A glowing white globe floating above the doorway and the lively bass of the music drew Mike and I towards Arcada on Saturday for its opening party. Sweet smoke from the chestnut stand, hired for the evening, diffused and wafted down the cobbled street, giving it a misty appearance made even more atmospheric by pools of orange light from the street lamps.
We’d arrived early and nabbed a place on the bench in the street from which to observe darkly dressed couples making their way towards the growing crowd of people gathered to celebrate. Curious locals out walking their dogs also stopped by for a drink and a chat. With plenty of cheek kissing and handshakes, the guests mingled and inspected the premises and of course, the food.
Arcada is largely a place for traditional Portuguese petiscos (nibbles) and drinks, although they offer a prato do dia (dish of the day) at lunchtimes and can cater for group dinners in the evenings. As expected, the samples for the opening evening comprised of various patés, cheeses and cold meats plus some moelas (hot chicken giblets in a tasty sauce – nicer than they sound, believe me) and, of course, freshly roasted chestnuts.
Although we stuck to the sangria, I noticed from the blackboard signs that cocktails like Caipirinhas are only 3 euros. As you might expect with prices like that, Arcada is not the classiest joint in Coimbra but it is welcoming and full of interesting touches. Adriano Leandro, the owner, has been creative in the face of Portugal’s economic crisis and found imaginative ways of decorating his venue without spending a fortune.
Arcada means arch and inside the restaurant, the original brick and stonework of its arches are on show, creating an unpretentious feature. Seating is basic, namely stools or wooden benches with thin padding. The novelty factor of cheese graters as lampshades and old windows as picture frames might help take your mind of a numb behind.
The cobbled streets leading off Coimbra’s famous Rua de Quebra Costas (Backbreaking Street) used to be pretty dead, offering little reason to stray from the main route to the university.
Things are changing. Rua Fernandes Tomás is gradually becoming known for more than just old people and drunks, with the likes of Fangas Mercearia Bar and Sala Arte e Apart, a café and arts space, opening up. The same street was filled with colourful crochet umbrellas in the summer months. With Arcada and another bar at the other end of the road, and a shop / café planned for the in-between part, new life is being pumped back into the area, making it worth a detour.
Even if you aren’t planning to stop for something to eat, venturing to the Arcada end of Rua Fernandes Tomás will enable you to see one of my favourite buildings in Coimbra, or at least the golden arches in its garden. You’ll also be rewarded with fine views over the Mondego river and Coimbra’s most attractive bridges.
Address: Arcada, Rua Fernandes Tomás 89-91, Coimbra. Phone: +351 912 810 320
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