There is more to Portugese food than Nando’s and Oporto’s
One thing that I cannot deny is my love for Oporto and subsequently Nando’s chicken. The pieces of grilled chicken dressed with lemon and herb sauce or the tongue numbing peri peri sauce gets me every time. However having a reputation of being fast food outlets, the authenticity of the way in which the chicken is prepared and the sauce that comes with it always plagues me. To satisfy my curiosity, last Saturday night a group of friends and I decided to try a restaurant that promises to serve traditional Portugese cuisine.
Arriving to the venue about half an hour later than the booking time (sorry guys), I was faced with glares from my starving friends. Deprived of having a couple of seconds to catch my breath, we quickly ordered basically half the items on the menu, not really knowing what they were. I was just randomly calling out names of the dishes, with the waiter quickly jotting down all our orders. Sensing that we had ordered enough, he kindly suggested that we stop, and possibly order more if we found that the food served were inadequate. Once the waiter took our orders to be processed in the kitchen, the whole table was a little more relaxed, and thus the start to a night enjoyed with great food and friends.
To settle our rumbling stomach, the waiter presented us with a basket filled with slices of bread and individually wrapped butter and a bowl of baby olives.
After waiting for no longer than 10 minutes, our entree started arriving. First up was the BBQ octopus served with pieces of boiled potatoes. The octopus was grilled whole, then flavoured with salt, pepper and garnished with parsley. Despite the dish being a little salty, the simplicity of the flavour in conjunction with the tender pieces of flesh made this dish quite enjoyable.
The second entree of the night was the pan fried prawns in garlic sauce. The plate was brought to us with the oil still bubbling from the heat. Not wanting to punish our tastebuds, we left the prawns to further cook in the garlic oil, and then to cool down a little. The only dissapointment of this dish was that the prawns were the de-shelled frozen version, commonly available at any grocery store. What the dish lacked in, it more than made up for in the flavour of the sauce. The garlic, shallot and olive oil sauce coated the prawns evenly. The flavour of the sauce was commendable in its ability to achieve what once impossible, draw out the sweetness of the frozen prawns. We were so happy with the dish that we started mopping up the remaining sauce with pieces of bread.
In deciding whether to order the entree or main size of the chorizo, the waiter explained to us that the only differencce was the addition of chips and salad. Knowing that our actual mains will be arriving with the salad and chips anyway, we opted for the entree size. The chorizo was grilled, then sliced into bite sized pieces, served with some carrot, cauliflower, onion and cucumber pickles. The chorizo, as expected was no different to the spanish ones that I’ve previosuly had, that is, very flavourful with hints of spices. Being brought up on sweet and sour pickles, I found that these pickles were a little too salty and thus did not agree with my palate.
As this was a special on their board, I wasn’t able to note down the price. The first of our many mains, this dish jolted gave my tastebuds a hint of the many more delicacies to come. The pork belly was simply flavoured with salt, then grilled under the charcoal to obtain a crispy skin. Aside the flavours, I found this dish to be very similar to the chinese crispy skin pork.
Next to arrive on our table was this awesome foursome. The skewered beef combo was visually appealing to the carnivores of the group. The diced aged rump was flavoured in a traditional madeira style, then cooked on a skewer over charcoal. Although not observable in the above picture, the rump was served with a piece of bread strategically placed directly under the skewer, to soak up the blood dripping from the beef. For the daring, there would be a bloody piece of bread to be eatened by the end of the night.
The tender pieces of rump was cooked to medium well, resulting in a crusty exterior and soft pink interior, just the way I like it. However I wasn’t able to taste the Madeira styled flavours as promised.
Each of the sides that accompanied the steak were quite good on their own. The salad was very fresh and crispy, helping to create a healthy facade. The Garlic bread was liberally flavoured with the delicious garlic butter. The Polenta was crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy in the centre. Overall, an impressive spread.
The whole snapper was grilled to perfection. With minimal flavouring and maximal freshness, this was an unexpectedly outstanding dish. Once in a while you come across a beautiful fish, so fresh that its sweetness is quite prominant, thus the only addition necessary is a squeeze of lemon.
When the waiter placed this dish on our table, it was the first time within the last hour that the table was so quiet. You could literally hear a pin drop. There were ten pieces of perfectly cooked lamb cutlets on our table. Please forgive me readers, for I was momentarily taken over by my excitement. Sitting there in front of us was one of the best lamb cutlets that I’ve had in a while. Once again the simplicity of the flavouring, i.e. salt, pepper, olive oil and possibly oregano, enabled the true star of the dish to shine. Each of the pieces were perfectly seared by the charcoal, whereby with each bite the juices previously retained exploded in your mouth. Talk about a taste sensation.
Not long after, the next dish arrived. No doubt the most anticipated dish of the night, served with a side of crunchy chips and soft pillowy rice, we were ready. The pieces of chicken were very moist with crispy skin, although a little salty, however when served with the beautiful tomato flavoured rice, the saltiness seemed to diminish. In comparison to Oporto’s and Nando’s chicken, I can safely say that Silva’s chicken is more moist and flavourful, instead of relying on condiments to mask the dryness of the meat, the chicken is confidently served with simple sides, therefore, once again allowing the star to simply shine.
It is quite safe to assume that after the previous onslaught, we would be full by now. However on the advice of our friend Gness we decided to go for one more. As explained by Gness, who’s uncle is half portugese (lol), this is a very traditional dish. In his uncle’s opinion, Silva’s Bacalhau is pretty high on the list. Arriving onto our table with an air of pungent odour surrounding it, I was apprehensive in trying this dish. Reminding me of a type of dish mum used to make (with shrimp paste), which everyone in the family despised, the memories came flooding back to me. Watching nervously as each person gamely takes a piece of the cooked salted codfish with whisked eggs and shoestring chips, they seem to enjoy it. With one friend announcing, “it tastes better than it smells”. Not wanting to let the team down, I manned up, and took a bite, unbeknownst to me, everyone on the table was staring at me for my reaction. Being a drama queen, I guess they were expecting me to make a big scene, however suprisingly I agree with my friends. Upon eating it, the piece was devoided of the stench, but was replaced by a slighty salty and sweet mix. Edible, however not something I would order again.
Despite everyone being stuffed to the brim, a few of the sweet tooths requested desserts to complete the night. An item on their dessert menu caught our eyes, what is Molotoff? We were told that Molotoff is a traditional portugese dessert that consists of a baked meringue base that is then drizzled with a caramel sauce. The texture and taste of the meringue is very similar to that of the Pavlova, with the inclusion of the watery caramel to moisturise the meringue. Overall, I found this dish quite average, prefering the meringue to be used in a Pavlova.
Unlike other creme caramel that I’ve had, Silva’s version is not as eggy, therefore making it more palatable. However, the bitterness of the caramel syrup overwhelms the dessert, making it difficult to finish.
Overall we found the experience to be quite pleasant. To accompany 9 people, we were able to explore a wide rande of traditional portugese dishes, some better than others. What suprised me was the similarity I witnessed in the utilisation of the salted fish, which I previously thought was a recipe that only my mum used to punish us. Little did I know that when prepared in a different manner, and with maturation of the tastebuds, it can actually become a delicacy.
Having had the opportunity to taste traditional and authentic Portugese dishes, it is obvious that Oporto and Nandos had implemented the traditional method of cooking the chicken through the usage of charcoal, with minimal flavour. However the differentiating factor are the sauces used. From what I can see, traditionally the chicken was served as it is, whereas the fast food chain’s version bathe the pieces of chicken in their “secret” sauces, which served to possibly mask the dryness of the meats and to appeal to the masses. There is definitely more to Portugese food than what Oporto and Nandos have to offer, however it is up to the individual to step outside their comfort zone, and explore what different cuisines have to offer. At minimum, I would award these folks a Silva medal.
Shop 1, 82-86 New Canterbury Rd
Petersham NSW 2049
Phone (02) 9572 9911