The bet is clear and chef Marlene Vieira is not afraid to take it on. She wants to place the new eponymous restaurant that she opened in early April, in Lisbon, in the prestigious gastronomic guide. “[Ganhar uma estrela Michelin] turns out to be also a goal of mine, to which I propose myself. Will I make it? I don’t know, but it’s a path we want to take”, he explained in an interview with NiT.
The new Marlene is located in the same building where the Zunzum Gastrobar opened in 2020, at the Jardim do Tabaco Dock, next to the Lisbon cruise terminal. It had been in mind since then, but the pandemic led to successive delays in the opening.
“We had a condition here with the experience at the counter in which the proximity is great between the customer and us, chefs.” With the end of limitations, it was possible to finally bring this concept to the city.
It is a project focused on Portuguese roots, on national gastronomy, but with a modern vision. All in line, of course, with the vision of the chef, who mixes personal experiences and work in the restaurant sector over more than 20 years.
It is always best to make a reservation. Through the website you can immediately choose which menu you want. There are two proposals: one with 12 moments (130€) and another with seven courses (95€). “We will have four menus throughout the four seasons. There are four seasons, so there will be four menus that we will present”, he continues.
Where does Marlene restaurant come from?
It comes from the north of the country. Marlene is my culinary journey. It comes from my professional experiences, over more than 20 years in restoration. And it also comes from my childhood. There is a mix between who I am, Marlene, and my life stories — personal and professional. Here the two are combined.
There is already a restaurant in this same building, Zunzum Gastrobar. How does this new concept differ??
Zunzum is a very democratic space. We have a high quality kitchen, but at a more affordable price. Marlene is a gastronomic experience very focused on my personal experiences. It turns out to be a closed menu. At Zunzum you can choose à la carte and have a tasting menu. At Marlene there is a closed menu that is guided by the experience of my gastronomic life and also the seasonality of the products. It’s a menu that people don’t know from the start, and they come to discover it when they sit down in the chairs.
I had thought about opening Marlene for some time. Why did you only do it now?
The space was ready in mid-2020. The pandemic was the main reason for not having opened it. The successive measures relating to closings and openings, to time and space limitations. We had a condition — the experience at the counter, in which the client and us chefs are very close. The pandemic didn’t allow anything to happen naturally. We opened when we had the ideal conditions to do so.
This menu, despite having elements of surprise, is it more focused on the sea, or on meats? What can we expect?
Our common thread is national cuisine. What do we find on a 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 at a cruise ship terminal, we’re wearing the Portuguese flag and we’ve decided that we should show what a Portuguese table looks like during a festive season, or when a group of friends gets together.
Seafood, fish, meats, roasts, baked goods, all this will be represented on the menu. And vegetables too. We have plenty of animal protein, seafood and fish, but we also have two or three vegetable-only dishes.
Will the suggestions for this tasting menu change throughout the year? Is it a project that will live off seasonality?
We’re going to have four different menus, one for each of the four seasons. Then we have the micro seasons, like the fava and pea season. We are talking about fresh products. Frozen we can have all year round, but that’s not what we propose here. As well as wild mushrooms and spring vegetables, which can be on the menu and out a month, or a month and a half later.
Do you want to place Marlene among the best restaurants in the country and achieve a Michelin star?
Of course yes. I already have a relatively long professional path — more than 20 years of work. This ends up being also my goal, which I propose myself. It’s mine and my team’s, alone we can’t do anything. We have goals to meet in any space we open. This restaurant has one goal — to be awarded that reward. I propose, with this space, to obtain a Michelin star. Will I make it? I don’t know, but it’s a path we want to take.
Would it have a special meaning to be the first woman to win a Michelin star in Portugal?
That’s not the focus. I think it was important, because there is no representation, there are no Portuguese women in the lists of the 100 best chefs in the world. They are already found in several countries, such as Spain, Mexico, Brazil, France, but there is no Portuguese. Of course, it would be a pride—me or another woman—to be on this list. Unfortunately, this can only be achieved by having Michelin stars from the start. What matters is that the name of a Portuguese woman enters this list — that would be fundamental to open a door. If it’s me, great. If not, I’ll be happy too.
We are recovering from the pandemic crisis, but we could be on the verge of another crisis, due to the war in Ukraine. How will it affect the catering sector?
It will affect because there was a giant increase in the prices of products, of fuels. We’re in an urban area, we don’t have any products planted right next door, I can’t go there and cast a fishing rod and catch the fish. There is a cost with transport and, consequently, 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 it a restaurant designed for tourists?
The influx of customers, including Portuguese, is exceeding our expectations. Tourists go to the city center a lot, this space turns out to be more for the Portuguese. The proposals I have here are not so attractive for tourists looking for the traditional: the full platter, the cod, the olive oil. We serve modern Portuguese cuisine. Tourists who come here get to know the evolution of our cuisine.
What do you recommend to anyone who wants to try Marlene?
May they come without prejudice. Nothing like: “ah, I don’t like fava beans”. And, instead, say: “maybe I even like fava beans”. People have to come with an open mind and without any expectations. I can guarantee you will find good food. Come with no barriers raised — this is very important to be able to enjoy a product that you already know, but presented and prepared in a new way.
Click on the gallery to get to know the new Marlene better.