And the gorblimey

May 2008

First came those little black olives wrongly called Spanish (they mostly come from California), which are processed by being cured in caustic soda (it’s quick, but it rips out the taste) and then dyed black. Anyone who serves those olives a) has no taste or b) hasn’t ever tasted them. Could it get worse? You bet. At the other end of the quadrangular plate were four portion-control patties of a well-known brand of margarine. Now, I have nothing against anybody silly enough to eat margarine in the privacy of their own home (oh, all right, I do), but to have them served to you in a Portuguese restaurant left the four of us at the table dumbfounded. Portuguese is one of the gutsiest cuisines on the planet, all garlic and gobs of meat and big bowls of surf and turf. As my friend Lynelle Scott-Aitken writes in her Lonely Planet World Food book about Portugal, the Portuguese eat “with gusto. The best of Portuguese food is prepared with simple cooking methods and strongly reflects its region and proud past.” Which region did those olives come from? And the margarine? We should have left but didn’t. The service was charming, but the food, rather than being bad, was stripped of any gusto. The bacalhau à bras, a fry-up of bacalhau, potatoes, garlic and eggs, was the only bacalhau dish I have ever eaten that needed extra salt. My espetada — barbecued meat on a sword — was plain boring. The meat had been cooked too slowly and was under-seasoned. I very rarely write about bad restaurants but this place, Divino, in Petersham, needs to be pointed out for two reasons. One, I reckon they’re capable of doing better. And two, they’re giving Portuguese food a bad name.

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