“Experiencia Religiosa”, that big hit of 1995, played by Enrique Iglesias, was the song that came to mind when it was time to put into words the passage through West Mambo. Why? Perhaps because of one of the desserts, but we will have to read to the end to understand why (resounding clickbait warning).
The invitation from Bernardo Agrela, chef and one of the owners of the quiet restaurant, located in the Saldanha / Picoas area (just put it on Google Maps and you can get there without any problem), had been waiting for a few weeks. Seduced by the word “sandwiches” (and by all that this synonym of bread with something can encompass), we headed to West Mambo. Which when it opened in 2019 was East Mambo. Then came the pandemic, closed and, in April 2022, reopened. Now as the West.
East or west, this is where, in his own words, Bernard comes “to relax”. “This is my home,” tells us the 32-year-old chef who, together with Camila Amaral (the chef and brain of one of the most amazing sandwiches we’ve ever tasted …, owns West Mambo.
It is this quiet corner of long tables that the consultant of the Cultural Trend Lisbon group (Povo, Music Box and Casa do Capitão restaurant, temporarily closed for work) calls “home” and from which, for a few hours, we have also made ours.
West Mambo has everything we like in a place where the idea is to eat good and unpretentious things by hand, preferably accompanied by a good drink. Few options. Good options.
There is MUSA beer (and soon there will be taps on the wall next to the tables) and only one brand of wine. We opted for the white wine, Nat Cool (glass € 4, bottle € 24), a new project from the Niepoort group, which aims to “create light and easy-drinking wines”. check.
Glass in hand, we did not expect what would happen. A real carnival of flavors and sensations, of surprises that we hadn’t foreseen, above all because it was not what we were looking for when we were told “panini”.
The trio of antipasti (€ 3.50), commonly known as antipasti, brought a well-made basket of lava bread (traditional Turkish, thin and crunchy) sprinkled with spirulina and, as the name suggests, three options: spinach, ricotta and hazelnuts (creamy and velvety); beans butter, dill and dill oil (reminiscent of bagels with salmon and cream cheese); and, our favorite, lentil hummus with leeks and coriander. Pungent, aromatic and sweet.
Ordering a sandwich at West Mambo is not just about ordering a sandwich. It’s having a sandwich that comes with a whole entourage of good stuff. Let’s start with the side dishes (€ 3.50). A thousand potato leaves, fried to perfection to a ridiculous point of crunchy, deep-fried banana and even toasted black cabbage, sprinkled with sesame seeds and salt (the only downside to this meal, as it was a little salty).
With the lightening of the measures imposed by COVID-19, Bernardo and Camila were able to put into practice the sharing of the cup of wonders that circulates around the room and whose idea is to be used and shared by guests. Inside there are not two, not three, but seven bulging vials. In each of them, a sauce. Not shop, not industrial, but made right there in West Mambo.
For dipping sandwich, potatoes or just finger eating, it was difficult to choose which was best: truffle, spicy (it was wonderful), sesame, rhubarb ketchup (sweet and surprising), aquafaba (for vegetarians), wasabi and finally, Camila’s Special, based on fresh leaves of jambu, a herb typical of the northern region of Brazil. Our favorite? We haven’t reached a consensus … maybe we’ll have to go back and decide.
And with all of this, we need to talk about sandwiches. The sandwich, which at first glance deceives, because it looks like a banal hamburger bun, is delicious, light and just the right size to carry the contents without spilling the filling or, on the other hand, stuffing the diner. A shrimp sandwich arrived on the table, which, in fact, is a tribute to the egg sandwiches that, in less hipster times in Lisbon, were proudly served in tacos and pastry shops. The lightness is there, even the greasiness of the egg.
We came up with the idea of the ham sandwich but made a detour to the vegan option. And no, we weren’t disappointed. The “meat”, as Camila explained to us, is made with jackfruit, that gigantic and succulent tropical fruit, cooked in mushroom sauce, reduced to the point of resembling the trays of a carnivorous Sunday roast. We gave up and wanted more.
Today is Thursday 19th May, and this week there is the gizzard sandwich, as Camila told us in advance. All the sandwiches on the menu cost € 8.50. There are those who remain, those who rotate, the surprises. She is coming, looking at the blackboard written in chalk and finding out.
We don’t like sweets either, but we did like the names of the two West Mambo desserts: Bolo da Sílvia (€ 4.50) and John’s Parfait (€ 4.50), in honor of the people who served as guinea pigs when the recipes were in the evidence.
Bolo da Silvia is actually a salted caramel petit gateau and John’s Parfait combines celery, rhubarb, favatonka and Estrelitas. Yes, Stars. These stars. A fun wink to the kids of the 90s, the generation we include. Now we want a version with Chocapic, please.