What great news it is that the Michelin inspectors have showered Portugal with new stars. But what a shame it is that the Michelin guide to Portugal, and especially the Algarve, is still such a poor guide to eating out in this country. But, first of all, let’s look at this year’s star awards and especially the media hype that has surrounded it.
As I reported in the November 24 edition of this newspaper, a spokesman for the guide based in Madrid had previously confirmed to a member of the Portuguese press that they would be doubling the number of stars held by Portuguese restaurants. This would have taken this year’s 17 stars to a total of 34.
These expectations resulted in a sizeable entourage of Portuguese journalists jetting off to Barcelona last week for the awards ceremony in Girona, only to discover that the number of new stars would, in fact, be just nine. As it turned out, two restaurants that previously had one star were elevated to two, six restaurants were newly anointed with one star and another regained the star it had lost last year. This is, of course, fabulous news for Portugal and will help to further elevate the country’s up-and-coming reputation as a foodie destination. But what about the rest of the guide book, Michelin stars aside?
An interesting aspect of Michelin stardom is that not that many people actually buy the guide. It is easy to consult the restaurants and hotels that they recommend either online via their website or using the app. But the vast majority of restaurant-goers who follow the stars do so from reading other guidebooks or reviews in newspapers and magazines. And so, when it comes to the Portuguese section of the "Spain & Portugal" guide, most food lovers never get to know how useless it actually is as a restaurant guide.
Without wanting to detract from the importance of the stars awarded to and held by Portuguese restaurants, and whilst offering my sincere congratulations to the restaurants that gained new stars, it saddens me to see the Michelin men still paying so little attention to the food scene here. Nothing has changed in the Algarve that I can see since the last rant I published in this newspaper back in 2015, apart from the well-deserved Michelin star awarded to Carvoeiro’s Bon Bon last year.
As I said in that last rant, "The Michelin Guide is not just about fine dining; it is supposed to be a guide for motorists showing where they can get a good meal, including the best restaurants for traditional local cuisine alongside the best of the more swanky establishments. In Spain, they do a fine job and I take the guide with me whenever I drive across the border - it has done me proud. But I pity the tourist visiting Portugal who attempts to use the guide, as especially in the Algarve he may well go hungry”.
I went on to say how towns such as Sagres and Olhão, both with excellent fish restaurants, and Silves, home to the best seafood restaurant in the Algarve (Marisqueira Riu), do not have a single restaurant worthy of their attention.
Still missing are the likes of Rei das Praias on Caneiros beach near Ferragudo, worthy of inclusion on the Condé Naste Gold List this year and the restaurant of choice of the Algarve's leading Michelin-starred chefs when they want to eat good fresh fish. And many of the non-starred restaurants that do feature in the guide would certainly not be on the list of favourites of anyone who actually knows the Algarve food scene.
I ended that last article as follows: "This year’s guide is once again nothing short of an insult to the gastronomy of this region” and all I can say this year is "ditto".
Portuguese Michelin stars in the 2017 guide:
Elevated from 1 to 2 stars:
Il Gallo D’Oro, Madeira
The Yeatman, Vila Nova de Gaia
Retaining 2 stars
The Ocean, Vila Vita Parc, Porches
Vila Joya, Albufeira
Newly awarded 1-star
Casa de Chá da Boa Nova, Leça da Palmeira
L’And Vineyard, Montemor o Novo (regained star lost last year)
Lab, Penha Longa (Sintra)
William, Reid’s Palace Hotel, Madeira
Bon Bon, Carvoeiro
Casa da Calçada, Amarante
Fortaleza do Guincho, Cascais
Henrique Leis, Almancil
Pedro Lemos, Porto
São Gabriel, Almancil
By PATRICK STUART firstname.lastname@example.org