Portugal earns a place in the culinary firmament
fter Ricardo Costa, head chef at the Yeatman received his second Michelin star he said: ‘It endorses Portuguese gastronomy at the highest level. The guide is highly influential worldwide and the new stars will increase the interest of visitors from all over the world’. The latest edition of the legendary guide places Portuguese cuisine in a position of excellence. There are now 21 restaurants with one or two stars, seven more than in the previous edition.
Doubling the bet
The Yeatman (Vila Nova de Gaia) and Il Gallo d’Oro (Funchal, Madeira) join the two-star club, of which Ocean, Vila Joya (both in the Algarve) and Belcanto (Lisbon) already formed part. While in the Yeatman the aim is to showcase the best of the country’s northern region, focusing on fresh produce such as seafood and applying sophisticated techniques to transform it above and beyond traditional dishes, at Il Gallo d’Oro they base their dishes on French cuisine, using both regional and Iberian produce. ‘Il Gallo d’Oro is a restaurant that is worth a detour’, assures its chef, Benoît Sinthon. And he’s quite right, as the establishment is in Madeira, an island about 800 km from the Iberian peninsula. We ask Sinthon to briefly define Portuguese gastronomy and he sums it up in one word: flavours.
The flavour of the south
The south of Portugal, specifically the Algarve, is well worth a culinary visit. Besides the two stars of Ocean and Vila Joya, another four restaurants have one: Bon Bon-Carvoeiro (Rui Silvestre), Henrique Leis-Almancil (Henrique Leis), Sao Gabriel-Almancil (Leonel Pereira) and Willie’s-Vilamoura (Willie Wurger).
Flavours like fish from the Atlantic, stews eaten with a spoon or desserts made with eggs and sugar are included among the country’s most characteristic recipes. However, innovation is also finding its way into Portuguese kitchens, and a significant part of the sweet moment the country is experiencing is due to this progress. ‘Cooking is in constant evolution and it is important for us to be aware of new trends’, assures Costa, who cooks with the River Duero in the background.
Porto is one of the most important references on the map of Portuguese cuisine. Apart from Costa’s two stars, another four restaurants in the region are included in the guide (each with one star to their name): Pedro Lemos, Largo do Paço, Antiqvvm and Casa de Chá da Boa Nova. The last two are among the newest arrivals at this top table of fine dining. Antiqvvm, located in Quinta da Macieirinha, offers intricate Mediterranean dishes, while the star dish in Casa de Chá da Boa Nova is seafood cataplana. This is one of Portugal’s most representative recipes and it owes its name to the pan in which it is cooked.
An outstanding neighbour
The Spanish and Portuguese versions of the Michelin Guide are published together in the same edition. Despite the fact Portugal has made great progress, its neighbours are still in the lead in this culinary competition. Nine Spanish restaurants have three stars, 23 establishments have two, and 150 places have one.
In Lisbon, chef Alexandre Silva has earned a first star for Loco, the establishment where he applies experimental and innovative techniques to traditional Portuguese recipes. Silva, who won Top Chef in 2012, favours organic and seasonal produce. Another establishment in Lisbon to receive the same recognition this year is the Alma restaurant. Henrique Sá Pessoa is at the helm of the kitchen, where the dishes are based on the combination of Portuguese and Asian flavours. The list of new award-winners also features LAB, which is owned by Sergi Arola from Catalonia (Sintra) and William in Belmond Reid’s Palace (Funchal). Alongside these, another restaurant has won its star back: L’And in Alentejo.
The basis for this revolution in Portuguese gastronomy is formed by a winning combination of local produce and new techniques, as well as the occasional foreign influence. A third star for some of the establishments would take the cuisine to the heights it deserves and the best positioned restaurant to do this is Belcanto, in Lisbon, where a meal costs around €145. José Avillez, considered the best chef in Portugal, is in charge of the kitchen. If he wants to be the first person to earn those three stars, he will have to work hard as competition is getting tougher all the time.