Restaurante O Policia is one of the oldest restaurants in Lisbon and has been around since 1900. There is a story that says this restaurant was often frequented by members of the PSP (Policia de Seguranca – Public Security Police). These officers who were responsible for the safety of Lisbon’s citizens could often be found sitting at its tables drinking wine and eating huge platefuls of home-cooked Portuguese cuisine.
Originally opened as a tavern on the Avenida de Berna it then moved to Rua Marques Sa da Bandeira which is very close to the gardens of the Fundacao Caloute Gulbenkian Gallery and Museum. To say that the restaurant is so close it doesn’t actually have many visiting tourists. Nearly all the customers whenever I have visited have been Portuguese which is a good thing – it means the food is well cooked and presented and usually a good price.
O Policia is now run by the fourth generation of the Lazaro Miranda family. Teotonio was the first of the dynasty and his grandson who bears the same name now runs the restaurant with his two charming daughters. He is a small chap with a worn in face, charming disposition, and has bundles of energy.
The decor is very old fashioned but from a design point of view is interesting. There are several dining rooms; one with a wall dedicated to the PSP – dominated by a full size cut out figure of a policeman from the 19th century dressed in black wearing the PSP uniform of the time. Another with a wall of script illustrating the history of the restaurant. Curtains are silky and ruched whilst table and chairs are square made from teak or pine. Some walls are tiled and some have wood panelling. The overall colour of all the dining rooms is orange and gold. Very bad taste really but that was what Portugal was like in those times and has only really changed in the last twenty years.
Tables are set with white cloths and an over cloth of yellow or orange with white linen serviettes and the ubiquitous single flower placed in a glass vase. On every table there is a basket of bread. The floors running through all the rooms are delightful – black and white mosaics – in the same design as the pavement in the Baixa region of Lisbon.
Lighting is a bit of a mixture. In one room it is industrial – so bright that you squint. In other rooms only dim wall lights cast shadows on the food while you manage to steal the odd kiss. You really do feel like you have just walked into the early 20th century. Not to everyone’s taste but I think it’s good fun. I like design set pieces – like rooms in a museum. This restaurant has always looked like this. It has no pretensions and the owners seem quite happy to keep it this way. It isn’t the most fashionable restaurant in Lisbon but it seems to attract Bohemian types like actors and writers and the odd businessman in the week and is always packed out with families at the weekend.
In the early evening the bar can be atmospheric when the highly varnished wood gives off a honey sheen from several multi-coloured square and round lamps that hang from the ceiling. The bar is a large area with at least 6 arched shelving units displaying a great selection of wines. Most of the wines come from the Alentejo and include names such as Monte Velho, Marques da Borba and a first class selection from the Herdade dos Grous. Portuguese spirits and liqueurs line the shelves and all of the brandies are of a good quality but especially Maceira and Adega Velha. If you have a sweet tooth, try a Licor Beirao – a smooth medicinal drink that tastes of aromatic plants and is often drunk to soothe a tickly throat.
Of course, the star attraction is the fish display cabinet. Over 14 different varieties are displayed including grouper, sole, cod, hake, rooster fillets, squid, and porgy. A waiter is always on duty, standing by to help and advise you on the choice of fish. He will pick out whichever fish you choose, smell, touch and check it out for freshness. Fresh fish should have a mild aroma and smell of the sea. Its flesh should be moist and if choosing a whole fish look out for bulging eyes and gills of bright red or pink. Grouper is one of my favourite fish and I like it grilled so the flakes fall away with a touch of a fork. Another interesting fish steak to try is rooster fish. This is a big fish – about 4 feet long and the way the chef cooks it at the Police restaurant is simply by baking the boned steaks in a wood oven until tender and then dressing the meaty steaks in a sauce of rich tomatoes, garlic, lime juice, black pepper and olive oil. This sauce just gives the fish a refreshing lift. Most fish dishes are served with a small, uniformed mountain of rice with delicately chopped tomatoes and coriander or a salad. You don’t have to have your fish grilled. If you prefer it boiled or fried the chef will accommodate. If you are wondering what a porgy fish is – well, it is a fish that swims and is caught in the Atlantic. There are two main species: Scup and Jolthead. Both are delicious but bony so be careful.
The menu is extensive but unfortunately, porridge isn’t available. Cooking is very traditional using good quality ingredients from all regions of Portugal from the sea and land. The menu isn’t nicked and the food is always hot. Meat and fish are always of a high quality; sauces are well flavoured and salads are fresh, crisp and actually tasty and not just wet and limp like you find in some restaurants. Warning – portions are huge so order modestly. There is a lot of offal on the menu so if you like tripe and beans, or oxtail then you will be happy here. I am not a great offal fan so I usually pass on these dishes but I do love roast kid and rabbit and my favourite dish is roasted duck served with rice and peas. The duck is always very tender, crispy on the top and not too greasy. A faint smell of rosemary and garlic lingers around the dish when it is placed on the table; rice is fluffy with fresh peas from the garden and sometimes as an added extra there are baby roasted aromatic potatoes. Steak is very popular in this restaurant and my tip is to be quite firm about how you like your steak cooked. Most Portuguese prefer their meat and fish well done (bem passado). If you like it rare or underdone then ask for it to be ‘mal passado. While on the subject of meat why not try some sausages from Lamego – fat, smoked, garlicky and oozing with herbs.
Desserts are very simple and unpretentious. Basically, a choice of four which includes rice pudding – hot or cold, seasonal fruit, almond pie or farofia. Farofia is the Portuguese word for cloud and this dessert is just that – a cloud of fluffy meringue mixed with fresh lemon custard and a touch of cinnamon. Soft and delicious; a fluffy pillow of sweetness.
Fresh coffee is always brewing and you can have cha if you like but I don’t recommend it as Portuguese cannot make tea.
For people who are a little indecisive when ordering meals then O Policia has a selection of 6 different menus. They all vary in dishes but consist of a starter, main meal, dessert, coffee and wine (half bottle). Prices range from 27 euros. For this great price you can treat yourself to; cream peas with toast (a bit like pease pudding), roast duck with rice, Portuguese doce (sweets) or fresh fruit salad – or for 33 euros you can choose scrambled eggs with asparagus, lamb baked in the oven with roast potatoes and served with rice and tomatoes, same choice of dessert and coffee and wine. Portuguese doces (sweets) are made from egg yolks ground almonds, sugar, honey sometimes lemon or pine nuts. This concoction is often made into little cakes or sweets in the shapes of fruits and flowers. They are very pretty to look at but are extremely sweet and filling. Very nice with a bica and a brandy, though.
You can find this old and dated restaurant serving traditional Portuguese food at Rua Marquês Sá da Bandeira 112 – Lisbon – in the parish of Our Lady Fatima. If you are in Lisbon it would be a crime not to go. Muito bom!
If you visit by car, parking is available close by – 50 metres. You can also take the metro and get off at Piazza di Spagna
Credit cards are accepted.
Open weekdays and Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes only.
Closed Public Holidays.
O Policia will seat 120 people and accommodates large parties. Always best to reserve a table especially at weekends.