Isn’t it wonderful to travel somewhere, knowing exactly where you will eat that first bite of something that locals relish just as much as visitors to their neighbourhood surely will? When Monsieur and I travelled for the first time to Lisbon recently, it was with exactly this sort of anticipation that my belly growled en route. Forget Christmas; I no longer count the days to Yuletide, but tell me about a place where chicken drips off the bone in flavoursome mounds, and I will count weeks and hours and minutes to that first taste.
So it was with Bom Jardim, meaning ‘nice’ or ‘fair garden’ in Portuguese, although there is no garden to speak of at this establishment, tucked away carefully down a non-descript alley near Restauradores. But for those in the know, there is the olfactory signpost of wafting chicken-y smells to lure one away from the nearby broad, tourist drag to a slope of outdoor tables wobbling on Lisboan cobbles.
Monsieur and I had barely arrived in Lisbon when we dined at Bom Jardim, so keen we were to sample their signature rotisserie chicken. Following a white-aproned waiter we sniffed our way up well-trodden stairs in pursuit of the perfume of roasting birds. There we found a dining room brightened by strip lighting, the floors more practical than smart, the tables more functional than elegant and the decor understated yet unmistakably Portuguese with traditional tiling halfway up the walls. Chefs sweltered in the heat of the kitchen, open to all passers-by, whilst large family groups tousled over legs and breasts and couples canoodled as chicken juice dripped down their chins.
Monsieur and I sat to concentrate on our menus, which in places had been erased by hungry hands. We didn’t need menus, though. I knew exactly what we’d order: a platter of roast chicken to share, straightforward chips and salad, some ham and a plate of salt cod croquettes to start, and a couple of icy cold Super Bocks – the local brew – to quench post-flight thirst.
“I don’t know why we have to have chicken on our first night.” Monsieur commented. “You cook perfectly good chicken at home.”
“That’s the whole point,” I replied. “I’m not cooking. This will be a real holiday for me – with someone else doing all the hard work.” A grin spread across my face at the thought.
As is the way in Portugal, unsolicited bread and butter was presented to us first, along with a plate of cheese. This would be charged to us if we ate it. The bread stayed, the cheese was sent away, but we were still charged for both. Did this matter? Not a jot, although we’d be firmer about whether or not we accepted such things in future. In any case, the starters had arrived and we were now busy sampling Bom Jardim’s offerings.
The ham was cured and considerably drier than the Italian equivalents to which we are accustomed. It was like eating slivers of dry gammon with a tang of vinegar on the tongue followed by the taste of honey. At €8.00 for the plate, this was well worth the price, but I couldn’t say the same for the salt cod croquettes. They weren’t expensive; not in the least at €0.85 each. We ordered four and I was so looking forward to them, being somewhat of an a-fish-ionada, but they were so akin to cardboard in texture that they stuck to the palate in the most unpalatable of ways. This was disappointing. How would it bode for the chicken?
To its redeeming credit, Bom Jardim is not a salt-cod croquette specialist. It is a rotisserie chicken-lover’s destination. Our chicken duly arrived, already carved into quarters on a large plate. It smelled delightful and tasted the same – juicy, tender, moist (that unavoidable adjective we so love to hate) and filled with flavour. At €9.40 for the entire bird, this has to go down as one of the most worthwhile culinary bargains in Western Europe. The fries were forgettable, the salad very carrot-heavy, as we’d find with so many Portuguese salads during our stay, and you can forget those cardboard croquettes, but the chicken, oh what a bird. Served with a little jar of piri-piri, we brushed the flesh with chilli, taking care not to leave random bristles behind, but I found the piri-piri quite unnecessary. This chicken is perfectly capable of standing on its own succulent merits and is also capable of filling the bellies of a pair of famished travellers following a long day on the hoof. So much so, in fact, that we had no room for dessert, but if the croquettes and side dishes were anything to go by, nothing on the menu could equal the chicken, so skipping dessert could be no bad thing.
Monsieur and I paid thirty something Euros for our Bom Jardim dinner. Including 4 beers, a whole chicken, bottled water, 2 starters and 2 side dishes, that’s pretty competitive and should we ever find ourselves in Lisbon again (and I sincerely hope we do) we’ll definitely return for more of the wonderful Bom Jardim chicken because it was truly BOM BOM BOM! But next time, I think we can forget about those cardboard croquettes.
Travessa de Santo Antão 12
1150 Lisboa, Portugal
213 427 424
How to find it:
Standing on the Avenida da Liberdade with your back to the sea, it is down a little alley by the Santander bank on the right hand side of the avenue as you look up the hill. It’s not far from the big needle-type monument at the Restauradores end of the avenue. Find the alley and follow the scent of roasting chickens to find Bom Jardim.