When you think Portugese dining you automatically think Nandos- that tasty, spicy peri peri chicken that’s friendly to your pocket and usually not far from your home. As great as Nandos is, it might not be top of your list to take a first date. So, where can you get the tastiness of Nandos but with a little more finesse and intimacy? That’s where Lusitano comes in.
Situated in the heart of Chorlton, Lusitano seeks to dispel the quick and easy connotations of Portugese cuisine, with its stunning decor, tranquil atmosphere and focus on locally sourced, fresh ingredients.
There are black cast iron chandeliers; large ornate mirrors gracing the brightly painted walls, and tables situated romantically by large windows that overlook Chorlton’s Wilbraham Road. It is easy to imagine how picturesque it would be on an evening. Climbing the stairs to the first floor venue takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the streets below and adds to the secluded, intimate feel of the place.
The Peruvian pan flute music playing in the background creates a lovely serene ambience throughout the day time and is vamped up during the evenings as the restaurant gets busier to match the buzz of the atmosphere.
Opened in March 2014, Lusitano’s unique aim is to create authentic Portugese cuisine from local Manchester produce- all their meat is purchased from the butchers just around the corner, fish from the Chorlton fishmonger and vegetables come fresh from the greengrocers at the end of the street.
As one of just two Portugese restaurants in the whole of Manchester, charming owner Marco and his team set the standard by revitalising the menu every so often with new Portugese dishes, and every weekend they introduce new specialities, such as champagne sangria.
We started with glasses of deep crimson sangria, bursting with a multitude of flavours- lovely and sweet, with just the right balance of alcohol. With this came a little black woven basket of crusty bread with a dish of marinated olives, red pepper and slithers of mushroom presented alongside a serving of oil and balsamic vinegar and another of hot piri-piri dipping sauce which had a lovely spicy kick.
As Marco told TNT, the idea behind tapas dining is for dishes to be brought out in a relaxed manner rather than all at once so as to allow customers to eat and socialise at their leisure, and properly absorb and appreciate each individual dish. From the tapas menu TNT sampled vegetable patties, which had a creamy vegetable and cheese interior and a thick, crispy deep fried exterior. It was especially tasty with a lashing of the piri-piri sauce which provided a fiery boost to an otherwise subtly flavoured dish.
Also from the tapas selection we tried cod fish cakes which had thin, crunchy layers encasing soft centres and were well seasoned with an unusual texture. Overall they made for a great alternative to your generic fishcake. The garlic-tartare sauce creation with which it was served was a delicious accompaniment, and we found ourselves dipping into it with every other dish we sampled.
The final plate was a little terracotta ramekin of diced vegetables, including peppers, mushrooms and courgettes. The portion was a little on the small side, albeit beautifully presented, and the vegetables were tasty in their own right but lacked much seasoning. At between £3 and £7 per plate of tapas, the pricing is reasonable, especially considering the freshness of the ingredients.
Their most unique and popular dishes are the cod dishes, of which there are several to choose from off the generous menu, and the Polvo a Lagarieiro – a dish of octopus, potatoes and garlic – which we chose to sample. At £17.95 this dish is pretty pricey, but it looked wonderful served in a steaming terracotta pan. Whole potatoes with wrinkled golden skins decorated the walls of the pan while the octopus was nestled inside, tentacles glistening in full glory. Thin slices of fried garlic garnished the dish and added a lovely strong flavour and interestingly chewy texture to each mouthful.
The octopus was satisfyingly meaty and its exterior was seasoned perfectly, beautifully infused with garlic. The only downside to this dish was that a layer of oil drenched the base of the pan, which was a tad off-putting. For dessert, the chefs prepared for us a traditional Portugese flan, made simply from eggs, sugar and milk, with a layer of sweet caramel decorating its top. It resembled a Spanish crème Catalan, but differed in the absence of corn flour as Marco explained to us. Velvety and creamy, its subtle flavour provided the perfect refreshment to the salty, garlicky main, with sticky sweetness injected by the caramel layer.
Marco was very friendly and welcoming, and only too happy to recommend particular dishes for us, asking us after each course how we had found the food. Overall, Lusitano really puts Portugese dining on the Mancunian map, specialising in seafood and tapas, of which it boasts a glorious variety and is certainly one of Chorlton’s hidden gems.