A PORTUGUESE custard tart at Lisboa, that little cafe with the custard yellow fascia in Sheffield’s Peace Gardens, is £1.95. That’s two euros.
“Last time I had one of these was in Lisbon when it was only one euro,” I say to the chap behind the counter, then pause. “But I expect you’ve heard that before?” The server, wearing a yellow Lisboa t-shirt , nods wearily. “Several times a day. But everything is imported from Portugal.”
“Everything. Flour, eggs, the baker,” says co-owner Dan Martins, sitting at the next table. He opened Lisboa – a bakery and cafe with a handful of tables – last December with fellow countryman and business partner Marco Matias, Sheffield Wednesday’s Portuguese footballer.
Dan, an architect, says: “I always wanted to open a cafe and bring something of Portugal to England. We put our heads together and it turned out out to be pasteis.”
These are not the first Portuguese custard tarts in the city but they are very authentic. And good. We first saw them from Chris Wong, who sold them from a stall in the Moor Market and now from Da Da Shu on Furnival Gate. The Chinese encountered them in Macao, then a Portuguese colony, from where they travelled to Hong Kong. Local bakeries also make them, with varying degrees of success. And they are made by the Anglo-Russian Cossack Cuisine. The world , it seems, has taken this little eggy tart to its heart.
A pastel de nata (pasteis is the plural) is the photographic negative of the English version. The pastry is flaky not short. The filling, which in England tends towards the underneath of a creme brulee or burnt cream, is lighter and slightly jellied in texture. The top is scorched, not with a blowtorch, but by natural caramelisation of sugars in the oven.
There is artistry in this. A Portuguese can sum up the excellence of a pastel de nata by looking at the markings which should neither be all black nor too pale.
I am a sucker for a pastel de nata. I am not saying it is better than the English version but it is different .
I thought when Lisboa first opened they hadn’t quite got the texture right. Dan agrees. He blames the Sheffield water although I am not sure in which way. The end result, as I ate the other day, is a pleasingly rich mouthful.
Lisboa, which has a floor of authentic Portuguese tiles and a tiled street sign, Rua Fernando Pessoa (he’s the Portuguese Shakespeare), sells some 600 tarts in a good week.
It also makes other pastries, Nutella brownies, croissants, palmiers, custard slices and the Ham and Cheese Wonder, plus a couple of styles of loaves, but if you are going in for a coffee and a pastry you’ll probably have a pastel de nata. The coffee, by the way, is also Portuguese.
There are only three or four tables plus a couple of smaller ones tucked away at the back but an application has been made to the city council for outside seating.
Dan and Marco seem to gave scored a greater success with custard tarts than the Owls have in the Championship.