Eleven was the only Michelin starred restaurant in Lisbon in 2007 (editor's note, this was lost in 2011). It is an ambitious place, set on a slightly remote hillock in the outskirts of Lisbon, a modern building with a large dining room, two private dining rooms and a small outside dining setting upstairs. It is very smartly decorated in a modern style, with tables large and generously spaced. Given the ambition level, service was oddly mixed. No one came to greet us when we arrived, and we had to wander through to the dining room and wait for a waiter to finally spot us and come over. There was then a long gap before seeing a menu and another before seeing the wine list, though the service settled down once the meal got going.
Amuse bouche were rather dull, a slice of ham on a piece of toast, a very ordinary salt cod and a tasty tomato on a spoon (13/20). Next was a mousse of horseradish wrapped in smoked salmon, with a beetroot sauce poured over it. I think salmon and horseradish is a great flavour combination, and the oddly bland beetroot sauce did not enhance the dish. Moreover one piece of salmon was rather hard, and the mousse would have been better with more horseradish bite (12/20).
Much better was the first proper course, Parmesan mousse in a ravioli carbonara, which featured excellent pasta, nice bacon and a Parmesan mousse that was not too strong (15/20). Roasted lobster with ratte potato and red grilled pepper puree had good lobster that was cooked a little long but was not overly chewy, but the red pepper puree and ratte mash was an uninspired accompaniment. There was a nice shellfish sauce flavoured with a little tarragon (13/20). Better was a nicely grilled chunk of sea bass with a gratin of Sicilian aubergine wrapped in tomato. The vegetables were carefully cooked (a rarity in my limited experience in Portugal) and had excellent taste (15/20).
The desserts were in a much higher league than the rest of the meal. Lemon souffle was superb, cooked perfectly through, light and fluffy with full but not overwhelming lemon taste, served with a good passion fruit sorbet (18/20). A cheese and fig tart was better than it sounded, the pastry excellent, served with fig chutney and honey ice cream (17/20). Coffee was very high quality (18/20).
Overall I felt that Eleven was trying a little too hard to be modern, causing many of the menu choices to have strained ingredient combinations e.g. the salmon and horseradish mousse would have been better without the beetroot sauce. In a city where much of the cooking seems painfully old-fashioned it is perhaps understandable that the chef wants to make a clear break with tradition, but the high quality of the more traditional desserts made it a little frustrating to see some of the rather overwrought earlier dishes. Still, this was easily the best cooking that we had in Portugal.