If you were looking for skilled service, beautifully crafted menus and intricate dishes look elsewhere. This place is all about no-frills authenticity. And it’s all about the food, or at least, it’s all about the octopus. You may be thinking why would anyone get excited about eating octopus?
If you are, then I can only imagine you have never been lucky enough to eat octopus that has been cooked as it should. The thing about this odd-looking mollusc is that it needs to be tenderised and it needs lots of time to cook. Unlike its cousin the squid, which needs little cooking and no tenderising. But often they get similar treatments. You can tenderise an octopus simply by freezing it so it’s nothing complicated (there are other ways, but I asked the owner of the restaurant what his method was and he told me he buys frozen octopus from the south of Portugal or north of Africa; apparently the further north you go, the harder the creature’s flesh).
I grew up with octopus – octopus rice, octopus and bean stew, roasted octopus – it’s always been a natural part of my food vocabulary as any fish or meat. And I can say with confidence that in countries like Portugal (and Spain, for example), we know how to cook it. And it’s one of my favourite things to eat. So when I heard there was a restaurant in Porto that specialised in roasted octopus I was delighted.
Olhinhos de Polvo (translates as Octopus’s little eyes, referring to the little tentacle ‘eyes’) is always heaving and it’s small so you need to book. The atmosphere is typical of a certain type of Portuguese restaurants – very busy, loud, slightly chaotic, very plain décor and extremely relaxed but friendly service. And low prices.
We all chose their main speciality – roasted octopus with octopus rice. It was served in a thick metal double tray, octopus legs on one container, rice on the other.
I can honestly say I don’t remember the last time I ate such juicy and tender octopus legs (ok, tentacles). This is top cooking. The rice is dark and intense and absolutely delicious. They got me on the first mouthful.
Of course there are other dishes and our children ate beautifully fresh hake fillets with chips, which they devoured (and our 7-year old kept asking for mouthfuls of my tentacles!). But really, if you are an adult you should be eating what they do well. You also have the option to eat octopus fillets, coated in flour and fried. That’s their second speciality. I bet it’s delicious too.
Forget the desserts, they are plain and some not particularly well made (however you’re safe with the crème brulée). You come here to eat delicious octopus.
This is no fancy restaurant, it is a place where ordinary food is cooked well. And well-cooked ordinary food is a wonderful thing.
Where: Porto, Portugal
Occasion: Casual lunch or dinner
Rating: 4 stars
Would I go again? Yes!