by Andy Lynes, The Telegraph, April 9, 2019
If you’re a switched-on foodie traveller, you might think of Lisbon or Porto as the obvious gastro destinations in Portugal. However, the Algarve was voted Best European Region in Tourism and Gastronomy by the European Council of Food and Wine Confraternities last year. The San Sebastian-based food and travel company Mimo (mimofood.com) also chose the Algarve to open its first site outside Spain at the sprawling Pine Cliffs, a Luxury Collection Resort (pinecliffs.com) set over 72 acres on the southern Algarve coast close to the seaside town of Albufeira.
The well-equipped Mimo Algarve cookery school overlooks the resort’s Lemon Square, planted with lemon trees and herbs in raised beds which Algarve-born and Michelin-trained chef Lucia Ribeiro harvests for the dishes that will be prepared during a cookery class and supper club.
We kicked off at 7pm with a glass of Portuguese sparkling rosé made with the baga grape variety and finished five courses, five hours and many glasses of various Portuguese red and white wines later, during which time we discovered how to make an authentic cataplana a Algarvia.
Probably the region’s best-known dish, the stew of pork, clams, prawns, chourico (a Portuguese variant of Spanish chorizo) and red and green peppers is named after the hinged copper pan it is cooked in. The vessel is thought to have been invented some time during the 600 years of Moorish rule of the Algarve that ended in the mid-13th century, and is possibly related to the tagine.
Ribeiro instructs us to pour an alarming quantity of Portuguese olive oil (“The only fat we cook with,” she tells us proudly) into the base of the cataplana, followed by industrial amounts of chopped garlic and some sliced shallots. We pile in the remaining ingredients, flavour them with paprika and close the domed lid. After a few minutes, the trapped steam makes the cataplana rock and roll on the surface of the cookery school’s induction hob.
The dish, served with rice and a glass of Touriga Nacional Reserva from the Dao region, forms the centrepiece of the meal which also includes a traditional chourico assado roasted in a clay dish over flaming aguardiente, the local firewater, and some of Ribeiro’s modernist takes on Algarve cuisine including blow-torched mackerel served with black-eyed bean purée, slow-cooked egg yolk and balsamic foam.
With 125 miles (200km) of Atlantic coastline, the Algarve relies heavily on seafood in its cuisine – and the fish market in Olhao is the place to see and buy it. The displays may lack the finesse of La Bretxa in San Sebastian, but boasts similar levels of variety and unsurpassed freshness. I jumped back in surprise as a Dover sole curled and flipped on the slab.
The market was part of a six-hour, Saturday food marathon organised by Eating Algarve (eatingalgarvetours.com), which offers a portfolio of tours across the region taking in Lagos, Loule, Silves, Faro and Algarve wine country as well, all tapping into the increased interest in Algarve cuisine.
Six miles (10km) east of Faro and a 40-minute cab ride from Pine Cliffs, Olhao retains the rough and ready air of a working fishing port. At 10.30am, the beer and wine flowed at a hole-in-the-wall café built into the exterior of the fish market where we sampled bifana – thin pork cutlets marinated in red wine and garlic and served in a traditional Portuguese bread roll.
We headed through the narrow streets of the Seven Elbows neighbourhood to the rustic Bioco restaurant where we ate generous plates of seared tuna served with sautéed peppers, and then on to seafront diner Bento where owner, and former boxer, Antonio Bento served us his knockout creation of prawns in a sauce made from locally grown oranges and garlic.
The Algarve will remain a haven for Britons in search of sun, sea, sand and golf, but Mimo and Eating Algarve are proof of its value as an emerging culinary destination.
How to do it
Destinology (destinology.co.uk; 01204 474801) offers a seven-night stay at Pine Cliffs, from £1,029 per person including breakfast, a Mimo Algarve cookery class, flights from Gatwick to Faro and private transfers, based on two people sharing a deluxe room. Mimo also has branches, offering cookery classes and food tours, in San Sebastian, Seville, Mallorca, and - since this month - London.