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Portugal and Madeira


 

Madeira

Funchal: Quinta da Casa Branca, Rua da Casa Branca 5. Tel: +351 291 700 770
Arguably my best meal in Madeira was taken in this discreet and exclusive restaurant within the Quinta da Casa Branca, just a short walk up the hill from posh hotels like Reid's and the Cliff Bay. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels group, the restaurant is housed in an old house near the lodgings, where dinner commenced with an amuse guele of a confit tomato-based tapenade, stuffed inside a crisp filo shell. I started with a small taster dish - "a trilogy of Portuguese tapas" that included some wonderful chorizo on a bed of braised spinach, a Baccalau cake, and a tangy, ceviche-style octopus salad with plenty of lime and vinegar sharpness. Next was lightly floured fillets of Scabbard fish (espada), beautifully pan-fried and laid on a bed of creamy mashed sweet potato and ringed with succulent crayfish tails. Main course (struggling a bit as portions were generous) was slow braised fillet of beef, that was falling apart under the fork, served simply with a slab of potato dauphinoise. The mercifully light pudding was a dish of locally grown fruits including pineapple, mango, kiwi and melon, with a scoop of superbly creamy and dense passionfruit ice cream. Coffee was served with chocolate truffles to round off an exquisite meal. I was the guest of a winemaker on this meal, so did not see the wine list or prices, but I'm guessing the former would be good and the latter pretty expensive. A treat. (2008)

Funchal: Cliff Bay Hotel, Il Gallo d'Oro
This large hotel dining room is hardly a destination restaurant, but it is the fine dining option in a lovely hotel where I stayed and ate as the easy option on my first night of a short business trip to the island. In fact the food was very good, starting with a lobster salad with plenty of meat, and dressed with a piquant salad of mango, citrus, melon balls and smoky ham. I then really enjoyed a nicely charry steak in the form of a Tournedos, with a three-pepper sauce, wild mushrooms and potato fondant. To finish, I was persuaded (it wasn't hard) to go for the grand dessert: a selection of little chocolate ganache, cinnamon ice cream in brandy snap, etc that was fairly unadventurous perhaps, but good. Coffee was served with chocolates, and the wine list is good (I drank Luis Pato's red wine at 20 Euros a bottle). The food is moderately expensive at around 40 - 50 Euros for three courses. (2007) This restaurant became Madeira's first to be awarded a Michelin star for 2009.

Funchal: Quinta da Bella Vista, Caminho do Avista Navios. Tel: +351 291 706 400
Quinta da Bella Vista is an absolutely gorgeous small, luxury hotel on the hills above Funchal (you can walk back down to the town, but use a taxi to get up there!). This is an exclusive hotel, filled with the owner's antiques, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The Quinta Bella Vista restaurant is set in an 1844 Manor House within the grounds, where a roaring fire welcomes you on a chilly evening, and where I enjoyed some really lovely, fairly traditional food, but one that borrows influences from French and world cuisine. A starter of foie-gras in a crisp puff pastry came with a poached pear in a rich Malvasia reduction. The sauce rather overpowered the foie-gras, but it was an inventive dish with very good ingredients. My main course was two thick mignons of veal, barbecued beautifully and served with a mound of little gnocchi and a finely chopped ratatouille. The meat was succulent and perfectly cooked, and the gnocchis sat happily between melting, buttery softness and a bit of al dente bite. The pudding, a kind of crème brûlée within a brandy-snap shell, was very good in a slightly nursery style, and excellent coffee was served with little macaroons. Food here is fairly expensive, with main course at around 30 Euros, but the style and quality is first class. (2008)

Câmara de Lobos: Adega da Quinta, Rua José Joaquim da Costa. Tel: +351 291 910 530
High in the hills above Câmara de Lobos is this tranquil and beautiful small hotel and barbecue restaurant that offers spectacular views over the cliffs and ocean, and is centred around a huge open fire where delicious Madeirense cuisine is prepared by busy chefs. This is hearty food, is presented on a short multi-language menu, whilst you hold off your hunger with delicious garlic flatbreads, olives and an array of little appetisers. I chose the Espetada, chunks of beef barbecued on a laurel twig, and served with molasses-braised sweet potatoes, chunks of Melho Fritto - deep fried cornmeal cubes - and a tangy salad of local tomatoes. Prices are very reasonable at around 12 - 15 Euros for main courses, and the service is efficient and welcoming. (2008)

Funchal: Paradise, 179 Estrada Monumental. Tel: +351 291 76 25 59
Before we come to some posh dining options, one of my absolute favourites was this little restaurant right next door to the Crowne Plaza hotel. Homely, yet clean, bright and smart, this is an old-fashioned place with lots of flambéing at your table and a no-nonsense menu. One of those established family restaurants were everything works like clockwork, start with delicious garlicky flat bread, then Espetada, chunks of beautiful quality beef skewered on a laurel twig and cooked over a wood-fired grill. You will see the similarly-named Espada on every menu; this is actually a fish from native waters (the extremely ugly scabbard fish) which is as good as it gets in this restaurant, but is still a little spongy and tasteless for my palate. Moderate prices (2002).

Funchal: Golden Gate, 29 Avenida Arriaga. Tel: +351 291 23 43 83
Not a Chinese restaurant, but a bustling Portuguese café/restaurant on a busy corner just opposite Blandy's Madeira Lodge. Outside are pavement chairs where tourists collapse for a cold beer of coffee and pastry. Snakcs and sandwiches will keep you going on a day around the town, but are nothing to write home about. Inexpensive to Moderate (2002).

Funchal: Villa Cipriani, 139 Estrada Monumental. Tel: 351 291 71 71 71
This charming villa restaurant is part of Reid's Palace hotel. Within Reid's, the fine-dining Les Faunes has a great reputation, but the jacket and tie restriction put me off (though in the main Dining Room, most guests actually wear formal evening wear!). Villa Cipriani is an Italian restaurant which was really excellent. There are panoramic views looking back to Funchal port, and terrific food: my tagliatelle with lobster in a cream sauce was sensational. I broke from my rule of drinking Portuguese here, and chose a bottle of Feudi san Gregorio's gorgeous Fiano at a reasonable price in this very chic place. Expensive (2002).

Funchal: Quinta Palmeira, 17 Avenida do Infante. Tel: +351 291 22 18 14
This dining complex is based around a beautiful old house, just to the west of the city centre, and is one of the island's gourmet hot-spots. I ate their twice during my stay in the restored Quinta, which is very grand without being pompous and is overflowing with slightly kitsch objects d'art. There is a terrific wine list here, of both the best Portuguese and international wines, and some very good cooking. There are nods to nouvelle cuisine, but all from Portuguese roots, with lots of inventive combinations, like a fine avocado ice-cream dessert. Do ask the sommelier for advice too. Expensive (2008).

Funchal: Casa Madeirense, 153 Estrada Monumental. Tel: +351 291 76 67 00
Lovely restaurant, if a little tourist-trappy I felt: tell-tale signs like waiters in rather kitsch uniforms, who keep their eyes on the door and pay you no attention as they scribble down your order. The food was good and based around seafood, if a bit over-priced. Expensive (2008).

Oporto

Quarentae 4, Rua Roberto Ivens, 44, Matosinhos. Tel: +351 22 936 3706
A great restaurant choice in the seaside suburb of Matosinhos, a chic and modern restaurant with a mezzanine level and cool, sophisticated ambience. I had a starter of wild mushrooms and goats cheese marinated with a fresh green herb pesto. Main course was turbot served with a little pan of delicious prawn risotto in a rich fish stock. Bundles of carrot and green beans were al dente in a perfectly cooked lunch. (2011)

Guest restaurant reviewer Dirk Niepoort makes some of the world's most sought-after vintage Ports, as well as producing some of Portugal's most exciting table wines under the Redoma label. Dirk was kind enough to offer wine-pages' visitors his personal food and wine lovers guide to the city of Oporto and the Douro Valley. All reviews from 2003:

Bull & Bear, 3431 Avenida da Boavista. Tel: +351 22 610 7669
This is by far the best restaurant in Porto, and one off the best in all Portugal. Great, very refined Portuguese cuisine and a very good winelist. The cook and owner is Miguel Castro e Silva, known as "MIGUEL". The restauarant is also referred to locally as Miguel's restaurant.

Douro

O Torrão, Largo do Torrão, Valdigem
Simple big restaurant in Régua (across from Régua train station). Good food, particularly the grilled meats.

Visconde de Chanceleiros, Covas, Pinhão. Tel: +351 25 473 0190
The best place in the douro to stay. Belongs to a German family who turned a beautifull house into a hotel of nine rooms, with all the comfort you need and very high quality. The food for the residents is very good, sometimes fabulous. They have good wine glasses, but usually not so good wines unfortunately! Still, I highly recommend this place.

Cepa Torta, Rua Dr. José B.Cruz, Alijó. Tel: +351 25 995 0177
Alijó is a little town northeast of Pinhão. This is one off the best restaurants in the Douro. Simple but very good food, and quite a good wine list (in fact, one off the best in the Douro).

Lisbon

Varanda Restaurant, The Ritz, Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 8. Tel: +351 21 381 1400
Arriving late in the evening we took the easy option of dining in our hotel. The large dining room is old fashioned in style, with wall sconces and standard lamps, large dressers and lots of silverware, but it is comfortable and plush, with lovely views over a terrace to the hotel garden. The tasting menu at 50 euros was another easy option, kicking off with possibly my favourite dish, three large Mozambique prawns, char-grilled to a delicate caramel edge, but succulent and sweet inside, served in a little Oriental broth seasoned with lemongrass and ginger. Next, a piece of nicely pan-fried cod, golden topped, was served with a beef consommé. It was very nicely done, though the fish was typically salt cod - good flavour, but for me fresh fish always has a nicer texture. The main course was a fine piece of beef fillet, well cooked and carved into three thick slices, served with a little cake of celery and fennel. To finish, I choose a construction of pineapple and coconut: the foundation was lots of pineapple carpaccio, towered up with coconut macaroons piled on top of each other and with a scoop of excellent pineapple ice cream on top. With glasses of Roederer at 15.5 euro and glasses of the Douro house red at 11 euros, plus bottled water at 6.50 euro, the Ritz certainly employed 5-star pricing, but the food and service was excellent, even if the atmosphere was a trifle somber. (2012)

Ad Lib, Sofitel, Avenida da Liberdad 127. Tel: +351 21 322 8300
During Lisbon restaurant week this smart, casual and comfortable restaurant tempted us in from pounding the pavements of the Avenida da Liberdad and 30 degree heatwave with a special three-course lunch menu at just 20E per. Other than chairs that are slightly too low for the tables, the bamboo panelled walls and rich gold and red fabrics make for a quiet and yet buzzy, comfortable room. Warm bread and French butter arrived, and from a decent, reasonably priced wine list we settled on a couple of large glasses of the Vinho Verde from Quinta do Azevedo at 5 Euros each. My first course of a salad of smoked salmon, rolled in little flat breads and stuffed with some herby green leaves was good, though a little under-dressed. A main course of a grilled, piquantly-seasoned chicken breast was very good, served on a slice of grilled polenta cake with a rich tomato and olive tapenade and some grilled cherry tomatoes. From the choice of sweets, I went for a cone of very fine, thin and crisp dark chocolate, filled with a cinnamon ice cream (a posh Cornetto if you like) that was light and creamy, the crisp shell of chocolate adding nice texture and depth. With a large bottle of water this lunch came in at just 51 euros which was a fine bargain. (2012)

Bica do Sapato, Av. Infante D. Henrique. Tel: +351 21 881 0320
Formed from an old warehouse building right on the banks of the river Tagus, this is a super-fashionable restaurant complex including bars, Sushi bar and a fine dining restaurant extending over the ground floor. With a wall of glass looking over the river to the twinkling lights, it is magical contemporary space, with lofty ceilings and lots of shiny surfaces. My meal here was really very good, in a style that respects Portuguese ingredients and cuisine, but gives them a contemporary international twist. A simple starter of tempura vegetables came with a dipping sauce and was very fresh, the batter puffy and crisp. My main course of a duck and wild-mushroom pie was a substantial dish; no nouvelle cuisine here, but a big round pie with buttery, rich pastry encasing chunks of duck meat and thin-sliced mushrooms in a white sauce. This came simply adorned with a bitter leaf salad. My dessert - a chocolate tart - was served very dramatically in a tower of bits of tuille biscuit, but was dense, dark and bittersweet. Coffee was good of course, and the wine list almost all Portuguese, with a particularly good selection from the Alentejo. At around 30E per person for three courses, plus wine, it is a bargain. (2004)

Pestana Palace Hotel, 54 Rua Jau. Tel: +351 21 361 5600
I ate only a business dinner in this magnificent hotel and national monument. Recently opened following a refurbishment of an old palace, that is one of the most breathtaking hotels I have seen. No comments on the food other than it was very good, but a Lisbon-based friend and wine-pages regular, Luis Antunes, says the restaurant is one of the best in the city. Expensive. (2004)

A Comenda, Centro Cultural de Belém. Tel: +351 21 364 8561
This restaurant forms part of the cultural centre in Belém, the must-visit suburb of Lisbon famed for its museums and the iconic tower of Belém. A bright, contemporary space with plenty of cream-coloured marble and large picture windows affording views over the Tagus, it is a contemporary fine dining option to the centre's numerous café's, and I enjoyed a very good lunch in almost splendid isolation one off-season lunch-time. A salad caprese wasn't very Portuguese I admit, but the quality of Mozzarella and ripe, tasty tomatoes was very good. My main course was the day's special: two good-sized tranches of swordfish beautifully cooked and served with a garlic and olive-oil infused, silky mashed potato. For dessert I had a hot dark chocolate soup served with a hazelnut ice cream that melted into the gloopy, dark, shiny substance of the soup as you ate it. Rather good. We drank a half bottle of a good house white wine from the Alentejo and with espressos (bicas) and water, the bill came to around 65 Euros. (2004)

Primavera, 34 Travessa da Espera. Tel: +351 21 342 0477
Though firmly on the tourist trail, this restaurant had come highly recommended. In a quite square just yards from the hustle and bustle of the main shopping streets of the upmarket Chiodo district, it is a real step back in time with its wood paneled room, etched glass fittings and leather banquet seating. The waiting staff look as if they have been here as long as the furnishings, and were sitting around the deserted tables listening to football on the radio on my Monday night visit. The food was a bit disappointing it must be said, even though I'd come prepared for simple, old fashioned cooking. A ham and cheese omelet was nicely cooked, but far too big, and would have counted as a main course portion. My steak Rossini was a decent piece of meat, but was swimming in a rather grey, underseasoned and wan sauce, served with a pile of rather tasteless spinach. A "fine apple tart" for pudding was just that: a slightly dried-up slice of tart with not a milliliter of sauce, cream or ice-cream to soften the texture. A bottle of Duas Quintas washed this lot down quite happily from their hand-written and well-priced wine list, and other touches like warm rolls and good coffee helped. But at 100 Euros for two in one of Europe's least expensive cities, it is either trading on a past reputation or was caught on an off night. (2004)