There are very few things Barnacle would queue for. There are even fewer he would queue for more than an hour and a half for. Luckily top notch seafood is one of those things.
We were in Lisbon for work (Barnacle) and pleasure (me).
Following my usual policy of eating where the locals frequent and a bit of canny trip advising we found ourselves stood in the balmy drizzle in Lisbon on a Friday night in August.
As usual my innate sense of direction meant asking an elderly Lisboan waiting for an early evening bus for directions. He seemingly feigned deafness and ignorance, which I put down to my non existent Portuguese. But the Marcel Marceau gesticulation and Ramiro? must have just taken a while to register. Barnacle and I had continued along the street some way when the old man virtually sprinted after us to gabble, ‘Yes, yes, Ramiro! Very good. There go once. Very good.’ And pointed the way.
He was right.
So having found Ramiro, the queue does rather give it away, we settled in for what we knew from my culinary homework would be at least an hour wait. Fortunately there is plenty to keep you occupied while the queue ever so slightly snaked though the drizzle. (Don’t worry you won’t get soaked there is an awning to keep punters dry).
Locals seemed to drive past simply to look at the queue which on this evening was a buzzy but eclectic mix of young couples in groups and local extended families with a smattering of foodie tourists like us salivating expectantly.
But aside from being the object of a bit of culinary curb crawling, Ramiro has its own brand of mainly valve mollusc voyeurism. It ain’t for the faint-hearted but giant tanks and trays of ice displayed the oh so fresh they are still, urm, alive sea food you will eat once inside. Huge langoustines waved their claws through the glass and crabs eyeballed us.
So, you inch forward and celebrate inwardly as you reach the doorway and then judged on the size of your party you are quickly ushered though to a suitable table. We had made it. It had only taken us an hour and a half.
Once inside it is a temple to seafood. Don’t come here if you’re allergic to shellfish. Merely sitting in the dining room would probably be enough to bring you out in a mild rash.
Anyway, sorry Barnacle, back to the food itself..
I had done some homework on the menu too as it is difficult ordering in a foreign language so we were able to impress our extremely friendly waiter by ordering comprehensible and immediately. We had been waiting for an hour and a half so were pretty peckish by then anyway.
So we had the famous persephones, yes the very same goose barnacles that named this blog as they embody our love for foods and trying new experiences away from the norm, usually involving food. We also plumped for clams cooked simply in white wine and garlic and even plumper prawns cooked in yet more garlic. Oh and a big crab too.
Pay no attention to the prices on the menu as it is per weight of the shellfish so misleading in dish terms, so just trust your waiter and instincts.
The clams, prawn and goose barnacles together with a dressed crab arrived quickly accompanied by a tower of garlic buttered bread; perfect for loading up with oozy brown crab meat or sponging up the caramelised and sticky garlic from the prawns.
Btw Barnacle had ordered, as always, a great wine. A punchy Vino Verde and this was bought out with a carafe of water and two squares of white plastic and two white gavels.
These were our weapons of mass crab destruction to get every white meat morsel from the legs of the beast. I set to smashing claws and legs with some vigour and managed to send a large shard of shell across the restaurant. It avoided vital organs and merely grazed, well ok it just bounced off the sinewy forearm of a fellow dinner some distance away. The middle aged local simply cheered and smiled back at my brief embarrassment.
Our waiter also showed us how to eat the goose barnacles by twisting off what looks like the toenail of a prehistoric creature and then gently squeezing out the fleshy phallic foot. Some fellow Irish diners found them hard to eat without a bit of mild sniggering. But get over that and enjoy the taste of the sea, pure and simple.
If you want to find out more about goose barnacles this footage shows exactly how dangerous gathering them is and is reminiscent of a Guinness ad and makes salting a few razor clams out of sea look like child play. Oh and here’s Gordon cooking them.
I take eating what the locals eat almost as seriously as where they eat so knew it was derigeur to follow your fishy feast with a steak sandwich and then a slab of chocolate pudding. So we shared one of each. It was the best steak sandwich ever with brilliant picalilyesque mustard.
So was the food at Ramiro great? Yes it was amazing and almost as importantly the atmosphere created by staff and fellow dinners made the total experience, well just total.
It was my turn to pay and the fact that the total bill came to under 50 euros made it an even greater experience.
But it is always about much more than the food or the price – the whole place was just extra special, a member of staff even ran out into the rain to secure a taxi for us to get back to the hotel.
So there you go. If you do one thing in Lisbon go to Ramiro. Unless you hate queuing and shellfish. Hell, even go there if you hate queuing. It will be worth the wait.
PS Did I mention that they don’t take bookings?