all straight away) – duck leg with truffle puree and asparagus – and then came the surprise of the evening…
Suddenly a waitress stood next to me, holding a spoon with a little red ball on it. She told me to put the ball in my mouth in one piece, which I did, and then it happened…
Sparkles! An explosion of red fruits (I know because that's what the little ball was called) and even tinier ball that kept sparkling in my mouth minutes after I'd eaten this pre-dessert. I felt like a child again. I was so excited.
Boyfriend and I knew we recognized the sparkling balls, but we didn't know from where. When we told a friend about this, she thought it could have been ‘knettersuiker' (sparkling sugar). I guess we'll never now…
I just want to emphasize one more time that that little ball was a thing of genius.
And then came dessert. Dessert usually is my favorite course and basically when there's chocolate involved, I'm happy.
There was chocolate involved.
Dessert consisted of a chocolate and coffee cake, ice cream of milk from almonds and a mousse made of coffee. Cake seems to be the most common dessert in Portugal. We saw it everywhere we went.
After dessert we were offered coffee or tea. I had some white tea and what I like about Portugal as well, is that you always seem to get a small tea pot when you order tea. In Belgium you usually only get one cup.
Just when we thought DOP had run out of surprise, there was another one. We got to choose something out of a box filled with deliciously looking candy.
Wait, just one thing??? How could I choose between all of those goodies? I ended up choosing a chocolate and passion fruit cake Popsicle and I must admit I don't remember what Boyfriend had. Guess I was enjoying my after-dessert too much.
Needless to say we had a wonderful evening. We chatted all the way through dinner and just felt delighted all night through. The things food can do…
Where to stay in Porto
Check Booking.comfor an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
If you prefer staying at an apartment, like we did, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
We were offered a complimentary meal at Rui Paula's DOP Restaurant in Porto by the tourism board for Porto and the north of Portugal, but there's no way this could affect my opinion.