I have often wondered at the sense in naming your restaurant “Uma” – literally meaning “one” or “a” in Portuguese. To me, the full name Uma Marisqueira (Marisqueira meaning “Seafood restaurant”) portrays this place to be commonplace, average even – just “a” Marisqueira. This, however, is false advertising because it is wholeheartedly not “just” a seafood restaurant.
It is admittedly singular, but only in the sense that it is quite exceptional.
The “uma” perhaps was born of the fact that there is only one dish that one should eat there. There are undoubtedly other dishes on the menu, although I cannot be sure since I have never gone so far as to consult one. You’d be a fool to even consider ordering anything but the arroz de marisco, the singular seafood rice.
This dish is so definitive that as I arrive and ask the rotund maitre’d if he has a table for three one warm September lunchtime, he responds with a nod, saying “Arroz de marisco”, not as a question, but as an affirmation.
The place itself is small and windowless; the walls are covered from floor to ceiling in very traditional yet not necessarily beautiful orange, blue and yellow patterned tiles. There are small chalkboards on the wall saying they have no wi-fi and that diners should speak to each other instead. A kind sentiment yet rather unnecessary since the idea of even removing your phone from your pocket during such a messy meal is anxiety-inducing.
Because At Uma, you’re not just in for a meal. You have signed up for the Seafood Rice Experience at a bargain 13,50 Eur per person. First, the table is presented with a collection of tools which you’ll be using to crack open crab legs and eek out the delicate meat. Bread arrives in a basket, ready to perform its divine duty of sopping up any remaining sauce from the plate. When our waiter sets the arroz de marisco on our table in a tarnished silver pot, the show truly begins. We ladle soupy spoonfuls onto our plates, the sauce the colour of the last moments of a burning sunset, the crustaceans tucked between folds of fluffy rice. Our hands quickly become streaked with red as we slurp from mussel shells and pull the skin off prawns, adding the detritus to the white plates scattered off the table which quickly become piled high. We wonder aloud whether these heads and tails will become the base for the next batch of seafood stock.
My suspicions are confirmed when, upon asking if we could take home the bowlful that we couldn’t quite manage, I’m told they don’t have takeaway boxes. Back into the pan, we concur, smiling gleefully as if we’ve just uncovered a great culinary secret.
Perhaps it is from that idea that the “Uma” comes. Perhaps since Uma served its ever first seafood rice, the staff have taken the remains and dropped them into a simmering saucepan of stock, ready to infuse the next, whose remains will then infuse the next, in a perennial cycle of fishy flavour. Or perhaps I am romanticising.
Since barely any of these sentimental ramblings have any basis in fact, better to return to the one singular truth regarding a meal at Uma: you will never have a seafood rice experience quite like it.