Observation Deck: Lisbon
In Lisbon, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I like to stop off at the Confeitaria Nacional on Praça da Figueira at least once a week for a treat. All five essential cake groups are here: creamy, chocolatey, flaky, fruity and doughy. But even on an empty stomach you have to remember what each one is called - each cake is a unique design, with its own name, elevating bakery into an art form of cultural significance. This display of excellence is about pride.
Fortunately for visitors to the city, there's a lot of hilly walking between breakfast and lunchtime, because lunch in Lisbon isn't simply a sandwich. Like most southern European countries, Portugal shows its commitment to food, family and friends by shutting up shop and sitting down to eat. There is nothing so important at the office that it can't wait until after lunch. And there it is - the Portuguese are relaxed and they get their priorities right. So what are the people of Lisbon eating?
Neither wealthy nor pretentious, Lisboetas care less for the exotic and more for flavoursome food in generous proportions. Eat at Casa da India in Chiado, where you sit next to complete strangers crowded together at communal tables. Big plates of grilled sardines, squid and cuttlefish, chicken and pork, masses of rice, salad and potatoes arrive at the table without delay, amid rowdy conversation and waiters shouting beer orders. It's chaotic, cheerful and inclusive.
In Lisbon, dining out is not just about the food. You go to see the traditional décor as well. Casa do Alentejo in the Baixa has two extraordinarily tiled dining rooms and a fading baroque ballroom with frescos and chandeliers. Restaurant Trinidade in Bairro Alto has a long history as a beer hall and is also fabulously tiled and decorated. You don't have to look far for history - it's there, wherever you are. Galeto Saldanha is an amazing example of 1960s interior design, all dramatic gold bubbles and dark wood.
Portugal's ego is best detected in Lisbon's fine dining. At the lauded XL in São Bento there's no snobbery or stiffness. The food is subtle and defined, trend and gimmick-free.
The wine list too, sums it up. There's a small foreign selection, like a nod of recognition, but the rest is a portfolio of one of the greatest wine producers in the world: Portugal. The Portuguese know what they have, and they don't need to brag about it.
Next month: Nice