Essential Algarve sat down with some of the shining stars of the Guide’s latest edition
When Portugal’s Michelin Star awards were announced for this year, three chefs in the Algarve had special reasons to celebrate. The night the Michelin stars are announced is the most exciting moment of the year for the foodie community. Like the Oscars, it is the night they all await on tenterhooks. Who will keep their star, earn a new one, or lose theirs? Were the predictions correct?
Last December, the Iberian ceremony revealed five new stars in Portugal, plus two Green Stars, a novelty in the Michelin Guide, “which highlights restaurants at the forefront of the industry when it comes to their sustainable practices”.
In the Algarve, two restaurants earned their first star. One was undoubtedly on the cards. Louis Anjos, who opened the Al Sud restaurant at the Palmares Ocean Living & Golf resort last June, had already held one of the sought-after stars at Bon Bon. Although the award was not his objective for the restaurant’s first year, it did not come as a surprise. At the opposite end of the Algarve, chef Luís Brito at A Ver Tavira was this year’s dark horse; an ambitious chef, originally from the Alentejo, who turned an everyday eatery into a superb fine-dining establishment.
So, what does a restaurant have to prove to be eligible for the gastronomical world’s most preeminent award? Essential Algarve spoke to Louis Anjos and Luís Brito, as well as Nuno Diogo, owner of Bon Bon, to find out what it really takes to convince a Michelin inspector that they deserve a star.
Consistency. It is the one word that was repeated throughout our conversations. Cuisine, presentation, service, cleanliness, and ambience have to be consistent. At this level, you simply cannot afford to have a bad day.
Close to the Spanish border, on a little square, A Ver Tavira was a simple restaurant with a killer view chef Luís Brito had had his eye on for a while. “Most of the chefs that came through here were my students at the Hotel School in Faro. I followed the project closely,” remembers the chef, whose career took him abroad, working for various hotel groups in Spain, Brazil, and Angola. Back in Portugal, in 2017, the opportunity to take over the restaurant came up, and he did not hesitate.
With his wife Claudia at his side, a top sommelier with enviable experience acquired at restaurants such as Casa de Chá da Boa Nova in Leça da Palmeira and Vista in Portimão, he proved many naysayers wrong. Although he lost many clients who prefer simpler food, he gained many more new ones who appreciate his haute cuisine.
Last year was a turning point for the chef and his team; they decided to focus on “upping their game to shoot for the star”. And that is where the keyword came in. Consistency. That is what they concentrated on, elevating each ingredient and experience whilst working with local producers. With a team of just four in the kitchen, they managed to turn the restaurant into a gastronomic destination, offering a journey through refined Portuguese flavours, including twists on classic dishes such as duck rice and Cozido à Portuguesa.
What does this star mean for Luís Brito? “Well, it is obviously a moment of great recognition, but it also means more work,” concedes the soft-spoken chef. “Maintaining the star requires more attention. And it results in a more demanding clientele.”
At the opposite end of the Algarve, opened less than a year ago, Al Sud is the youngest member of the Portuguese Michelin family. Set in a coral-coloured building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects RCR Arquitectes, with an exceptional view spanning from the Ria de Alvor to Ponta da Piedade, this restaurant was destined for a great chef.
Essential Algarve interviewed chef Louis Anjos just a year ago when he first came to Palmares with his team. At the time, the fine-dining restaurant did not even have a name yet, and the chef was not aiming for such recognition. But those who knew him at Bon Bon expected that star.
Louis has based his success on a simple concept: exploring the region’s culture and its best products. “We are the best beach destination; our customers want the best of the Algarve, and gastronomy is part of our culture”, something which is evident to him. “If you’ve never eaten a razor clam or a carapau alimado and you taste it in a fun and original dish, you take that memory home with you.”
Using the region’s freshest products, “from sea to table”, as he says, he is committed to consistently doing more and better each year. For Louis Anjos, “a Michelin-star dish has power! And that is what defines our food. You taste it, and it lingers on your palate; in your memory, it prevails.”
This winning formula is something Nuno Diogo is familiar with. Bon Bon has maintained its star for seven years on the trot, the only one-Michelin-star restaurant in the region to have done so.
Although he would not dream of it being referred to as such, Bon Bon is proving to be the Algarve’s Michelin Chef School, having trained chefs such as Rui Silvestre (now at Vistas) and Louis Anjos.
Last year, following Louis Anjos’ exit, he brought in chef José Lopes from Lisbon’s Eleven restaurant, where he was working with Michelin-favourite chef Joachim Koerper. A young chef who, curiously, also did a stint at A Ver Tavira. “His cuisine is consistent, full of flavour, and varied,” said Nuno. The creative chef enjoys looking for Portuguese roots to add to his cooking. His latest creation is a chickpea stew with a rack of lamb, based on a recipe he found in an old Algarvean cookbook his wife gave him.
Timing is also fundamental to guarantee Michelin-level service. Bon Bon only accepts three bookings every half hour, to ensure clients don’t all arrive at the same time, and has no more than eight tables, not to ruin the ambience. “This isn’t something new that came with COVID; it’s something we’ve always done,” insists Nuno.
For his part, he enjoys surprising his clients with unique pairings, adapting his choice to their mood and taste, with a selection of rare wines made by small producers. “What I want is for each person to leave with a complete experience, feeling fulfilled.” How can they not in this unique octagonal dining room with a suspended central fireplace, where Nuno and his team produce their show? Where tables strategically placed under spotlights turn into a stage on which dishes consistently waltz, paired with singular wines.