Heavenly parcels of pleasure at the Michelin-starred restaurant
My first visit to the Conrad Algarve’s Gusto by Heinz Beck restaurant back in 2012, shortly after the hotel opened, was a revelation to me. I sampled what appeared to be a simple dish, small pasta cushions that burst on the tongue, a warm cheesy sauce coating the mouth — something so delicious, so delicate and yet so decadent all at once.
It changed the way I felt about pasta and Heinz Beck’s Fagotelli Carbonara was immediately added to the shortlist of the best things I have ever eaten.
I decided to visit Gusto recently and planned to order nothing more than the Fagotelli Carbonara as a starter, something else for the main course and perhaps a dessert. As it turned out this is not as easy as it sounds, there are small appetisers bought to the table ahead of the superb bread service and then, of course, an amuse-bouche. So even without an antipasti dish, we had already sampled numerous small treats ahead of the pasta, each and every one of which was excellent.
Planning for the star attraction, I asked sommelier Miguel Martins to help me choose a wine that he felt would pair well with the cheesy sauce of the dish whilst also complementing the rest of the service ahead of our main courses. Without hesitation he recommended his own wine, a Douro white field blend produced specially for Gusto by winemaker Dirk Niepoort. I was glad of this as it was an excellent match and saved me spending too much time at the table looking through what is one the best wine lists to be found at any restaurant in the Algarve. There are over 40 Champagnes, more than 70 Portuguese whites, 100 plus Portuguese reds and a very decent selection of imported wines. But what is most impressive here, apart from the depth and breadth of choice, is the refreshing pricing policy, the mark-up on mid to high-range wines here is far lower than at most restaurants of this category, giving guests a welcome incentive to enjoy and experiment with better quality wines.
The dish itself is as simple in terms of ingredients as it is demanding in execution. It is made of nothing more than pasta, eggs, cheese, and cream, but the pasta, made from De Cecco semola flour, is worked intensely and rolled so thin that it is almost transparent. An egg sabayon is combined with finely grated Pecorino and Parmesan cheese along with whipped cream and a little black pepper. The cooled mixture is funnelled in to make the delicate pasta parcels, the filling melting inside whilst cooking. Before serving they are tossed in a simple white wine sauce with diced bacon and courgette. Each fagotelli must be eaten whole, for if cut on the plate the Carbonara filling will be lost. The pleasure of eating them is as much about the warm, silky texture as the parcels burst in the mouth as it is about the simple primary flavours.
I don’t have room here to describe the rest of our meal, but rest assured that the Michelin men do not give out stars easily. Gusto is at the top of its game but for me, it is not the Michelin star or the tasting menus that will keep me coming back for more, but the simple pleasure of Fagotelli Carbonara.