A Masterpiece of Porto: The Book Restaurant
Once upon a time there was an iconic, old bookstore in Porto known as the Papelaria Aviz. But it’s not easy to sell books in the historic city of Porto when you have to compete with the likes of architecturally stunning rivals such as the Livraria Lello, another, better-know bookstore that has been marketing itself and its wares since 1906. With stained glass ceilings, wooden panels, glass-enclosed bookshelves, and an amazing curved stairway with red carpeting, some consider the Lello not only the most beautiful bookstore in Porto, but possibly in the world.
For whatever reason the little Aviz bookstore closed, it later came to be reincarnated as a hip cosmopolitan restaurant that opened on August 12, 2011 and called simply, Book Restaurant. The new owners decided to maintain the bookstore theme and have done so in a colorful, quirky kind of way. On the back wall, farthest from the entrance is an original floor-to-ceiling bookcase with the original bookstore’s back-lit sign still beaming in red letters against a bright yellow background. A little campy, but you get the point. But wait, there’s more. Floating book mobiles—books suspended by strings hung from the ceiling—hover over the bar area—flying books! our server suggested. No, you haven’t had too much to drink.
The menu is brought to the table…you guessed it…in a randomly chosen book. The menu is presented as a Table of Contents. The Forward or Prologue invites you to order one of five cocktails while you read the menu. One of these surely must be be a bookworm’s favorite, the “Mojito Hemingway.” The Introduction is, of course, the appetizer course, “the start of your book experience.” Here are presented seven bistro-type options, ranging from the cream soup of chestnuts with truffle oil for €5.50 to the veal carpaccio with mustard sauce for €14.00. We ordered the Salmon carpaccio, thinly sliced rounds of salmon circled on a plate, inside of which were arugula, oil, and cream cheese with coarse salt and croutons. Fresh rolls were served with three kinds of butter, two of which were flavored and of these, one was a dark brown in color (I didn’t get the name). All three were quite tasty.
The 1st chapter offerings are “from the cereal fields.” A pair of pasta dishes, Penne all’Arrabbiata and Spinach and Ricotta Raviolis are the only two options here. The 2nd Chapter, “fish from the salted sea,” includes a salmon fillet, octopus, codfish and a shrimp option ranging in price from €16.50-22.50. The 3rd Chapter, “meat from the green fields,” offers pork tenderloin, duck, veal loin, a trio of burgers (pig, beef, and chicken), as well as the entrée we chose, Veal Cheeks with spices and sauce. Four seasoned chunks of veal were served with potato gratiné and cooked turnip greens. The demi-glace was a sauce of Jamaican peppers coarse salt and red peppers. €17.00 and well worth it.
The Conclusion, “sweets and fruits,” consists of seven choices. Here one is invited to order items such as “The best sponge cake in the Universe,” and “Chocolate brownie cake with red berries and mango foam.” I had the panicotta with red fruit, cream and caramel. My wife chose the “Torched milk cream with caramel ice cream,” better known as crème brulée. Our helpful server Daniel who patiently explained many of our courses and options (but was kept hopping to other tables on a busy night) brought out his gas torch and personally carmelized the sugar on the crème brulée in front of our eyes—and much to the attraction of many pairs of eyes in the restaurant. In the background jazz music softly played. We understood that a resident DJ is often at Book Restaurant to select an array of smooth dinner music.
And the check? Of course that too is delivered amid the pages of yet another book.
After dinner we strolled to the other end of the restaurant and found a seat in the bar’s lounge where we enjoyed a Porto digestif as a fitting conclusion to a lovely evening.
Book Restaurant is owned by Thema Hotels and Resorts, the same organization that operates the five-star Hotel Infante Sagres, located just around the corner from the restaurant, and a member of The Small Luxury Hotels of the World (Please see our accompanying review of the Hotel Infante Sagres, located on this website.) Guests may choose to dine al fresco on the sidewalk outside, but we chose to dine indoors to enjoy the ambience of music, chatter, and literary elegance. Architect Pedro Trindade and Chef John Mendes have clearly co-authored a Book that is likely to become a best seller for a long time to come.
Rua Avis 10
4050-259 Porto, Portugal
Phone +351 917 953 387
Lunch: 12:30-3:00 pm
Dinner: 7:30pm –midnight