Michael Edwards visits one of those restaurants that only the locals know
I’ve never been to New Mexico but at Tia Tia, amongst a prickly collection of dessert cacti and succulents I felt as if I had arrived. Sand coloured walls, above polished concrete, and two strategically placed deckchairs build on the minimalist desert theme. Yet, I was on the Rua do Almada in Porto, far from the city’s crowded tourist hotspots.
TiaTia is one of those newly opened restaurants that the locals are discovering. Foodies in the know are calling in and spreading the word. Hotel and restaurant owners take their chefs to TiaTia for an evening, hoping it will encourage them to up their game.
An artwork poster cartoon suggests a left field take on life, “Natural wines and vegan donuts? I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Though TiaTia is not vegan – notably with cod, eggs and sardines on the menu – just vegan friendly. Most guests begin with a bowl of beetroot shards, slithers of raspberry and the satisfying crunch of cashews and sunflower seeds. A tiny wooden spoon, more often seen accompanying a tub of ice cream, helps them layer the beetroot onto a warm and glistening mini naan bread.
Subtle changes of texture are one of the hallmarks of chef and co-owner Tiago Feio’s food. He learnt his trade in Lisbon’s best restaurants before moving to Porto.
Since Tiago Feio and Cátia Roldão combined the beginning of his first name and the end of her first name to open TiaTia in November 2020, the restaurant has been attracting knowing foodies.
A sharing small plates menu is pulling dinners away from the repetitive menus stretching along the busy banks of the River Douro.
Whilst Tiago cooks, fellow co-owner Cátia Roldão runs front of house and changes the play list depending on the mood and time of day. There’s an eclectic collection of vinyl records, with some classic Motown influences, donated by Tiago’s mother.
Food is culture. Food is history and food is identity too. Portugal’s history clearly influences Thiago’s menu. Remembering that Oporto is a city of a million azulejo tiles, guests are given a bright white tile as their plate for the first course.
That naan bread along with a light coconut white sauce covering the tail of lightly fried young sardines is a memory of the days when bold navigators sailed their caravels towards the East Indies. Those explorers built an empire now long gone.
“In Portugal we eat everything on the plate!” Cátia jokes when she sees that our delicate sensibilities and precise dissection have left the sardine heads on the plate.
Cod has a strong claim to be the national dish, particularly along Portugal’s long Atlantic coast. Radically, Thiago presents his cod on a bed of bulgur wheat and couscous with a range of miniature mushrooms. Who needs chips with fish when you’ve got couscous?
A banana from Madeira is a tribute to one of the last remaining fragments of empire. Reduced to a purée the banana combines with dried sultanas and nuts marinated in port. Taste-wise it is reminiscent of Christmas pudding. Yet, without cooking the tastes and textures are fresher.
Less than a year on from opening, TiaTia is still evolving. TiaTia metamorphoses as the days and the weeks progress. Serving as a cafe, locals drop in for a coffee and breakfast with homemade granola and jams or spicy porridge with pumpkin butter. Come lunch there are soups, salads, scrambled eggs and a seasonal speciality on offer. Then there are the evenings …
Tell Me More About Tiatia, Porto, Portugal
TiaTia, Rua do Almada 501, Porto 4050-039
T: +351 967 866 236
A meal will usually cost around €25 to €30