Portuguese cuisine is one of the most underrated and overlooked cuisines in Europe. Yet the flavours are incredibly accessible and the Portuguese have such a way with food flavours that you may find yourself wondering where it has been all your life. In the Algarve region there's a wide selection of seafood along the coast as well as black pig or pork in the mountains of Algarve. And today we try one of Algarve's Michelin starred restaurants for lunch.
The next morning after a wonderful night’s sleep I awake in the adorable little town of Monchique at 8am. The only sound I can hear is the occasional very faint barking of a dog far away and the occasional person’s footsteps walking past our little traditional Algarvian house.
Our destination for today's adventure is Algarve's south west coast, a completely different terrain from the inland of Monchique. The Algarve region is large and encompasses mountainous terrain and flat coast giving rise to a richness of the cuisine. In the more inland village of Monchique it was all about pork with some seafood but on the Algarvian coast seafood reigns supreme as restaurants serve up a catch that was caught earlier that morning.
Lunch today is about an hour’s drive away from Monchique at Bon Bon Restaurante at Carvoeiro Beach. We pass stork nests on top of power poles and I do a double take. There is a white stork mother feeding her baby. The storks are a protected species in Portugal and they are often seen during Springtime after wintering in Central Africa.
We pull up to Bon Bon Restaurante. Lunch here is a slightly different affair from dinner time but lunch is a great way to try their food. Chef Louis Anjos hails from the centre of Portugal but has made Algarve his home for the last few years. He cooks modern Portuguese food fine dining style and the restaurant holds one Michelin star.
For lunch there is a three course menu for €38 or a four course menu for €50. There are two choices of starter, main and dessert so we decide to go for the three courses sharing each course.
The amuse bouche is a little mouthful of deep-fried goodness. These are cockles from the coast with coriander and are said to signify our journey into Algarvian seafood. They are wonderful, the briney cockles bursting in the mouth when you bite into them.
There are two types of bread given and they are baked daily in house. There is a spelt and white bread and these are served with three cubes of spread. The first is an Algarvian carrot butter with olive powder, the second is a goats cheese butter and the third is a smoky chorizo butter. They also pour some of their own olive oil grown in Silvish made using the Galega olive variety. All of them are wonderful but I particularly like the goats cheese butter which is so soft and melt in the mouth and yet has the flavour of goats cheese with a silky texture.
The tuna tartar is one of the starters and it is served with Granny Smith apples, celeriac and the tiniest radishes. The tuna is creamy and the accompaniments give it a delightful tartness.
The partridge ravioli is three fat ravioli parcels filled with soft partridge meat and it is served with chanterelle mushrooms and textures of pumpkin from roast pumpkin sauce and pumpkin seeds. It is rich and delicious.
The service it must be noted is excellent here and perfectly straddles differential but approachable. For example within 10 seconds of accidentally making crumbs from breaking my bread, a young waiter discreetly removes these. I have to even ask him “Did you just see that because I only just did that a few seconds ago?”. I shall call it from now “Express crumb removal”. While another waiter sees us enjoying our food and leans in whispers to me “No'one’s watching so you can lick the plate”.
The next course is my favourite of the whole lunch which is saying a lot because I actually loved every single mouthful that we ate. It is the dish that they cannot remove from the menu lest customers complain. It is the Carolino fish rice made with Portuguese Carolino rice, a slightly smaller rice similar in quality to Arborio and it is cooked with onions and stock and yet does not need any cream or butter to have an exquisitely creamy texture. It is paired with sea bass, red mullet, courvina or croaker fish with seaweed, sea lettuce and sea fingers.
The other main is the piglet belly or Leitang with finely diced chorizo from Monchique and broad beans. It’s sweet, flavoursome and rich but I don't think any of us wanted to give up the fish rice.
The next item is a pre-dessert with lovely fresh flavours. As they set it down I think of my home Australia so many, many miles away. It is a eucalyptus ice cream paired with tangerine mousse and gel with Pão de Ló a Portuguese sweet egg cake.
Our desserts come out next and the first one is my favourite. It is all about olive oil and involves olive oil sorbet, olive oil cubes, olive oil jelly and olive oil panna cotta and olive oil powder with lemon gel. There is also an aromatic olive oil, cinnamon and honey cake with a cinnamon crisp.
Mr NQN loves the other desert which is all about carrots. There is a carrot ganache, ginger sorbet, bittersweet chocolate ball and a carob bean cake cream gel crisp with parsnip root. This is also delicious and it’s hard to choose a favourite.
Its now time for petit fours and tea or coffee and I finish with a fresh mint tea from the garden. This is paired with chocolate truffles filled with a Ginja cherry liqueur cream filling.
Then there's another surprise. Chef Louis Anjos comes out to chat with us. He is easy to talk to and when I ask him about the rice dish he asks me to wait for a second. He returns a couple of minutes later with a bag of Carolino rice for me!
The rest of the afternoon is spent at the beach checking out Benagil beach. There is a popular sea cave that attracts many visitors and you can access this by boat, SUP, kayak or snorkel and the last three afford the best view and allow you to get that prized selfie.
We don't have time to do that so we go to Praia de Marinha for another popular picture of the heart shaped sea arch, seen at a certain angle. The best way to find the rock is go to the car park at the beach, follow the coast towards the right and follow the people! Finding the actual best angle to get the heart can be a touch tricky though. Mr NQN goes for a swim at the beach and before we know it, it's after 6.30pm and it's time to head home.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you prefer to eat seafood or meat? And do Michelin stars and similar accolades make for better restaurant experiences in your opinion?
Bon Bon Restaurante
Urbanização, R. do Cabeço de Pias, 8400-525 Carvoeiro, Portugal
Monday 12–2pm, 6:30–10pm
Tuesday & Wednesday closed
Thursday & Friday 6:30–10pm
Saturday & Sunday 12–2pm, 6:30–10pm
Phone: +351 282 341 496