Passing through the York Rise neighbourhood pub to the dimly lit space at the back, we’re handed a welcome cocktail and seated at a rustic wooden table occupied by four other supper club guests.
A Taste of Porto is a communal dining event, with twenty-three of us in total. We’re here to experience a culinary journey through Portugal’s hilly second city, a collaboration between Disappearing Dining Club – the owners of this establishment – and Graham’s Port.
The buzz of Thursday-night drinkers surrounds us, alongside soothing sounds of jazz from head-bopping vinyl DJ Ricardo Paris. Raring to go, we quaff our white port and tonic with ice and a slice – a lightly boozy, refreshing mix – and chat while we wait for our first course, of four.
Before long, it arrives in the form of a tastebud tickler: a shot glass filled with orange-hued smoked pepper, salt cod, and saffron soup. Sweet and textural, the fish provides mellow background flavour and doesn’t overpower. Paired with Quinta da Fonte Souto Florao, the young, crisp white cleanses our palate with notes of lime.
Next comes an inventive seafood carpaccio. For each portion, Head Chef Fred Bolin flattens a prawn until just millimetres thick, and places it on a hot-to-the-touch bowl. The raw shrimp cooks quickly, transforming into a marbled pink slither, and is accompanied by salt-baked new potatoes, a slick of herby oil, and mildly spicy mojo rojo sauce.
It’s matched with a 2017 Altano Reserva Branco, fermented in stainless steel before being placed in wooden barrels; the oakiness comes through as we sip.
Standout dish of the night, however, is a main of supremely tender pork belly. The slab of expertly-cooked flesh sits on a mound of black beans and rice, the skin so joyously crackly we’re required to brandish our knives with purpose in order to break through it. A spoonful of vinegary pickled cabbage cuts through the richness, and the end result is clear plates all round.Served with a 2016 Quinta do Ataide, the full-bodied red is packed with blackberry, plum and cherry – and proves our fave of the evening. “It’s been a really good twelve months weather-wise,” says host Ollie. “There was lots of rain and sun, giving the fruit all the nutrients it needed; it sucked everything up from the soil.”
And then it’s time for dessert: a coupe glass piled with ginger- and cinnamon-infused rice pudding is placed down – comforting and creamy, yet well-balanced by a garnish of juicy citrus.
But proceedings don’t end there: the finale involves a port flight, where we sample a trio of Graham’s extensive range. The independent family business owns some of the best vineyards in the Douro Valley, and has been producing fortified wine since 1820.
To begin is their 2017 Six Grapes, a full-bodied, fragrant reserve. It may be at the bottom end of the hierarchy, but it’s infinitely drinkable. Second, we try the twenty-year tawny with hints of orange and hazelnut. “This is my favourite,” says Ollie.
We would have to agree. We do enjoy the rare and raisiny third taster – a 2005 vintage – but find it’s not quite as smooth as the previous offering.
But what do we know? By this point we’re jabbering amicably with our fellow diners, trading tips and stories from holidays to Porto, desires ignited to visit again.
Main image: Mila de la Torre