When we were last in the Algarve two years ago, we often walked past a construction site which surrounded a beautiful Moroccan-inspired building. I often like to daydream about living somewhere special and this building immediately caught my imagination. This year, we found out that the building had become the absolutely stunning Hotel Bela Vista, a boutique 5 star location. I was so entranced with lovely photos and interior design that I came within a hair's breadth of booking our accommodation there, but financial prudence prevailed.
However, I was still determined to take a look inside so I booked dinner at the Bela Vista restaurant. When we arrived, we were buzzed into peaceful haven, complete with heavenly blue swimming pool, white-curtained lounges and sleek decking. Inside, the greeting rooms of the Bela Vista aren't very large, but they are vibrantly decorated with traditional tiled motifs, mosaics and patterned fabrics. The bright white and blue dining room opens onto the terrace, overlooking the sea below. I find it all rather magnificent.
|The view from our table|
We opted for the chef's tasting menu, costing €75 per head. I ordered my first ever French 75, a punchy cocktail of champagne and gin, while he chose a sidecar (€9.50 each). An amuse bouche of broad bean veloutee was simple and excellent. It was followed by a seafood tasting plate presented on the now ubiquitous slate plate. It was a kind of a cross-cultural seafood interpretation with a mix of drab tempura soft-shell crab, steamed dumpling and an excellent seared scallop.
|Broad bean veloute|
|Seared scallop - part of our starter tasting plate|
Our next course was simply described as egg, peas and ham, but of course it was more than that. Slow-cooked egg burst open, letting out liquid gold to coat salty cured ham, crushed peas and a long piped tube of pea puree. It was delicious, but my only qualm was the partially translucent egg-white, of which I've had a lifelong fear. Everytime I cook an egg, I live in terror of semi-cooked egg white, and I'm well aware that it's irrational, particularly as I will happily scoff down raw egg whites in steak tartare. But each to their own, and partially cooked egg whites is definitely mine.
|Pea, ham and egg|
Next was the fish course of stacked crispy pan-fried sea bass portions with saffron-coloured potatoes, sliced string beans and olives. This was followed by a wonderful dish of rare duck breast, served with sweet potato puree, and what I choose to describe as a citrus tarte tatin and sweet potato strings. This could have been one of my favourite dishes of all time if only the duck skin had been crispy, rather than flabby.
|Sea bass with saffron potatoes, beans and olives|
|Duck breast with sweet potato and citrus tarte tatin|
|Evening into night|
Meat courses complete, it was time for desserts. First was a single spoon with a little creme caramel type bonbon nested inside. This was followed by a très posh version of an Iceberger ice-cream sandwich. The English skills of our waiters weren't quite up to the job of describing this dessert, which tasted to me like crude dark chocolate. Eventually, I realised that the flavour was carob, something that I'd never tasted and had only ever associated with health food stores and diabetic chocolate. The dirty smear of brown stuff across the plate (carob, I assume) didn't endear me to finish.
|Carob slice (Iceberger, non?)|
A little box of petits fours arrived at the table along with the bill. Inside was a little mix of madelines, macarons and bonbons, all excellent, and a good finish to an otherwise lacklustre pastry service.
|Selection of petits fours|
There was an error on our bill where we were charged for the more expensive bottle of red wine from the same vineyard. However, the mistake was rectified smoothly (€20 in our favour) and our grand total for the night came to €199.50 exactly. Another pleasant surprise on the bill was a charge for a single bottle of sparkling water (€3.50), despite having consumed several over the course of the night. This was something we experienced in several restaurants over the course of our holidays, and was a pleasant relief compared to home, where you live in mortal fear of consuming too much bottled water.
Comparisons between this meal and our previous day's lunch at Vila Joya were always going to be inevitable but this meal was more than able to stand on it's own merits. A beautiful hotel, an elegant dining room, smooth service and, at times, some really stylish and adventurous cooking all contributed to a genuine fine dining experience.
Tel: +351 282 460 280