Portugal has twelve restaurants distinguished with Michelin stars – PDV had a look at them and tells you what you can count on when visiting them.
One star, two stars, three stars. Counting stars is easy when you are talking about restaurants: the Michelin guide, published by the leading French tyre manufacturers, leaves all fine dining restaurants scrambling to be included, even if their critics’ criteria are strict and demanding. Portugal has twelve restaurants which have been distinguished with Michelin stars after passing the tests conducted by the publication’s critics, who visit the restaurants anonymously and who are instructed to value food above all else. According to the publishers’ guidelines, this means that what counts is «what’s on the plate and only what’s on the plate».
The criteria are clear: in order to achieve a star, a restaurant must excel in “the quality of the ingredients“, the “flair and skill in preparing them and combining flavours“, the “chef’s personality as revealed through the cuisine, value for money and the consistency of culinary standards“. Some restaurants in Portugal have managed to achieve the much sought-after distinction awarded by the Michelin guide. The tourist destination of the Algarve is the region which concentrates the greatest number of stars, while other restaurants in Lisbon, Porto and Funchal have also been distinguished for their quality in food making.
Duarte Calvão, a Portuguese food critic for several newspapers and the Mesa Marcada blog, thinks that what is decisive for a restaurant to achieve the distinction is not only a matter of following a creative, innovative cuisine, but also having a sharp cooking technique from the chefs, a correct balance of quantity, harmony of the ingredients and, of course, the quality of the same ingredients, all of which are essential. However, the main factor seems to be the consistency of the service – that is, the quality of the both the chef and his staff is important to maintain the “regularity” of a good service.
About the Michelin criteria, Calvão says that “of course” cooking is the most important factor, yet the Michelin critics also consider other factors as well apart from the main guideline of ”only what’s on the plate…”. “Of course that the restaurant with great food and yet with loud background music will be affected”, says Calvão. Factors such as the waiting staff behaving unprofessionally, the room temperature not being the best, or a lack of the adequate cutlery, can all compromise the assessment.
Fernando Melo, another food critic for several Portuguese publications, agrees: ”the Michelin inspectors aren’t food inspectors, they are hotel and restaurant critics“. That is why they value and place a lot of emphasis on hygiene, the quality of the ingredients and other aspects of the preparation and production of the meals, as well as the overall service – to protect fine dining and the quality of the food served to the clients.
So how much importance is still given to these awards today? Fernando Melo says the importance of a star is still very significant, and that a downgrade or the loss of a star will most probably mean the decline or closure of the restaurant. Duarte Calvão, however, says that it has only been recently that the Portuguese have started paying attention to the Michelin critics. Overall, it seems that a mention in their guidebook alone is enough to guarantee an experience of excellence in the world of fine dining and haute cuisine.
The 12 Michelin star restaurants in Portugal:
Vila Vita Parc Hotel’s Ocean, in the Algarve, has a name which reflects the main element surrounding the restaurant. The establishment, however, does not live on the view over the Atlantic alone: the quality of the food from the kitchen of Austrian chef Hans Neuner is decisive. Fernando Melo describes the experience of dining at the Ocean as “exuberant” and “stratospheric”. “You end up dining with the feeling you have arrived from a long-distance journey”, he says, thanks to the sequence of flavours that compose the meals.
Vila Joya is naturally proud of being the only restaurant in Portugal which has been awarded two Michelin stars. Led by Dieter Koschina, the French haute cuisine/slow food menu combines fresh local products chosen for the restaurant and seafood from the Atlantic. Calvão highlights the “professionalism” of the team and the “quality” of the products as having been decisive for the distinction.
Facing the Tagus river, the restaurant of the Hotel Altis Belém, located in the historic neighbourhood where the Lisbon icons of the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém are also to be found, Feitoria is a one-Michelin star restaurant devoted with sophisticated simplicity to Portuguese traditional flavours, led by the renowned Portuguese chef Cordeiro.
Willie’s, near the Pinhal Golf Course in Vilamoura, in the Algarve, is led by German chef Wilhelm Wurger, who is responsible for an eclectically international cuisine in a discreet but sophisticated restaurant.
The restaurant’s manager had to think for a while about the year São Gabriel was distinguished with its first star. After fifteen years of being a Michelin star restaurant, the matrix of Mediterranean, international – and also Swiss – cuisine has been kept in a kitchen now led by Chef Michael Grünbacher. São Gabriel is located in the exclusive Quinta do Lago resort in the Algarve.
The wooden-covered Henrique Leis restaurant offers a cosy ambience and French-influenced cuisine blended with local ingredients from the Algarve. Led by the Brazilian chef with the same name, the restaurant has winter and summer rooms with different philosophies and the inevitable view over the Atlantic.
Chef Ricardo Costa was distinguished for the second time with a Michelin star in the 2012 guide for The Yeatman, the recent restaurant project of the wine-hotel group of the same name, which he has led since opening in 2010. The star was well-received, even if the perspective of being awarded the distinction was taken in a “relaxed” way, maintaining the normal “discipline” and “consistency” of the project. The restaurant’s cooking philosophy is a continuation of what he started in Casa da Calçada: mainly influenced by the roots of Portuguese cuisine, based on a blend between simplicity and sophistication with an emphasis on wines.
Il Gallo d’Oro
With one Michelin star awarded in 2009, the restaurant led by chef Benoît Sinthon, of Mediterranean influence – some say it is mainly influenced by Italian cuisine – located in Funchal, Madeira, has been able to sustain its Michelin distinction without interruptions since then. The view of the Atlantic in itself is worth a visit.
Arcadas da Capela
The one-Michelin star restaurant of the Quinta das Lágrimas Hotel in the city of Coimbra provides a “market cuisine” from the hands of chef Albano Lourenço and consultant chef Joachim Koerper, who is also the chef at Lisbon’s Eleven.
The restaurant, founded in 1784, became a natural part of Lisbon’s cultural and political life over the years, and resembles a ballroom of sophisticated ambience with its Venetian mirrors and omnipresent baroque carvings. Tavares‘ Chef Aimé Barroyer is intransigent in his fight for Portugal and its culture and products. Following a worldwide trend of “returning to the roots”, he says, but still open to the world, he respects the “historic weight” of the luxurious restaurant located in Lisbon’s Rua da Misericórdia – and privileges an intrinsic Portuguese gastronomic line, preferring national ingredients from national producers over an impersonal international cuisine.
Casa da Calçada
The 16th century palace in Amarante is now a boutique hotel, and includes the restaurant Largo do Paço. With a team led by chef Vítor Matos, its secret lies in following a blend of sophisticated and simple dishes based on Portuguese cuisine. The restaurant was formerly led by chef Cordeiro, presently at Feitoria, and chef Ricardo Costa, now at The Yeatman in Porto.
Fortaleza do Guincho
Suspended over the Atlantic and taking up the space of a former fort, this restaurant with a view of the imposing Cabo da Roca – the westernmost point in continental Europe – has, since 1998, been serving one of the best French-inspired cuisines available in Portugal, created by French chef Antoine Westerman.
(Photography: Vila Joya/Altis Belém/The Yeatman/Tavares. All rights reserved.)