Happy New Year, dear blog readers!
2015 ended with a familiar picture – a week in the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal. I unreservedly LOVE this city. Not only because I was born here and lived here for over 25 years, but because it is genuinely one of the top cities in Europe to visit. It has everything: tradition and culture, sea and sand, river, architecture, rich history, lots of sunshine and, of course, beautiful food. I won’t dwell too much on all the positive aspects of this city or go into too much detail about food in Porto – that would need a whole series of blog posts. What I want to do is give you a little glimpse of this last food week, using photos I took (when I remembered!).
The atmosphere in Reid’s balcony is colonial England throughout, even though we were in the Portuguese island of Madeira, thousands of miles from England and hundreds of years from colonialism. Reid’s is a 5 star hotel in Funchal, the main city of Madeira. Probably one of the poshest in the island and I was expecting to be properly transported to some upper echelon during their (fairly pricey, but definitely worth it) afternoon tea experience by the sea.
Michelin-starred restaurants are always a treat. You sort of know what to expect but then you don’t because you get surprised and delighted every time. They are all unique experiences with individual highlights and their own twists and turns. This was no exception.
Il Gallo D’Oro is a 1-starred restaurant inside the Cliff Bay hotel in Funchal on the island of Madeira, and is led by chef Benoît Sinthon. His whole philosophy rests on local produce and the discovery of the Island of Madeira, adding ingredients from the Iberian peninsula, and coupling the food with top Portuguese wines.
As expected of restaurants at this level, especially ones that are hosted in hotels, the atmosphere was formal, restrained. People spoke softly and sat up straight. The décor was plain and unassuming. You come here to eat nice food, let’s make that clear from the outset.
An exuberant and slightly surreal exterior, a peculiar but cozy interior and an eccentric chef all contribute to making this a unique experience. Tokos is a delightful small restaurant on the island of Madeira that simply should not be missed.
Tokos’s exuberant outside
Outside there is an impressive display of exotic flowers and plants, which sets the scene for a truly distinctive journey. Somehow, the exterior doesn’t quite add up and you are left with a feeling of anticipation. Inside is a small room flanked by a tiny kitchen, the décor strange and eclectic, lots of plants, clarinets and plates hanging on the wall together with naïf paintings depicting the chef (and owner), lacy curtains and a tapestry that seems out of place.
If you were looking for skilled service, beautifully crafted menus and intricate dishes look elsewhere. This place is all about no-frills authenticity. And it’s all about the food, or at least, it’s all about the octopus. You may be thinking why would anyone get excited about eating octopus?
This is still one of my top 10 restaurants and my current favourite in Porto. It specialises in traditional Portuguese food that has been elevated to a fine foods standard. But don’t be fooled by the hauteur of the food. This place has got lots of soul. The atmosphere is intimate, subdued and rustic. Think exposed stone walls, cast iron props and traditional pottery.
The service is impeccable, with a good balance between attentive and friendly. It’s the kind of service that is always there but you don’t see it. Your needs are looked after permanently – as you remove your coat, it gently and swiftly gets taken away, your glass is always full, the table always clean, and you barely notice it all happening around you.