The stake is clear, and chef Marlene Vieira is not afraid to take it. The new restaurant of the same name, which opened in early April in Lisbon, he wants to be included in the prestigious gastronomic guide. “[Ganhar uma estrela Michelin] it also turns out to be my goal to which I offer myself. Can I do it? I don’t know, but that’s the path we want to take,” he explained in an interview with NiT.
The new Marlene is located in the same building where Zunzum Gastrobar opened in 2020, at the Jardim do Tabaco dock, next to the Lisbon cruise terminal. It has been thought about since then, but the pandemic has led to successive delays in reopening.
“We had a condition here with a behind the counter experience where the intimacy between the customer and us chefs is great.” With the end of restrictions, it was finally possible to bring this concept to the city.
This is a project focused on Portuguese roots, national gastronomy, but with a modern vision. All this, of course, is in line with the vision of the chef, who combines personal experience and work in the restaurant sector for more than 20 years.
It’s always best to book. Through the website, you can immediately choose which menu you want. There are two offers: one with 12 moments (130€) and the other with seven courses (95€). “We will have four menus over four seasons. There are four seasons, so there will be four menus that we will present,” he continues.
Where did the Marlene restaurant come from?
Comes from the north of the country. Marlene is my culinary journey. This comes from my professional experience of over 20 years in restoration. And it comes from my childhood too. There is a mixture between who I am, Marlene, and the stories of my life – personal and professional. Here they are combined.
The same building already houses the Zunzum Gastrobar. How is this new concept different??
Zunzum is a very democratic space. We have high quality cuisine, but at a more affordable price. Marlene is a gastronomic experience very focused on my personal experience. It turns out a closed menu. At Zunzum you can choose from the menu and order a tasting. Marlene has a closed menu that focuses on the experience of my gastronomic life, as well as the seasonality of the products. It’s a menu that people don’t know from the start, and they recognize it when they sit in their chairs.
I have been thinking about opening Marlene for some time. Why did you do it just now?
The space was ready in mid-2020. The pandemic was the main reason for not opening it. Consistent measures related to closing and opening, time and space restrictions. We had a condition – an experience at the counter, in which the client and we, the chefs, are very close. The pandemic has not allowed anything to happen naturally. We opened when we had ideal conditions for this.
Is this menu, despite the elements of surprise, more sea-oriented or meat-oriented? What can we expect?
Our common theme is national cuisine. What do we find on the Portuguese table these days? This table has evolved over the years. In the 20th and 21st century, it is full of meat and animal protein. We’re in the cruise ship terminal, we’re wearing the Portuguese flag and we thought we should show what a Portuguese table looks like during the holidays or when a group of friends gathers.
Seafood, fish, meat, roasts, pastries, all this will be presented on the menu. And vegetables too. We have a lot of animal protein, seafood and fish, but we also have two or three vegetable-only meals.
Will the offerings for this tasting menu change throughout the year? Is this a project that will live off seasonality?
We will have four different menus, one for each of the four seasons. Then we have micro-seasons like fava and pea season. It’s about fresh produce. Frozen we can eat all year round, but this is not what we offer here. As well as forest mushrooms and spring vegetables, which can be on the menu and disappear in a month, or even in a month and a half.
Do you want Marlene to be among the best restaurants in the country and get a Michelin star?
Oh sure. I already have a fairly long professional path – more than 20 years of work. This becomes my goal, which I propose to myself. This is mine and my team, we cannot do anything alone. We have goals to achieve in any space we open. This restaurant has one goal – to win this award. I suggest getting a Michelin star for this place. Can I do it? I don’t know, but this is the path we want to take.
Will it make a difference to be the first woman to receive a Michelin star in Portugal?
It’s not a focus. I think it was important, because in the lists of the 100 best chefs in the world there is no representation, no Portuguese. They already exist in several countries such as Spain, Mexico, Brazil, France, but there is no Portuguese. Of course, it would be a pride for me or another woman to be on this list. Unfortunately, this can only be achieved by having Michelin stars from the start. The important thing is that the name of a Portuguese woman is included in this list – it would be fundamentally important to open the door. If it’s me, great. If not, then I’ll be happy too.
We are recovering from the pandemic crisis, but we may be on the verge of a new crisis due to the war in Ukraine. How will this affect the food service industry?
This will have an impact, because there has been a gigantic rise in prices for food and fuel. We’re in an urban area, we don’t have local produce, I can’t go there and cast my line and catch a fish. There are costs with transport and therefore an increase in the product. In this sense, in terms of prices, they will be reflected in final consumption.
Marlene is right in the middle of the cruise ship terminal – is this a restaurant for tourists?
The influx of customers, including Portuguese, exceeds our expectations. A lot of tourists go to the city center, this space is more for the Portuguese. The offerings I have here are not as attractive to tourists looking for the traditional: full course, cod, olive oil. We serve modern Portuguese cuisine. Tourists who come here get acquainted with the evolution of our cuisine.
What would you recommend to anyone who wants to try Marlene?
Let them come without prejudice. Nothing like, “Oh, I don’t like fava beans.” Instead, say, “Maybe I even like fava beans.” People should come with an open mind and without any expectations. I can guarantee you will find good food. Come without any barriers – it is very important to be able to enjoy a product you already know, but presented and prepared in a new way.
Click on the gallery to get to know the new Marlene better.