Restaurant review

Almeja, Porto: Plate after plate of exciting and playful flavours

Stumbling across the Michelin-recommended Almeja sets the tone for the rest of Kate Ng’s trip to Porto

<p>One seafood and one chicken consomme and nibbles to begin </p>

One seafood and one chicken consomme and nibbles to begin

It can be hit and miss when you arrive in a new city late in the evening without a dinner reservation. You could either stumble upon a great restaurant, or a disappointing one. On my first night in Porto, both things happened.

By 8pm, we’d already been rejected from two restaurants. When we finally found a third (sadly, mediocre) place that could take us, we stumbled upon Almeja.

Situated on the quiet Rua de Fernandes Tomas, a stone’s throw from the busier main streets of the historic city, Almeja is so softly lit from the inside that if you blinked, you might miss it. I almost did, my eyes drawn instead to the brighter carvery just two or three doors down.

Pure white turbot is a melt-in-the-mouth delight, sharpened by the bitterness of endive grapes

We ultimately decided on the latter after seeing another couple turned away without a reservation. Perhaps, we thought, the restaurant didn’t take walk-ins, but after a quick search online, we discovered that it had found its way onto the Michelin Guide and received scores of great reviews.

With nothing to lose (and quickly realising you need to make reservations if you’re going to eat anywhere decent in this city), we managed to get the only booking left on the website for the next evening. Score!

Almeja, which translates into “to crave or long for”, offers a 10-dish tasting menu or a la carte options for dinner. Whenever I visit a new place, I want to try everything, all at once – how very almeja of me.

In lieu of ordering everything on the menu, a seasonal tasting menu seemed to be the best bet. The one at Almeja has been widely lauded for being creative and exciting. I didn’t need much convincing.

To whet our appetites, we were presented with two teacups of steaming broth, one seafood and one chicken consomme. The seafood consomme was the clear winner here, a sweet, creamy-scented hug that my pescatarian dining partner said he could have drunk a whole pint of.

What followed was experimental delight after experimental delight. A perfect portion of pig’s head terrine with sweet apple for me was trumped by my partner’s enoki mushroom with black garlic sauce and fermented banana, which was an explosion of sweet vs savoury that was bowl-scrapingly delicious.

The gamey flavour of wood pigeon is pulled back by the surprising chunks of amaretto jelly

A warming bowl of caramelised onion puree topped with crispy fried bread was wonderfully jammy and moreish. A slice of pure white turbot with endive grapes and sauce reduced from the fish’s head – how did they get the skin to be as white as its flesh? I had never seen anything like it before. The waiter tells me the fish is steamed with fresh herbs, which could have resulted in rubbery or slimy fish skin – a tragedy. Instead, I am pleased to discover that it is neither, but instead a melt-in-the-mouth delight, sharpened by the bitterness of the endive.

Next is a dainty plate of wood pigeon, the deep pink slices accompanied by cubes of amaretto jelly and almonds. Rice and wood pigeon gravy are also served in a separate personal-sized saucepan, a wood pigeon croquette nestled alongside. The bird is perfectly cooked, its almost-too gamey flavour pulled back by the surprising amaretto jelly. A delight to devour.

However, among the many diamonds was but one coal of a dish, a rather unexpected and dismaying circumstance. The house-baked sourdough bread, served with butter and toasted milk powder, sounded like it would be a joy; my interest piqued by the unusual caramel-brown dusting on the butter. But both bread and butter were bland, as though both had been made without a grain of salt between them.

There was a smattering of salt on the butter, but if you happened to slather the bit that didn’t have salt on the bread, it was like stodgy nothingness. It was certainly a strange thing to experience, and something my partner and I talked about for at least two days afterwards, so disappointing it was.

But don’t let one sorry dish out of the nine-course tasting menu put you off. Bread is easily improved, and so is butter. As a whole, Almeja served up thrilling food, with exciting and unusual flavours that were a joy to eat. The dessert, a coconut sorbet with delicate layers of filo pastry on top and dusted with curry powder, was a joyous, playful way to end the meal.

Literally stumbling across Almeja on a poorly planned night felt like fate. It set the bar and tone for the rest of my visit to Porto, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t just walk on by.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in