She wasn’t wrong about what it looked like. The yellow brick road it wasn't. At one point it consisted of a narrow strip of tarmac, only just wide enough for one car, thinly dribbled across some boulders that sat on the lip of a dramatic overhang. This narrow strip had obviously been hastily repaired many times, especially around the edges and we surmised that the presence of a bright yellow JCB was so that they could more easily pick up vehicles which fell down the cliff face.

“You’ll see the restaurant from the road,” she went on. Well, yes and no. After a while, we saw the edge of the roof of a building. From where we were there was no way of knowing what building it was.

Nose of the World

It’s a brilliant name for a restaurant: Nariz do Mundo – Nose of the World and it’s why we had chosen to strike out across the remote Barroso mountains. The restaurant was named after a nearby beauty spot and peak, poking up like a busybody a little to the south. Beyond it, we could see one of the hills near where we live, Monte Farinha, which is a kind of the welding point between the three concelhos that make up the Basto region and it is clearly visible from all three. The restaurant is in the hamlet of Moscoso – just one letter different from the Russian capital – and occupies about a quarter of it. It’s not that it’s a particularly large restaurant but it is a very small hamlet. The ample car park was completely full and we had to negotiate with a tethered goat room to park on the edge of a field. The entrance ‘door’ was a very heavy iron chain-link curtain which not only deters flies from entering but also those humans without enough resolve or strength to push past the weighty links. Immediately inside the door is a butcher's display of red meat – all beef from the famed Barroso cattle. Neither of us eats beef, or much in the way of red meat at all, but we recognise a challenge when we see one. Why had we come to a restaurant that specialises in freshly grilled beef if we don’t eat it? Because of the name. We haggled and got offered octopus.

Though we were in the middle of nowhere on a weekday lunchtime, the place was absolutely heaving. We enquired. Yes, they are like this most days though on weekends they have to open up a third room. The vast majority of the beef eaters were men – hearty men, hefty men, the sort of men who would outstare a bull. The few women present clung together around the dessert trolley. It was all very type-cast, as if we were in a story about rough pioneers.

King of the smoked meats

A plate of salpição was plonked on the table. Salpição is undoubtedly the king of the smoked meats world and this had clearly been handmade in some rural kitchen by someone wearing a black headscarf and a long black dress and an earthy sense of humour. It was about the best we’ve ever tried. Then there was an extremely generous portion of charcoal-grilled octopus, served with piles of garlic potatoes. There was, of course, not a single sign of any veg or salad – not on our table or on anyone else’s. Not a leaf to be seen. As we chomped, I was intrigued by the quantity of vinho da casa that was being consumed from jugs by other diners. No one would have walked there and I predicted that the way to tell who was the designated driver was to see which one was drinking the most. After all, you’d need to be at least half-cut to even try most of the roads leading to and from O Nariz. We were drinking water only, as is our custom, so clearly we were an accident waiting to happen.

After we had cleared the laden platter of its octopus and spuds the waiter came over, concerned, and suggested that as we had finished the fish course, might we now like to go onto the meat course?

We paid up and drove on, further into the mountains, in search of the other named delight on the map: Uz. It was only then that I realised why the woman on the phone had said the road we had taken earlier might look dangerous but wasn’t. Compared to some in them thar hills, that first one had been a pussycat. A jug of wine would have made the journey onwards so much easier, or, on the other hand, much shorter. Luckily there were plenty of places to pull off the road and admire the views and consume oxygen while we gathered the courage to explore the next stretch. Did we find the wizard? Well, we found Uz but of the wizard, there was no sign. Drunk in a ditch, probably.


Fitch is a retired teacher trainer and academic writer who has lived in northern Portugal for over 30 years. Author of 'Rice & Chips', irreverent glimpses into Portugal, and other books.

Fitch O'Connell