During the day, the thermometer still shows a pleasant 25 degrees. The late autumn sun laughs over the Portuguese Algarve. When we approach the driveway to the Vila Vita Park Hotel in the evening, the temperatures have already dropped significantly. Nevertheless, these last days in the season are wonderful and a first recovery already set in. However, the highlight and ultimately the reason for our trip to the Algarve is still ahead of us this evening: a dinner at the two Michelin star Ocean Restaurant under chef Hans Neuner.
Villa Vita Resort is so spacious that we are driven to the restaurant by golf cart. According to the season, it is already pitch dark at 20:30, so when you enter the restaurant, the sensational view far beyond the Atlantic Ocean remains hidden. In addition to the large window front, the guest room also offers such an impressive atmosphere: blue, white and gold are the dominant colors and emphasize the maritime setting, noble white corals and Murano crystals also indicate the inspiration behind the philosophy of Ocean.
It’s a busy evening. The staff is highly professional and numerous. As soon as we sit on the comfortable bench in the corner of the restaurant, there are two glasses of champagne on our table, an extensive menu, which not only reflects the menu of the evening in 13 courses (255€), but also a lot of additional information about its creation and focus. Further reading is presented in the form of a document rolled in leather that documents even more information about Hans Neuner’s journey from Ghana to Goa. Lots of input. And we haven’t even talked about wines yet. There is a small disappointment here: neither of the two wine pairings offered (155€ or 355€) have a focus on low intervention wines. Which is a bit surprising, because here in the region this orientation seems to be much more self-evident than here in the north.
The menu begins with a series of small snacks in a thoroughly brisk pace. The starter is a cracker with goat and sheep cheese from Setúbal. Filigree, fragile and very suitable for another glass of champagne.
What follows is a dish whose title, “Ash Corn, Yam, Imperial Caviar,” hardly does it justice. Of course, I am delighted to be served a product from my customer Imperial Caviar here in the faraway Algarve. Purely visually, the dish is already quite a delight. To better reflect this, I am using an official image of the Ocean at this point. The small balls are dreamlike and set caviar skillfully in scene. A light crunch, a creamy filling – and enough rye. I would have loved to order this course again directly for a second round.
But of course, the brisk pace and also the planning of the kitchen do not necessarily allow for such escapades. Because it continues directly with a blue crab, passion fruit and coconut. São Tomé is the inspiration for this course. And the classic, exotic flavors combine with the excellent crab to create another fabulous dish. A precisely dosed spiciness provided a balanced counterbalance to the sweet flavors.
The next course is seaweed bread served with a local olive oil and a layered cream around olive and tarragon. Whereby serving is too small a word for the actual process: from a real fishing box, after opening various lids and inserts, the actual wooden board is freed, on which the cream is applied…
The next plate is also introduced with a small show effect. In this case, however, it also contributes meaningfully to the court. An oyster from Ria Formosa with dill, cucumber, escabeche. Some ice is scraped from the cart and placed over the oyster at the table. Perhaps the best oyster dish that I have enjoyed so far. Incredibly fresh, cool, intense and lively. Quite great. The sweetheart is served a vegetarian version, which has to do without oyster, but the cucumber is wonderfully in scene and visually at least as appealing. By the way, all vegetarian options of the evening are excellent. It is always surprising that a great many restaurants do not proactively offer a vegetarian option as a menu option. On a friendly request directly at the reservation is actually always possible. However, rarely implemented as sensationally as on this evening.
At Bruno’s place in Jardim dos Aloés in Mozambique, Hans Neuner spent some time during his trip, which was the inspiration for this menu. The black tea infused by Bruno in the morning is found as an idea generator in this dish that spans three plates: lobster, lemongrass , black tea and peach.
Once again, a beautifully crafted course at the very highest level. The stripes of mango on the main plate are form-fittingly edged and harmonize very well with the lightly gelled tea. Other plates include a hearty samosa and a cream with crawfish and a peach taco.
Matapa, sole and peanut are the components of the next course. Matapa is a typical Mozambican dish usually prepared from young cassava leaves, garlic, onions and coconut milk in the form of a stew. However, in the Ocean’s version, the matapa is served in its components on the perfectly cooked sole. The peanut sauce is strong, though also surprisingly light for the coconut base, and so ties all the parts together perfectly.
The trip to the Algarve would have been worth it for the following plate alone. Forgotten are annoyances about lost luggage and cancelled flights: The wild tiger prawn from Mozambique with tomato and XO sauce follows its very own dramaturgy. Before the course comes to the table, the blue cloth napkins are replaced with colorful Mozambican cloths. The plates also follow this design and are made of fabric pattern set in glass. This intensity continues in the plate. The XO sauce in it is the real star of this performance. Dense, full of deep crustacean flavors, heavy and hard to forget. The tiger shrimp itself is cut into strips and worked in the shape of a daler. One can only imagine how elaborate all this must be in production. But it serves its purpose and leaves the guest full of humility and enthusiasm.
In the vegetarian part of the menu, a bell pepper was served instead in the form of a carrot or pointed bell pepper.And here, too, the idea of the course was very appropriately realized through deep and strong flavors. Also the retention of this menu dramarturgy in the vegetarian counterpart deserves attention and is so also not self-evident.
For me it continues with a “quail piripiri” on tomato salad. The piri piri, or chili peppers, were worked here similar to a component in the shrimp course as a punched and baked dough. This, of course, takes away from the spiciness otherwise inherent in this dish and, along with the pommes soufflées, creates a crisp texture. Next door, a coherent dish based around eggplant is served as an alternative.
The final main course themed a Pyrenees Lamb with Mung Beans, Mango Achar and Purple Curry represents the arrival in Goa. Once again beautifully conceived and executed, but once again also with baked dough components – and once again with one of the best sauces you could ask for with a perfectly cooked lamb.
After these many really great dishes, we turn towards the desserts. And minor spoiler alert, from here on out my rambling slows down a bit.
The course, titled Mama Africa, consists of a delicious, fruity ice cream praline, but it is clearly served too cold. In general, the type and design of the presentation is a problem. The upper half of the head, which is coated in cocoa, is made of ice and is somewhat problematic to handle, but not so good that it would be too much trouble. Overall, more questions were raised here than the service was able to answer even when asked
The final dessert course, a “Caldeirada” of banana with cardamom and “Sura” cake is much more pleasing. The basic idea and sweet interpretation of fish soup (caldeirada) was underlined here by two small lard pastries in the shape of fish, a “banana” on the plate was implemented by white chocolate poured in the shape of banana. It’s all good, but also quite a bit removed from the brilliance of numerous previous dishes.
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Similarly, the petit fours, presented here in the form of a small game, document the final steps of the journey. However, the great Ron Zacapa XO Solera, which I ordered as a digestive, is a great pleasure.
It was a fabulous evening that gave me some really great reference dishes. The consistency in the implementation of a travel theme is also so unique and excellently captures the sequence of dishes, at the same time always opens the door to present other taste images than those of the domestic cuisine, but at the same time always takes reference to the country, region and history.
So I am looking forward to Hans Neuner’s next trips and also to my next trip to the Algarve.
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl, Alporchinhos
8400-450 Porches – Portugal
Wednesday – Sunday 19:00 – 23:00