From the moment we received our Porto, Portugal and Douro Valley itinerary, one thing stuck out, dining at Chef Rui Paula’s DOP Porto. Now, I am not Portuguese, so I had never heard of Rui Paula before. I mean, there are loads of chefs around the world who are known by many people, other than me. What stuck out in my mind was the name of the restaurant DOP, which I’ve learned from eating in Italy means quality ingredients. Nothing more.
But, we were working with the tourism board in Porto during this brief trip. And, they kept reminding us of our upcoming dinner at DOP as well. They were very excited for us to try DOP Porto, and kept inferring that there would be a surprise waiting for us.
Meeting Chef Rui Paula at DOP Porto
We arrived at DOP just as they were opening. The restaurant is set inside the Palace of the Arts in the historic center of Porto. Although the building and district are historic, the restaurant itself was light and contemporary. As we were pretty much the first to arrive for dinner, a constant theme of our evening meals throughout Portugal and Spain, we had our choice of tables. No, we still have yet to master when to eat in Spain, or Portugal.
Dining a little on the early end, well a lot on the early end, meant that we were able to sit down with Chef Rui before the dinner rush. This, I found out, was our surprise from the tourism board. Chef Rui is a bit of a celebrity in Porto, and most of Portugal, so this was a big deal. Despite his celebrity chef status, he was very kind to us, and extremely personable.
We chatted with Chef Rui, with the help of his manager, who spoke a little more English, about DOP Porto and his cuisine. Raised in the Douro Valley, where he also has a restaurant, Chef Rui learned how to cook from his grandmother. I always love to hear this about a chef.
The menu at DOP Porto focuses on contemporary versions of classic Portuguese dishes, with an emphasis on fish and seafood, the life blood of Porto.
Our Tasting Menu at DOP Porto
I love when a restaurant prepares a tasting menu for us. Not only because it often means smaller portions that allow us to taste a wider variety of dishes, but because of the element of surprise. This was certainly the case at DOP Porto.
We started with an amuse bouche of smoked salmon with caviar, and Philadelphia cream cheese. We been noticing a lot of Philadelphia cream cheese used in Europe this summer. Kind of surprising.
Our real starter was a codfish carpaccio with corn bread crumbs and olives. The carpaccio was so thin I almost didn’t see it on the white plate.
Our fish course included a turbot placed over an asian style slaw, and topped with pretty, purple, edible flower. The chef paired the turbot with a lobster rice. The turbot was tender and juicy, perfectly cooked. The two dishes combined in one plate Chef Rui’s attempt to mix tradition with contemporary.
After discussing with Chef Rui his beliefs on sustainability and his passion for cooking with fish and vegetables, Eric assumed we would not see a single meat dish on our tasting menu. That was fine with me. I enjoy eating fish and seafood, but find we don’t eat it as much as I would like. I relish these opportunities to eat dishes I wouldn’t normally order myself.
Then, the server placed two giant platters in front of us, each with a hunk of meat. I was a little surprised, initially thinking it was a large piece of steal. Then, untilI learned that the meat was Bisaro pork neck with celeriac root. The neck was, quite obviously, cooked for at least 12 hours, which made it so unbelievably tender. The fact that Chef Rui serves pork neck, to me, seemed perfectly inline with his interest in sustainability. Here he was cooking a lesser known, and often cast aside, cut of meat, in the most perfect way.
Although our server told us the meat was braised for 12 hours, we continued to have questions on how a pork neck could taste so tender. It tasted more similar to a pork cheek than the pork neck we’ve eaten in Thailand and Hong Kong.
I asked if it was cooked in wine, and the server actually went back to the chef. The chef wrote down all the ingredients, and had another staff member translate it to English. That’s service, even if the American family at the next table seemed to snicker under their breath at our fascination with the dish. Most importantly, I was right about how the cooked the pork neck. The chef cooked the pork neck in sparkling wine, along with paprika, thyme, tabasco, and some other seasonings. This dish was, honestly, what made the meal at DOP Porto really stand out.
Our pre-dessert (which I love as a concept) included a coconut foam, with mango cream, which totally reminded us of Asia. But this one was topped with a gooseberry, and placed on top of chocolate crumbles, which they refer to as “chocolate earth.” I was impressed with the pre-dessert, but we continued to look at each other and shake our heads on how impressive the pork neck was. Yes, it was that good.
Our main dessert event included a large slate platter with a tasting of 5 different traditional Portuguese desserts. We ate pudim abade priscos, toucinho do ceu, pastel de nata, torta de no com dece de ovoid (a walnut pie with sweet eggs), and natal do ceu. This is the one downside to eating a tasting menu where we don’t actually get to see a menu. All of the desserts were very good, and I asked the server (once again) to write the list down for me. But, I’m not entirely sure which one was which.
DOP Porto serves an executive lunch during the week, where three courses cost only €20. A five course tasting menu for dinner ranges between €60-75, with wine pairings at €30-35. Starters on the a la carte menu run between €5-20 and most entrees cost around €20. Chef Rui Paula has another restaurant in the Douro Valley, Portugal, and one in Recife, Brazil.
Looking For Great Food and Wine Tours in Portugal?
And, for more Portuguese culinary travel inspiration, check out our Portugal food travel guide.[table id=6 /]
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.