WHERE TO FIND
There is a complicated answer as to the meaning behind the name of Vincent Farges’ long-awaited Lisbon debut, to do with the law of universal gravitation, but the simpler version is that it is derived from the French verb épurer, which means to declutter, to refine or to pu- rify. And that suits just fine, for the dishes that rolled out when I ate there last week were clean and lean, with every ingredient justified and flavours immaculate. I can count the years since I first discovered Vincent Farges’ cooking by how old my young-
est two children are. We were on holiday in Sintra and, upon asking where the nearest decent restaurant was, we were directed to a seafood place on the coast. We were disappointed but, learning that a Michelin-starred restaurant was next door, we returned to try that. It was mem- orable, to the extent that while my husband was soaring on another plane with the somme- lier, I was opening colouring books and trying to occupy the children. All the same, I can still recall the perfection of the seabass, served with iodine foam. Roll on a decade or so and my visit to Epur, high on a hill in Lisbon’s Chiado district, was unencumbered by children. Vincent Farges says of his menu: “At 40 you know yourself; you know what your culinary identity is,” and he proves the point with confident dish after confi- dent dish. The menu is highly minimalist and divided into “moments”, from which guests can choose anything from four to eight dishes (from €90 for four) – there are three starters (“water, greens, fields”), three mains (“sea, terroir, tradition”) and three desserts (“chocolate, orchard, vintage”). Relying on what is available at market, these change from day to day.
The Design and Menu
The tables are situated in an austere, clean-lined space with dishes served on Limoges por- celain. The kitchen (formerly a Bulthaup showroom and supremely spare even by restau- rant-kitchen standards) was also partially on view from the moment we walked through the door, though clever design meant it never dominated. Farges began with his suppliers and worked from there – he spent a year travelling around Portugal, ensuring he selected from producers who shared his passion. The resulting menu “is a cuisine that adapts to existing products and not the other way around,” he says. The wine list includes only Portuguese wines and wine pairing is offered from €40.
On the day we visited, I had rhubarb and green curry from the “fields”, lamb, fennel and pearl barley from the “terroir” and an essay in “chocolate”’ in the form of a chocolate, chartreuse and juniper cream glacée. The standout dish was from the sea – a rockfish fricassé, which Farges paid tribute to with a stirfry of chanterelles, broad beans, marrow and clams in a well-bal- anced sauce. This, perhaps, is what I had waited all those years for, to immerse myself without distraction in the two or three flavours on a plate combined in a way that only Vincent Farges can.
If you enter the restaurant you already look into the kitchen entirely made of Bulthaup parts but especially made for a chef to use. If you pass the kitchen you enter a small area where you can wait to be seated or drink a glass of Portuguese wine. Then you enter the restaurant which consists of three different rooms and has a Scandinavian, minimalistic atmosphere created by Desenhabitado. Chairs by Carl Hansen & Son combined with Portugese influences like the original tiles. Also pay attention to the structure in the ceiling designed by architects Guedes Cruz Arquitectos: it reflects the Portuguese azulejos (tiles) on the walls. Because the sky of Lisbon is known for the magical lights, you can expect the restaurant to look different every part of the day.
Epur stands for pureness. To strip down all the noise and concentrate on the senses. The smell of the wood, the view of the city, the minimalistic table setting. “We don’t provide the napkins on the tables already, we present them as it’s the first dish. If you receive the soft napkin you let it go through your hands and feel it instead of just grab it and put it on your lap.” Same goes for the food: of course he works with the seasons, you can expect fish and meat dishes, he works with local producers, but he also likes to present typical Portuguese family recipes in a different way. He smiles if he tells me about the vintage dessert people who grew up in Portugal will remember for the taste, but can’t really bring home as he prepares it slightly different.