“I feel home,” says Francisco Almeida.
He’s dressed casually in a white t-shirt and shorts, and has his eyes on the plate crumbs of what’s left of a pastel de nata. “That’s all I need to say.”
Almeida says he had come up from Bray to visit Café Lisboa on Little Mary Street this Friday, because he heard they were selling these Portuguese custard tarts.
“It’s in my regular diet back in Portugal.” He likes the sweetness, he says. “The crispiness of the outside, but creamy inside.”
Café Lisboa has served only pasteis de natas and coffees since opening two Mondays ago. The owner, Sergio Fernandes, has baked the natas in his kitchen at home every morning so far.
He’s busy with his other jobs – running a hotel, a consulting business, and a Portuguese wine wholesaler, he says – while opening the café. “I took the week off for the opening week, you know, next week, I have to manage,” he says, rubbing his chin.
While pasteis de natas can be found in several cafes and newsagents across Dublin, he wants more on the menu at Café Lisboa, too.
An Algarve Feel
On Friday, the yellow door to the cafe was open, letting in the hot street air.
The shopfront and the walls inside are painted white and blue, and a curtain, patterned like Algarve tiles, flutters over the doorway to a back room.
It’s the look he would see in the south-western coast of Portugal, says Almeida. “The blue and white on the walls, around the mirror and window.”
Fernandes searches “casa tipica Algarvia” on his phone, to drive that home. He wants people who have been to the Algarve to spot it and come in. But not to stay too long, he says.
The seven tables have padded benches and low stools. Not too comfortable, says Fernandes. “If people are very comfortable, they stay all day.”
The café’s logo on the window, and on Fernandes’ t-shirt, is a simple sketch of the Tour de Belém in Lisbon, around where pasteis de natas originated – called pastel de Belém when made there, says Fernandes.
Joao Guimaraes, sitting at one of the tables in the café, says he heard about Café Lisboa from a WhatsApp group.
As he gets up to leave, he picks up a box of six pasteis de natas for his wife. Fernandes jokes with him in Portuguese – and Guimaraes laughs.
“I’m not going to eat even one, she’s going to eat them,” says Guimaraes, pointing at the cafe owner and chuckling. “He’s just calling me a liar.”
Growing from Here
Fernandes travelled back and forth from Portugal at the end of 2021, to learn from a pastry chef how to make the perfect natas.
Flours are a bit different in Ireland, he says. “I make a few changes. But once you get the system in, you know after, it’s quite easy.”
In the evenings, he tests selling new flavours. “With chocolate, with apple, raspberries, blueberries,” he says.
Soon, the kitchen downstairs in the café should be ready to bake in. There’s space to serve other pastries too and, maybe, down the line, wine and tapas, he says.
Bites like bola de Berlim, a custard-filled doughnut, or pastel de bacalhau, he says. “It’s a small cod fishcake. I’m going to do this as well, because it’s easy.”
Fernandes can picture an evening side of Café Lisboa, where tapas dishes and wine are served once the baked goods are over.
That Portugal and Ireland both have great access to fish means it can be easy to cook Portuguese plates here, he says. “You have lots of good fish here. But just, we prepare it in a different way.”
He mimes an imagined sea bass dish. Cuts the fish in three, sprinkles salt, arranges it on a baking tray.
“You put onions, garlic, maybe some olives, and slice the tomato in four pieces and put it there,” he says. “It’s so easy and so tasty.”
Fernandes envisages a set seating time. Customers would arrive en masse, and the tapas passed out all at once.
“Everyone comes at six o’clock,” he says. “The chef prepares everything, and then we go around and we serve everyone, at the same time.”
He hasn’t ever been to a place like that, he says. But he thinks it’ll work.
Almeida says a tapas bar sounds like a great idea since the natas are so yummy. “If it goes in the same line of quality, I’m sure it will be good as well.”