Housed within Lisbon’s Pharmacy Museum, Pharmacia on Rua Marechal Saldanha, is a restaurant unlike any other I’ve visited, and makes for a unique dining experience.
I do love discovering quirky eateries and this pharmacy-themed restaurant dispensed a truly original dinner experience. As you step through its doors you enter a totally different world, with retro medicine cabinets covering the walls that are filled with vials, stethoscopes and medicine boxes.
A restaurant or an asylum?!
Decorated with kitsch 1950’s and 60’s furniture and with waiters wandering around in lab coats, I felt like I was being seated in a room that belonged in an old mental asylum. It actually looked like it could have been used as a common room in a scene from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest!
As chef and owner Susana Felicidade explained to me, the restaurant’s design, cocktails and food are based around the concept of an old pharmacy, back in the time when they were more like labs and botanical shops. This same level of detail also goes into the food, with a selection of dishes that focused on traditional Portuguese cuisine.
We visited Pharmacia on a crisp, spring evening, but in summer I can imagine the ambience changes and becomes even more fun when the doors open wide and tables are spread out across the terrace, with its wonderful view down over the Targus river. But, even on our chilly, dark night, the craziness kept on coming.
Drinking from test tubes and medicine bottles
Drinks arrived in measuring cups, ice buckets are made out of metal first aid boxes and water appears at your table in large medicine bottles. Even the cocktails are drug-themed, as you can order alcoholic concoctions with names like Ibuprofen, Morphine, Aspirin and, of course, a Placebo. It appears that at Pharmacia no liquid can come in a ‘normal’ container, as even the soup was brought to the table in – wait for it – a test tube!
Food in Lisbon
The majority of people that dine at Pharmacia come for the surprise tasting menu, which essentially does what it says on the tin. Being a picky eater I didn’t feel that daring, so instead asked for the menu to choose my own dishes.
On the menu are a wide variety of pesticos: Portuguese tapas dishes, allowing you a great opportunity to try out many of the local delicacies. Often I’ve found that themed restaurants can be all style and no substance, but happily the food was as interesting as the decor at Pharmacia.
We tried several new dishes, some of which we weren’t really sure what we were eating, but the majority were pretty darn delicious. Standouts for us included the duck croquettes, pica-pau (I loved ordering them just for the name alone!), which are in essence mini steak and chips, some kind of delicious fish and chickpea dish and an odd version of a francesinha: a tiered meat sandwich topped with cheese, egg and smothered in a beer-based gravy.
Embracing the madness
If you’re willing to embrace the madness of Pharmacia you’ll have a great time here over great food. Prices are mid-range, with a tasting menu costing you around €30 and individual pesticos costing anything between €4 and €15. If you find yourself in Lisbon it is definitely somewhere I’d recommend visiting!