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How celebrity chef Henrique Sá Pessoa redefines Portuguese cuisine at Chiado 

Portuguese haute cuisine has finally come into its own. As a leading exponent, Sá Pessoa shares his philosophy through three signature dishes on the menu at Chiado.

PUBLISHED

PUBLISHED

Last year, Michelin made headlines when it announced that Portugal would receive its own Michelin Guide for the first time in 2024. For many, the announcement validated what was apparent: the small nation, whose food has long existed in the shadow of neighbouring culinary titans like France, Italy, and Spain, has earned its place in the world of fine dining. 

“For a long time, Portuguese cuisine was seen as a bit of a sleeping giant; suddenly, in the last five years, it’s become one of the most interesting cuisines in Europe,” says Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa, whose flagship restaurant Alma in Lisbon has held two Michelin stars since 2019. The celebrity chef, who has hosted popular Portuguese cooking shows like Entre Pratos and Ingrediente Secreto, is also behind Michelin-selected Chiado at The Londoner Macao.

Celebrity chef Henrique Sá Pessoa showcases Portugal’s global culinary influence with Michelin-selected dishes at Chiado
Celebrity chef Henrique Sá Pessoa showcases Portugal’s global culinary influence with Michelin-selected dishes at Chiado – All photos courtesy of Sands China Ltd

Sá Pessoa believes that Portuguese cuisine is at an inflection point. “If you look at Portugal 30 or 40 years ago, most of the restaurants were family-run tascas [taverns] with cooks who had learned their craft through family traditions and passed-down recipes,” he explains. “Today, the younger generation, including myself, have travelled abroad and studied to become professionally trained chefs.”

As a result, he says, this new wave of talent feels more confident revamping traditional dishes, making them more in line with haute cuisine trends in other countries. Having worked all over the world, from the US to Australia to Asia, Sá Pessoa has long injected his personal experiences and travels into his menus. He’s a big fan of Asian flavours, for example, but says when he uses them: “I want them to be subtle – bringing a depth of flavour – and not the stand-out feature. I always keep the Portuguese stamp on my recipes.”

It’s definitely a recipe for success. In recent years, Sá Pessoa has opened a string of acclaimed restaurants in cities like London, Amsterdam and Miami. 

His first international venture was Chiado in 2018. After a hiatus during the pandemic, the restaurant reopened in 2023, and it’s better than ever – showcasing local produce and the freshest seafood, while staying rooted in Portuguese flavour profiles. 

To illustrate Sá Pessoa’s culinary approach we asked him to share the inspiration behind three standout dishes.

1. “Cobblestone” cod with egg yolk and onion puree

Sá Pessoa’s interpretation of the traditional Portuguese bacalhau à brás showcases his culinary creativity while honouring the iconic dish’s classic flavours
Sá Pessoa’s interpretation of the traditional Portuguese bacalhau à brás showcases his culinary creativity while honouring the iconic dish’s classic flavours

A staple in Lisboan tascas, bacalhau à brás is traditionally a jumble of salted cod, onions, and fried potatoes bound with eggs and garnished with olives and parsley. Sá Pessoa felt compelled to add this iconic dish to his menu, but in a refined way.

“When you go into a traditional restaurant, it comes out to the table, and it’s not something that I could serve in a fine-dining restaurant,” he says. 

The chef and his team refined the presentation by slicing centimetre-wide segments of cod, binding them with fish glue and dehydrated black olives, and freezing them overnight. This process produces a thin, carpaccio-like topping, visually reminiscent of the characteristic white and black paving of Lisbon streets.

The “cobblestone” cod slices are placed atop a slow-cooked confit egg yolk and golden crisp shredded potatoes, moulded into a tidy circle. Instead of the customary garnish, sprinkled haphazardly over the dish, the plate is delicately dotted with parsley gel and refogado, a puree of sautéed onions, garlic, and olive oil that is the basis of many Portuguese recipes. 

It’s a prime example of Sá Pessoa’s flair for innovation while preserving traditional elements. It’s no surprise that the dish was a triumph at Alma, where it was first introduced and later brought to Chiado in Macao. 

“This is probably my most famous example of a dish that offers authentic Portuguese flavours, but doesn’t look like the traditional dish. It was a hit from day one.”

Pair it with a Amarjito: A twist on a mojito, this refreshing tipple balances the dish’s creamy flavours with a special almond liqueur from Portugal, hand-picked by Sá Pessoa.

2. Monkfish and lobster rice with tomato and coriander

Chiado offers a wholesome Portuguese dish featuring monkfish that is truly Michelin-worthy, with a unique approach to both the cooking method and plating that sets it apart
Chiado offers a wholesome Portuguese dish featuring monkfish that is truly Michelin-worthy, with a unique approach to both the cooking method and plating that sets it apart

From fresh cod to sea bass, lobsters, giant carabineros, goose barnacles, clams, and cockles, the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean shines in Portuguese cuisine and inspired Sá Pessoa to create a modern, deconstructed twist on the traditional arroz de tamboril: monkfish and lobster rice.

In this dish – another star on the menus at Chiado and Alma – monkfish and lobster are slow-cooked before being plated side-by-side. The lobster is pan-seared in butter and finished with a delicate layer of peri-peri sauce, while the monkfish is layered with red tomato coulis, then a verdant coriander dressing. It is then followed by a rich cream-coloured emulsion, known as a pil-pil, made from the monkfish’s collagen-rich head.

“Together, they reflect the colours of the Portuguese flag: white, green, and red,” explains the chef. “As you eat it, you experience the rich flavours from the monkfish collagen, contrasted with the brightness of the coriander and tomato. We serve traditional rice on the side, but the goal is to let the seafood shine.”

Pair it with a Chiado: The restaurant’s namesake cocktail offsets the entree’s slightly spicy tomato rice with a delightfully balanced combination of creamy egg whites, Amicis (Portuguese gin), freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, egg and floral elderflower syrup.

3. Sea flavours and citrus, with yuzu sorbet and crystallised algae

Sá Pessoa blends unexpected maritime-inspired flavours and textures in this dessert, creating a harmonious synthesis of western and eastern influences
Sá Pessoa blends unexpected maritime-inspired flavours and textures in this dessert, creating a harmonious synthesis of western and eastern influences

When designing his “Coast to Coast” degustation experience with his pastry chef at Alma, Sá Pessoa set out to craft an unforgettable dessert that would feel like the perfect ending to the oceanic journey.

“Often, what happens is you have your savoury world, and then you arrive at the desserts, and it feels like there’s no connection with what you just ate. And I hate that,” he explains. “I want our dessert to feel more like a natural extension – to intrigue the customer and make them feel like we are still in the ocean.” 

Instead of a molten brownie or white chocolate cake, Sá Pessoa envisioned a dessert that could mirror the sea’s magic and vitality. A harmonious blend of aquatic flavours, the resulting dish is as beautiful as it is delicious. You’ll find sand, sea and an ocean breeze on one plate. 

Aromatic yuzu sorbet alongside yuzu curd laced with salty squid ink represents the ocean breeze. Meanwhile, seaweed dipped into syrup, then crystallised and caramelised (a process that imparts a delectable umami flavour and spongy consistency) symbolises seawater. Adding fantastic textures to the dessert, a “seabed” of finely ground pistachios and almonds emulsified with oil mimics sand. As a final flourish, the chef garnishes the dessert with blue and fuschia crystallised algae. 

“At the beginning, some of our customers used to hate it, because this is far from a typical dessert,” says Sá Pessoa. “But as we refined it, it became our signature dish. Chefs from around the world have visited my restaurants to experience it, praising its uniqueness. It’s exclusively served at Chiado and Alma.”

Pair it with a Ruby: For a perfect end to the meal, enjoy this refreshing dessert alongside a digestif like the Ruby. Offering a Portuguese twist on the negroni, the cocktail features a heady mix of Amicis, Niepoort Ruby Port, Aperol and passionfruit pearls. 

Discover the delectable world of contemporary Portuguese cuisine, where time-honoured tradition meets sophisticated reinvention. Reserve your table now at Chiado at The Londoner Macao.

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