There is something about dining in sumptuous surroundings that makes everything taste a little bit better. Lisbon is full of lovely historical cafes, and Versailles is a stunning example of the slightly faded glory of old-school Lisbon. Pastelaria Versailles was built in the 1920’s and served as a sumptuous symbol of the Avenidas Novas (“new avenues”) that were built north of the historic center of the city. As befitting of the name “Versailles,” the cafe is filled wall-to-wall with gilded mirrors, chandeliers, checkerboard marble and floor-to-ceiling elaborate wooden display cases.
Though primarily a cafe, there is also a little mezzanine that has a more complete dinner menu for 12-25 euros featuring fish and steaks and various traditional Portuguese plates. However, we are cafe people, and opted for the simpler sandwich menu (which was intimidatingly long). There were a range of coffee drinks, batidos (milkshakes) and teas on offer as well as little snacks like bacalhau croquettes and a series of sandwiches, all for less than about 4 Euros. One way in which we can tell that Portugal is serious about bread is the fact that each sandwich (with the same variety of a few options like bacalhau, turkey, cheese, tomato and even simple butter) is listed by the type of bread it comes on. We counted no less than 8 bread options for sandwiches.
M ordered a turkey sandwich on a Chapada role (which seems to be a cousin to Ciabatta). L ordered a Mafra sandwich with queijo fresco. The light and airy Mafra roll is native to the town of Mafra, just north of Lisbon, and has a slightly sweet flavor. For such a small price, we were surprised at the size of each sandwich, and were impressed with the quality and freshness of the bread. We finished up our meal with a delicate Pão de Deus and an elegant service of Versailles signature tea. The Versailles blend is a black tea with a mix of orange, cinnamon and vanilla, and tasted a little like a subtle citrus chai.
Naturally, we could not ignore the bakery case, which runs the whole length of the cafe. Though we arrived late in the day there was still a pretty good selection of treats, and we filled a box for the road. We selected an assortment of cookies, the names of which were not labeled. One we uncreatively dubbed the “Flat Madeleine,” which looked and tasted like a flat Madeleine cookie. The other was a chocolate Italian-style dipped cookie shaped like an acorn. But the pièce de résistance were the chocolate Pastéis de Nata. The Versailles Pastel had both requisites of an excellent Pastel de Nata: the custard and the flaky multi-layered crust, and with a hint of chocolate these were perfect! Cafe Versailles has quickly become one of our favorite cafes and we are excited to work our way through the pastry case.