A small seafood restaurant on the West Coast, Marisqueira Costa Alentejana reveals an unexpected level of quality
A jaunt to the West Coast for a seafood lunch is as much a part of enjoying life in the Algarve as is a ride up the mountain for chicken piri-piri in Monchique. The most famous of all the West Coast restaurants is probably the simple and rustic Azenha do Mar, in the tiny fishing village of the same name, just across the Alentejo border when heading north past Odeceixe.
But a little further north is the small seaside town of Zambujeira do Mar and a gem of a restaurant I recently discovered called Marisqueira Costa Alentejana. The ocean in these parts is even more bountiful than the south coast of the Algarve, with numerous small fishing communities and the major fishing town of Sines, which although better known for its oil refineries, supplies much of the fish we eat here in the Algarve.
This abundance of local produce has been harnessed by young and intrepid local restaurateur Daniel Correia. He opened the restaurant, located right in the middle of the village, in 2014. Having finished hotel school, he cut his teeth working in the tourism industry in the Algarve, including a stint at the 5-star Pine Cliffs Resort.
Meeting Daniel and looking around the restaurant, the quality and variety of fresh fish and seafood on display, the premium drinks on the shelves, and the selection of Champagnes and fine wines, it’s clear to see that he knows a thing or two about quality. A testament to this are the queues of eager customers waiting at the door for a table (reservations are accepted and strongly advised). We managed to secure a table for lunch on a Saturday afternoon in late June and sampled a selection of dishes that left us with no doubts that not only is the produce here of indisputable quality, but that there is someone in the kitchen who clearly knows what they’re doing.
The stand-out dish was the arroz de marisco (seafood rice stew), among the best I have eaten anywhere, packed full of fresh seafood and including a local cavaco (slipper lobster). We also sampled various different types of prawns, both boiled and fried, razor clams cooked Bulhão Pato style, sweet and delicious little navalheiras (lady crabs) simply boiled and served still warm in the Portuguese style. Also on the menu are lobsters (both spiny and common lobster), brown crab, spider crab and more – all sourced from local fishermen and held in the seawater tanks atop the restaurant. Fish is equally popular here and we saw a huge sea bass making its way to a table nearby, oven-roasted and surrounded by roasted new potatoes.
The meat selection does not compare in variety with the fish and seafood on offer, but what they do serve is of equal merit. One of the guests at our table, a dedicated carnivore, opted for steak. This turned out to be locally reared from a speciality beef farmer in nearby Vila Nova de Milfontes, a high quality meat that I have seen on the menus of some of Portugal’s top gourmet restaurants. Likewise, we sampled some grilled secretos of locally reared black pig.
As for wines, there is a good selection covering all of Portugal’s main regions, lacking only a few more Algarve wines to qualify as a truly comprehensive list. They do, however, stock the full range of wines made by the up-and-coming Vicentino winery, located just outside Zambujeira, whose owner happened to be sitting on the table next to us. The cooling ocean breezes of the west coast are making this area of the Alentejo more and more attractive to winemakers, and the Vicentino Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent accompaniment to any seafood feast.
All of this is charged at refreshingly reasonable prices when compared to seafood restaurants on the south coast, making the journey of little over an hour from the central Algarve more than worthwhile.
Marisqueira Costa Alentejana is open all year round for lunch and dinner, and is closed on Mondays.