“ Address: Arigato Sushihouse Alameda dos Oceanos, Pq. das Nações - Ed. Lisboa „
~ A Lunchtime Favourite in Lisbon ~
I have been to Arigato with my Portuguese colleagues three times and it's one of my favourite places to eat. I originally wrote this review after my first visit, but every visit since has been just as excellent. This really is my top tip for dining in the Parque das Nacoes area of the city.
We often eat in this area as it's not too far from the local office. The first time it was chosen because I had to take a flight mid-afternoon and the restaurant is not too far from the airport. That was the sensible, rational reason to go. The more emotional reason was simpler - FISH! Portuguese people adore fish and Arigao is a sushi bar. Not just a sushi bar but an extraordinarily unusual concept - an all you can eat Japanese buffet with really good food. And believe me, when it comes to raw fish, your average Portuguese can eat a LOT, even two dainty little ladies like Isabel and Ana.
Arigato is located on the Expo site, the area of Lisbon which was developed for the 1998 Expo. It lies beside the river Tagus and despite the passing of 15 years since the world flocked to the city, everything still looks pretty good. I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Expo site, not just to see the world-class Oceanarium or to ride on the waterfront cable car, but also to just enjoy the bars and restaurants and soak up the view. There are also some pretty fine shopping opportunities to be found at the Vasco da Gama shopping centre. Arigato is close to the Oceanarium - I advise not to dwell on the fact that you're eating raw fish in the shadow of a world-class aquarium.
In most European cities, an area as stylish and fashionable as the Expo site would be outrageously expensive but not in Lisbon. The Euro is being kind to the British traveller once again and prices in Lisbon are now, and always have been, considerably lower than over the border in Spain. Arigato was a bit of a treat and I learned that my colleagues don't go there very often for lunch because it's expensive. With the lunch buffet costing just under Euro15 (or less than £12 at current exchange rates) it's not something you could do every day, but the value for money was extraordinary.
Our visit didn't start too well with the three of us clearly wearing special invisibility cloaks which meant the waiter ignored us for a good five minutes. Once we'd been spotted, we were offered a pleasant outdoor table on the terrace with a sun umbrella to protect us from the worst of the mid-day sun. We ordered our drinks - an ice tea, a juice and a Coke Zero - and without further ado, we headed inside to the buffet.
The characteristics of most 'all you can eat' places are lots of cheap, rather unpleasant, often over-salted and generally unhealthy food. They want you to drink a lot and fill up on the minimum volume of the cheapest possible dishes. That's why I said earlier that 'all you can eat' and sushi don't really go together. Sushi - and even more so sashimi - tends to be offered in small portions at high prices. I did once go to an all you can eat sushi place in Munich which was absolutely diabolical but Arigato is rather special - good quality and good prices are not a typical combination you associate with Japanese food.
~How much fish can a hungry Portuguese eat?~
We headed inside to get our food, joining a short but slow moving queue. We took square white china plates from a pile at the start of the row of dishes and I thought that they were certainly not discouraging us from taking a lot by offering such big plates. The display of dishes started with some Japanese salads and I helped myself to a small spoonful of a couple of these. Next were some rather untempting rice balls, unlikely to appeal to anyone other than a strict vegetarian or parents of small children trying to avoid giving them too much raw fish. I can't imagine too many in either group would be keen on Arigato.
Sushi purists will have to forgive me for not being conversant with all the technical names of different types of sushi, but my guess is that if I've been eating it for 15 years or more without learning the names, other sushi fans will be equally ignorant. The first display was of plates of the 'fish perched on top of rice' type sushi - some pretty obvious such as salmon, prawn and tuna, others less typical such as octopus, eel and clam. Next came more of the sushi rolls - with the fish and vegetables inside a sleeve of rice. I'm less keen on this type but I did pick up a couple which Isabel particularly recommended which surprisingly turned out to contain cheese and fruit. Given the local love of fish, the sashimi was taking a heck of a bashing and multiple slices seemed to be going onto most of the plates around me. I was quite taken with the tuna which was served with the outside slightly seared rather than just totally raw.
There was a section of tempura or breaded fish - some juicy prawns and fish goujons - as well as a few other cooked dishes including an absolutely gorgeous aubergine bake. This seemed like a wise choice to include on the buffet as the place was quite popular with well to do families whose children weren't necessarily quite so taken with raw fish as their parents. At the end of the buffet was a side table with two vats of soup - one miso, one curry flavoured - and another table with desserts which were neither particularly exciting nor particulary Japanese.
~Raw fish heaven~
I thought I'd been a bit greedy with the amount of food I'd taken until I saw that Ana and Isabel easily had as much or more than me and both went back for seconds. I worked on the theory that I wasn't REALLY having seconds if I didn't actually go back to the buffet and Isabel brought me a bowl of the curry soup when she went back for more, and Ana snaffled a few of the prawns in breadcrumbs for me. I went back for some fruit more as a gesture of killing time before I had to go to the airport than actually really needing any pudding.
The quality of everything I tried from the buffet was excellent. The sashimi in particular was so fresh it was practically still swimming. The terrace where we ate was warm and sunny without putting us in direct sunshine and we were set back a little from passers by so didn't have loads of people gawping at our dishes. The small downside is that you can't actually see the surroundings from the terrace which is a shame, but if you're anything like the three of us, you'll be too busy enjoying the food to notice. The bill for three of us, each with a soft drink or tea came to a few cents over Euro50 which was excellent value for what we'd had.
The restaurant is also open during the evening but the buffet is only offered at lunch time. I believe during the evening you'll need to order individual dishes off the menu or take the so called 'tasting menu'. For a perfect summer lunch, I don't know much that's better than sunshine, good company and a mountain of raw fish - Heaven!
Arigato Sushi House
Alameda dos Oceanos