In Quinta do Lago, Gusto by Heinz Beck was recently awarded a Michelin star for its contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. Seafood stars and exuberant vegetables take center stage at Conrad Algarve’s acclaimed restaurant; the à-la-carte and tasting menus are created by master of gastronomy Heinz Beck to reflect the region’s bounties. “Since opening, we have focused on sourcing excellent raw ingredients and respecting their seasonality,” he says. Winning combinations from the Michelin-starred chef include marinated mackerel on sautéed spelt; and cod in tempura on cherry gazpacho and celery.
Algarve’s culinary traditions influence the menu at Gusto, too. “We’re working on revisiting classic Portuguese dishes in an Italian way,” says Beck. “For example, my signature fagottelli dish, which is usually served with carbonara sauce inside, is filled with Bacalhau à Brás [a typical local dish made from shredded cod].”
Citrus and egg sweets, a dessert by Portuguese chef José Avillez
There’s a near-unequalled level of choice here, especially when it comes to seafood. Olhão, the Algarve’s largest fishing port, is home to a world-famous fish market boasting a diversity of produce not experienced anywhere else in Portugal. Browsing the stalls, you can find biqueirão (anchovies), octopus roe, or litão (blackmouth catshark), both dry and preserved with salt, while caramelized almonds, jams, honey and piri-piri sauce line the fresh produce pavilion. “I particularly enjoy sourcing bacalhau [cod], porco alentejano [pork and clams] and sardinha [sardines] from the Algarve’s food markets,” says Beck.
Muxama, filleted salt-cured tuna known as the “ham of the sea,” remains an Algarve specialty and a regular sight in Olhão’s fish market. Records show that the Phoenicians, and then the Romans, introduced this technique of drying tuna loin with sea salt to the region. Portugal has a long history of preserving fish. It was in Olhão that the first canning factory was established in 1882 and fish salting stations can be found in the Roman ruins of Cerro da Vila, where it was believed the popular “garum,” a fish sauce, was produced and exported to Rome.
José Avillez, the only Portuguese chef with two Michelin stars, visits the Algarve every year for his family vacation. “I’m a big fan of Algarve cuisine,” he says. “I love the fresh fish and seafood; with wonderful summer tomatoes and aroma of oregano; the grilled fish; the caldeirada [fish stew] and the rice dishes!”
Avillez always returns to Tavira, where one of his favorite restaurants, Noélia & Jerónimo, is located. “My friend Noélia is charming and has an impressive talent for combining the freshest ingredients in the right quantities with the perfect cooking times and seasonings,” he says. Noélia is celebrated for her traditional food including cataplana, a Portuguese stew made in a traditional copper pot dish. It’s a chance to taste the flavors of sweet potatoes from Aljezur, Ria Formosa clams and “flor de sal” from Castro Marim.
Perhaps it’s the mix of the freshest ingredients, sprinkled with history and the growing cohort of visitors that’s fueling the expansion of Michelin-starred restaurants in the Algarve. There’s no doubt, however, that the Algarve people like Noélia and Olhão’s traders are part of the story and charm of the south. Avillez says he feels inspired with each trip to the coast. “The Algarve cuisine tastes like holidays and reminds me of family,” he says.