(Lisbon) In Lisbon, Estrela is a charming residential neighborhood that has recently seen some interesting gourmet addresses springing up. At the bend of a narrow, steep street, the most attentive eye will notice a royal blue window that reads “Veggies & Wines.”
Posted at 11:00 am
Here, in this wine bar, aptly named Senhor Uva (‘Monsieur Rosine’), is the new Lisbon home of the Quebec couple founded by Stéphanie Audet and Marc Davidson.
The first is a chef known for her botanical cuisine. A great traveler, she has worked in Hawaii, Texas and Brazil, developing her creative, gourmet and sophisticated style that leaves plenty of room for plants. Marc himself has fifteen years of experience in gastronomy as a maitre d’. He began his career with the late Chaud Lapin, where he met his ‘mentor’, sommelier Jean-Benoît Hinse, and has since developed a passion for wine, especially natural wines.
The two met in the metropolis when Marc was working in the Lauréa restaurant. Stéphanie began her tenure as executive chef at vegan restaurant Lov, which had just opened its premier location in Old Montreal.
How did the lovers come to Lisbon to open a natural wine bar? Both had the idea of living and working in Europe and also wanted to slow down the hectic pace of their lives. Then Marc found out that he was able to apply for Portuguese citizenship thanks to his mother who, although of Chinese and Indian descent, was born on the small island of Macau, a former colony of Portugal. So he started the process, which turned out to be more difficult than expected. “It took six years! »
A winning duo
In October 2018, the newly married couple finally flew to Lisbon. After months of honeymoon in Cape Verde, the question quickly arose: “What do we do now?” »
Living on Airbnbs, the couple realized that living in the Portuguese capital was finally getting expensive and that their meager savings were quickly disappearing. The couple understood that they had to act quickly to keep their dream from going up in smoke.
A small cafe was struggling very close to the Jardim da Estrela, a charming park where Stéphanie and Marc love to stroll. One day it was put up for sale. But they weren’t the only ones interested. A convincing email later, they managed to snag the small premises in an area with almost no restaurants.
Estrela is more affluent, quieter, more residential and family-friendly. In the beginning, the neighbors told us: “You guys are crazy to open in this neighborhood!”
Marc Davidson, co-owner of Senhor Uva
Opened on January 29, 2019, Senhor Uva quickly hit the mark with an offering that caught the eye in the metropolis, which is nonetheless known for its gastronomic effervescence. “At the time, there weren’t many places that sold natural wines or slightly different vegetarian food like there are so many in Montreal, or that featured a farm-to-table inspired concept. It was very new,” notes Stéphanie.
“We liked the experience we offer; a neighborhood wine bar where you can come in your t-shirt on a Monday night for a drink and some small plates without emptying your wallet. That didn’t really exist here. It’s either the small traditional restaurants or the Michelin star. In short, we created the place where we would like to go! adds Marc, whose wine list includes around 400 references.
We don’t call ourselves vegetarian or natural. We want to please everyone, we want everyone who enters the restaurant to find their account.
The menu is very plant-based, with pretty and appetizing small dishes, but butter and cheese are also part of it. Stephanie has discovered a world of possibilities in this temperate country and can have more fun than ever with vegetables and fruits because harvest time lasts… all year round. “You can find everything here: oranges, lemons, avocados, quinces, nectarines… There are tomatoes until December! »
An evening in a crowded Senhor Uva at the end of September, where we also met some Quebecers, confirmed to us that the cook is really on the ball. Her compositions are very imaginative, surprising and absolutely delicious at the same time. Nothing was right here. As for the wine, the choice is great and Marc is an outstanding host. No wonder the store is almost always full.
Small project becomes big
The challenges were many, with a small kitchen that only had an induction hob. “We had the idea of creating a wine bar with small, simple dishes and snacks. But people ate and came back to eat! says Stéphanie, who had to be resourceful to meet the demand.
Let’s also add the challenge of learning Portuguese, adapting to a new culture, and finding employees when they were unknown in the industry (not to mention a pandemic from all of that!). Thanks to a human working environment with four days a week and public holidays – a rarity in Lisbon – the restaurateurs have managed to build a solid team.
Word got around and the company grew so much that Senhor Uva #2 has lived on the opposite side of the street since November 2021. The couple originally wanted to create a new concept, but quickly realized that they were complicating their lives with two menus, two teams, two wine lists and were merging everything. Yes, the staff bring the dishes that come out of the kitchen across the street! “It never rains, so that’s okay!” “Laughs Stephanie.
The latest addition: Caverna das uvas, a wine cellar where customers can taste and buy a wide range of natural wines. The couple teamed up with a friend to set up a private import agency. They can sell their finds to other restaurants.
Although they sometimes miss Quebec and their family, Lisbon has captured their hearts. “I want to stay here forever,” assures Stéphanie. “It’s a fantastic city, a wonderful country with access to all of Europe. It’s a different life and a different rhythm that suits what we want,” concludes Marc. Long live Lisbon!
Sehnor Uva is open seven nights a week and reservations are strongly recommended.