Chef Hugo Nascimento and his wife Joana moved to Odeceixe to get away from it all. Together they create Näperõn, a gastronomic destination set at the heart of the coastal village
You can take the chef out of the kitchen, but you can’t take the kitchen out of the chef. Or, in this case, his passion for cooking. After 20 years working with esteemed chef Vítor Sobral, becoming his right-hand man, business partner and friend, chef Hugo Nascimento and his wife Joana decided to escape from the city. They settled over 200km south of Lisbon, where Hugo’s gastronomic soul gave rise to Näperõn.
The story began four years ago when Joana, the chef’s wife, who he met whilst working at Tasca da Esquina in Lisbon, discovered a new holiday destination on the Algarve’s West Coast. “Joana was always looking for new places and came across Casas do Moinho in Odeceixe”, rustic houses transformed into a tourism village with contemporary holiday cottages.
They started coming regularly, and each time they did, Hugo offered to cook a meal for the other guests. The owners, who soon became their friends, enjoyed it so much that when Hugo and Joana told them they wanted to get away from Lisbon, they challenged them to move to Odeceixe. One week later, they were packing their bags.
Odeceixe is a quiet hilltop village with traditional whitewashed houses and a windmill overlooking the Seixe River, a natural border between the Algarve and the Alentejo. “It’s far from everything,” exclaims the chef. And that is precisely what he and his family were looking for.
However, he soon realised something was missing and that he needed to get back into a “proper kitchen”. From then on, things evolved pretty quickly, and the existing Casas do Moinho restaurant was transformed.
Today, the tourism village features two restaurants run by the Lisbon chef: Assador, serving mainly roast meat and fish, and Näperõn, a fine-dining restaurant that, without much fuss, has become the talk of the town.
The little restaurant is hidden behind the façade of one of the village’s little houses, framed in lavender-blue and red, on a steep cobbled street leading down to a windmill.
Näperõn is also the heart of the village, where guests start their day with a hearty breakfast before heading out to explore the local beaches and also serves as the tourism village’s reception. Hugo called it Näperõn, which in English means doily. “It has to do with everything we want to share here; it has to do with memory, comfort, the family home, detail, hospitality and affection,” he explains.
The setting is an incredible surprise. As soon as guests walk in, they are overwhelmed by the bright, open, modern room set under a glass pergola overlooking a deck with an infinity pool and the windmill beyond. The back wall is lined with old books and trinkets contrasting with the clean and contemporary decoration idealised by the couple with the help of interior designer Alexandra Neves Carvalho. Wooden and marble-topped tables are paired with chairs covered in olive green, over which rustic wicker lighting fixtures hang.
The relaxed setting is straight out of a design magazine. The restaurant, which can seat up to 32 guests, also features a “showroom shelf” with several artisan brands, such as ceramics by Nosse, wooden platters, and is dotted with pictures by artist friends of the couple.
The cosy theme extends backstage, where the chef recently refurbished and redesigned the kitchen, including a large and inviting wooden island.
Although unassuming, the restaurant was awarded the 2022 Best Restaurant of the Year prize by the reputable Revista de Vinhos magazine. “It’s a great recognition,” admits the chef, who says it is also a great encouragement for the start of a new season.
From Lisbon, Hugo brought his first-class experience and talent and gave rise to his creativity in a promising little village. Here, he seeks out incredible local products, enhances them and makes them his own. “Good, seasonal and local products” are the essence of his menu, including those from his own vegetable and herb garden located next to the restaurant.
His concept is straightforward, “a signature restaurant offering a monthly menu. Seven moments (€90) and one or two surprises. Or just four moments (€60) with dessert on the side (€12), plus the wine pairing (€45)”.
Although every precaution is taken to avoid allergies, the chef apologises in advance: “We don’t have a vegetarian menu. Adapting this menu is not easy. We have thought it through from start to finish. The first dish is influenced by the second, third and fourth, it has a sequence.” And like a good story, it has to be shared from the first moment of the menu, made up of little snacks, followed by homemade bread, olive oil and “peanut butter”.
After the initial sharing moments comes a cold starter, such as a cold turnip and almond soup or a boletus cappuccino with egg yarn and caviar, then a starter inspired by two local products; sweet potato and alcagoitas (peanuts), which are always on the menu, one way or another.
“Our menu is basically [made up of] fish and seafood, and there are a few bits of meat.” The menu changes every month and according to the season. And, although the chef wants to keep it a surprise for his guests, he does reveal that fish dishes can include creations such as sarrajão (Atlantic bonito), with mushrooms and wild leek, or corvina (croaker) with cucumber and passion fruit. Meat, which is included in the longer menu, can be featured in dishes such as pork shoulder with figs and watercress.
Then comes the first dessert, “to refresh the palate and prepare guests for what’s to come, a sweeter dessert”, explains Hugo. And, of course, the traditional petit fours served with coffee.
The carefully elaborated wine list includes vintages from every Portuguese region, but mostly local labels, such as Vicentino, produced just across the border in the Alentejo, and Arvad, near Silves, as the chef increasingly looks to convey every aspect of the local terroir.
Born out of the free-spirited chef’s passion for gastronomy, Näperõn is a little gem, a true foodie destination combining warmth and hospitality with undeniable culinary mastery.
The restaurant is open for dinner from Monday to Saturday.
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