When I go on holiday I nearly always come away full of admiration for some restaurant, bar, or chef.
On my recent trip to Lisbon I stumbled across a tiny café, not much bigger than a living room, in a back street near the Amoreiras shopping centre in the north-west of the city, just off the E24 tram route. It had nine seats inside and sixteen outside.
Adorning the walls of the café were photos and paintings of the nearby Águas Livres Aqueduct, built in the eighteenth century to provide Lisbon with fresh drinking water.
The café was called Elova. What impressed me was not the food, as all it served was bread rolls (bought from the bakery opposite), pastries coffee, wine and beer, but the owner. His name was Rui, and, with his lived in face and pony tail, he looked as if he might have been a drummer in some rock band years ago.
The reason Rui made such an impression on me was that he ran the café single-handed, at least until his wife came to take over in the afternoon. He made the rolls (and the cheese and ham were very good), served the customers, washed up, cleared tables, squeezed oranges by hand, took the payments, anything that needed doing, in fact. And he did all this with a smile.
When I asked Rui about the story behind his café, he told me he had opened it in 2000. Before that, he had only worked in one restaurant. The café’s name, he explained, was made up of the names of his two children.
I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he had ever been in a rock band, but the rock music that was always playing in the background suggested that I might have been right.
Elova isn’t the kind of place that you’ll find tourists in. It’s strictly for the locals, who pop in throughout the day for a coffee, or a beer or glass of wine, no doubt to catch up on local gossip.
It’s inspiring to meet people like Rui, who have an idea, work hard to achieve it, and build a successful business. Rui’s café is the kind of place I could imagine myself running one day, offering perhaps a few simple but fresh tapas dishes. Well, we can all dream, can’t we?