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Monday, 17 September 2012

Beautiful, Brilliant, Bragança

Bragança another city that begins with BR like my beloved Bristol, so close enough, maybe we can start a theme going here? Behold a guest blog from photographer, writer and Lusophile, Mark Sparrow on his visit to restaurant, Solar Bragançano.
Bragança Castle
Bragança in the far north east is a remote city, probably the most remote city of any size in mainland Portugal and as such it feels set apart from the rest of the country in its own time warp. In a way, that’s how Solar Bragançano feels. This elegant old restaurant is situated on the upper floor of a long, two-story former manor house, facing the cathedral in the Praça de Se.
Solar Bragançano Restaurant
Solar Bragançano Restaurant
From the outside Solar Bragançano doesn't appear to be very much but step into the entrance hall and admire the classic blue Portuguese azulejos tiles and gorgeous granite staircase and you’ll be enchanted. Okay, so the crimson stair carpet is a bit worn in places but that only adds to the charm of this restaurant. This isn't a slick place and neither are the prices nor the menu.

Solar Bragançano Restaurant
Solar Bragançano Interior
When you reach the upper floor you'll be greeted by one of the family members. Mother, father and daughter run things and you can tell from their elegant appearance and slightly formal dress that there's something a little old-fashioned and, dare I say it, aristocratic about them. If it’s summer you'll probably be asked if you would like to eat outside. Do so if you can and you'll be taken through to a charming little courtyard bedecked by plants and ivy with the gentle splash of a small fountain tinkling away in the background. It's a hidden and charming little world that adds an ethereal quality to the meal.
Solar Bragançano

The food on offer is typical of the Trás-os-Montes region, a part of Portugal that suffers nine months of infernal heat and three months of bone numbing cold. Prices are around €5 for a starter and about €12 for a main. It's an average price for a Portuguese restaurant. Special dishes included pheasant with chestnuts, partridge with grapes, roast kid, wild boar stuffed with cabbage and fried apple, Trás-os-Montes trout and of course the infamous bacalhauIf you visit, do be adventurous with the menu, there are plenty of eating adventures to be had here.
Solar Bragançano Restaurant

I chose the melon and presunto as my starter. Presunto is the Portuguese version of Parma or Serrano ham and very good it was too. The portion wasn't huge but the melon was perfectly sweet and the presunto had just the right amount of flavoursome fat on it. Presentation was nothing fussy and slightly rustic but that only added to the charm. For main course I chose a vitella steak. This is listed as veal but it's more like a fairly large and tender steak and was accompanied by some thinly sliced fried potatoes, rice, the omni-present Portuguese side, and some green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. The flavour was excellent and I chose to wash it down with a jug of the house red wine served in a pressed glass decanter jug - another little touch that was homespun yet perfect for the surroundings.
Solar Bragançano Restaurant

The staff at Solar Bragançano can speak English and they will be happy to advise on what to order. The cuisine of Trás-os-Montes is robust country fare but the ingredients are all fresh and well cooked. If you're looking for lean cuisine, dainty portions and Michelin-star presentation then you will be disappointed but very few restaurants in Portugal offer that type of food in my experience.

The service from the lady owner was attentive, fast enough but not so fast that you felt rushed. The wine was slightly robust and came with a certain amount of sediment but tasted good and wasn't too badly price at €5.50 for almost a litre. While there, the garden was slowly filled by the arrival of a Spanish family, a Dutch couple, a French couple, two Estonians and a local Portuguese group – the atmosphere was busy but certainly not noisy. Everyone seemed happy with their food and with the average bill working out at €44 for two including coffee and wine, it was easy to see why.


For me the whole meal felt like travelling back 30 years in time and I loved it for that. Give the restaurant a visit should you ever find yourself in Bragança and you will be pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.
Northern Portugal at its Best

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