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Posted by portugalpress on October 20, 2017
Chef João Oliveira / Photo by: Paulo Barata
Photo by: Vasco Célio
Photo by: Vasco Célio
Photo by: Vasco Célio
Photo by: Vasco Célio
Photo by: Vasco Célio
Photo by: Carlos Filipe de Sousa
Photo by: Carlos Filipe de Sousa

Patrick Stuart returns to Vista restaurant, where all seems to be in place for the long awaited Michelin star

When talented young chef João Oliveira moved down to the Algarve in 2015 to head up the kitchen at the Bela Vista Hotel in Praia da Rocha, both he and the management had their eyes firmly set on a Michelin star for Vista restaurant.

I first visited the restaurant shortly after his arrival and was impressed. And after subsequent visits, I was surprised when the star was not awarded last year. When this years’ new Michelin stars are announced in late November, I fully expect to see João Oliveira and Vista restaurant finally taking their place amongst Portugal’s growing list of Michelin stars. The standards here are very high, the setting truly spectacular and every detail seems to be in place.

I visited in early September and it was a warm late summer evening, all service was outside on the terrace, which has to be one of the most stunning locations for dinner in the Algarve. The ugly tower blocks and tacky tourism of Praia da Rocha seem a million miles away, with the ocean and the beach below framed by palm trees. By the time this magazine comes out, service will have moved inside to the well-appointed dining room, designed along with the rest of the hotel by leading Portuguese interior designer Gracinha Viterbo.

There are two menus at Vista. The main Vanguard menu offers the option of three, five or seven courses whilst a new concept added to the offerings this year is the “Sea and Sustainability” menu. On previous visits I had sampled dishes from the Vanguard menu such as the langoustine with samphire, caviar and Champagne sauce, and the memorable veal fillet served with black truffle and the most delicious raviolis made with celery and bone marrow.

João’s cooking is light of touch, precise and driven by a passion for local ingredients. Whilst the Vanguard menu makes concessions to the likes of the truffles and caviar mentioned above, the Sea and Sustainability menu is all about local produce and truly showcases the skill of the chef.

So on this visit, my guest and I decided to sample this lighter menu option made up of twelve “moments” (many of the morsels served are too small to be called courses). Bread is not served with this menu, something I did miss, because the bread service here is superb, with a choice of different olive oils and butters. This menu is also very low on carbs, making it an unusually healthy take on a gourmet tasting menu.

Likewise there is no wine flight for this menu, rather, the Maître D and sommelier Tiago Pereira recommends that guests choose a wine or maybe a Champagne to accompany the whole menu, perhaps with something sweet to pair with dessert.

Our first “moment” was a single large clam, served in the shell with a dressing of lychee juice, celery and ginger, followed by a delicate bonbon made of mackerel with stewed garlic and spring onion. These were both tiny amuse-bouche servings, literally finger food, as were the next few servings, amongst them the very clever creation of razor clam with crab and pear, presented on an edible mock razor clam shell.

Next came the starter dishes, the most delicious of which for us was an oyster, of notable origin from Moinho dos Ilhéus near Olhão, lightly grilled and presented with broccoli and a tartar of kiwi adding citric acidity.

Moving on to the main courses, we started with one of the star dishes of the menu for us, a dish displaying real skill both in terms of presentation and cooking: almost raw tender strips of Azores squid were interlaced to form a parcel, resembling a latticed ravioli, the parcel filled with squid tartar, spinach and cockles and presented in an authentically Thai flavoured soup, fragrant with aromas of galangal and lemon grass and gently spiced with a touch of chilli.

Whilst most of the flavours of the menu were true to the essence of the Algarve and Portuguese cuisine, the chef’s love of Asian cuisine makes a regular appearance, as it did once again with another of our favourite dishes, sand eel with what the chef told me was toasted soy sauce. Upon further investigation, this involved toasting soybean sprouts and the bones of the eel to make a sauce along with soy sauce and a little fish stock. The eel flesh itself was cooked at low temperature and quickly grilled. Topped with fried cabbage, this dish, clearly of Japanese influence, had a wonderfully deep and comforting flavour.

For pre-dessert, every menu served at Vista features what has become a signature dish of the house. João’s very own Algarve Orange appears at the table as a miniature orange tree, but the tiny oranges are in fact balls of orange mousse coated with gelatine and orange chocolate. I hope to see this still on the menu many years from now. As for our actual dessert, it was a light and fresh combination of peach with balsamic and crunchy almond biscuit with basil ice cream – an exquisite dessert to finish off an outstanding meal.

The menu changes daily, depending on what ingredients are best at the market and here I have mentioned but a few of the delicacies served to us. But what we ate, and the overall experience including the excellent yet unobtrusive service, was on a par with any 1-star restaurant I know, and better than many.

Open daily for dinner only, reservations advised Tel. 282 460 280

By Patrick Stuart