Skillful curatorship – curadoria in Portuguese – lies at the heart of CURA, the new restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. Like the timeless Portuguese modern artworks that frame the Hotel’s common areas, each seemingly simple dish reveals layers of complexity to evoke an emotional and sensorial response.
Chef de Cuisine and head culinary curator Pedro Pena Bastos selects his ingredients as meticulously as an artist chooses his paints, drawing from Lisbon’s richness of seasonal ingredients to create artisanal dishes of great depth and meaning.
Treating his ingredients with devoted respect – and following his instinct when it comes to the pursuit of taste, texture and technique – Chef Pena Bastos relies on the purity of the freshest local produce in a constant quest “for the complexity that lies beyond simplicity.”
With its façade and entrance on Lisbon’s Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, CURA is both of the city and of the Hotel; from the people and for the people. Mirroring the dishes served inside, the Hotel’s austere external structure similarly unveils layers of wonder within: floor-to-ceiling windows, terraces overlooking the park, banquet spaces flooded with natural light and even a unique suspended staircase.
Like the finest exhibition, CURA unites a collection of innovations and intentions into a stimulating whole. It foregoes tweezer precision in favour of artistic freedom; favours quality over quantity with a seasonal menu of just 12 dishes inspired by local hero ingredients; and adds poetry to the presentation through custom ceramics, cutlery and glassware.
And like the presentation, each dish is a dramatic celebration of reverie and reality: freshly caught sea bass garnished with brassicas, parsley and saffron; squid with hazelnuts, roasted seaweed butter and caviar; Hokkaido pumpkin, chanterelles, pistachios and Indian cress.
Further revealing complexity within simplicity, the “bread moment” is one to savour. Crafted using ancient grains such as emmer and spelt for an intense depth of flavour, CURA’s iconic side dish is served with aged butter from Ilha das Flores in Açores, and vibrant green olive oil: an "early harvest" speciality from Chef Pena Bastos’ Tomar family estate. Desserts also merge modern flair and ancient seasonal edibles, from figs with beetroot, lime and reindeer moss to chocolate lovage sunchoke arabica.
Chef Bastos is a proud Portuguese native and former rock band drummer. His equally visionary team comprises: mechanical engineer and “joyful bear” Mario the Restaurant Manager; innovative and introverted Sous Chef Marco; boldly creative Pastry Chef Diogo Lopes; and intuitive and skilled Sommelier Gabriela Marques. With a quest to “cook with joy and make others happy,” they take to CURA’s open-kitchen stage like a well-rehearsed band, delighting audiences with a culinary experience in a setting that intrigues like one of the Hotel’s artworks.
"CURA was designed as an extension of the Hotel’s art collection, a mirror of Portuguese culture through the decades, with a strong nod to the 1950s,” explains architect Miguel Câncio Martins. “The Ritz is a living museum of sculptures, painting and tapestries where diverse styles – from Art Deco to Louis XVI to modern art – coexist. We sought to enhance the artistic form of the elements that compose the space to develop a restaurant that was part gallery, part eatery, yet entirely ‘of The Ritz’.”
Everything from the wine cellar to the walls and furniture has been developed as if it were art. Madeira wood panelling and bevelled mirrors adorn the walls. Bahia blue granite adds drama and colour to the tables and bar. The swirling spirals of the Picasso-inspired carpet tell a tale of the Hotel’s history, punctuated by teal sofas, brass accents, black Kenyan marble, while a vine-like wine rack harks back to Chef Bastos’ countryside upbringing; the source of much of the restaurant’s culinary inspiration too.
“Where I was raised in northwest Portugal, ingredients weren’t something that you browsed and chose at the grocery store, but alive, transformative, and meaningful,” Chef Pena Bastos comments. It’s these memories that have shaped his approach at CURA, from working with small local suppliers to picking plump chickpeas from the wild. Each ingredient is selected not only for its flavour, but for the roots of meaning and memories it contributes. And while vegetarian Bastos can appreciate the marbled meat of Alentejo Iberian pigs, the menu’s plant-based offerings are set to steal to show.
Mindful ingredients deserve a sensitive wine pairing. Skilfully selected by Gabriela Marques, organic, Portuguese, and biodynamic specialities head CURA’s uniquely curated wine list, each weaving its own story into the menu: Quinta da Biaia – with its fresh mineral taste and persistent citrus notes – to complement the pumpkin starter; Quinta da Caldeirinha Vinha Velha, with its captivating blend of "old vine" grapes from a centuries-old organic vineyard; wildly piquant asparagus, green apple and marjoram juice – one of many non-alcoholic beverages and cold-pressed juices that combine to add ever-deeper layers to a menu that is itself a 21st century work of art.
With a reduced total of 28 seats (to comply with physical distancing requirements) CURA is open for dinner only from Tuesday to Saturday, from 7:30 to 11:00 pm. Selections include a dedicated vegetarian menu and a range of set (7 and 13 moment menus) and à la carte options. All menus have wine or juice pairing options.