While I was very excited to have finally finished writing about my American adventures – well, almost finished, there’s still the story of the day I went to Venice Beach and ate avocado pizza followed by avocado ice cream, but maybe that’s a story best left untold – working through the enormous amounts of food I had consumed meant that in the meantime I had managed to fit in a whole ’nother holiday.
Normally I wouldn’t plan trips so closely together - if only to give my cholesterol levels a chance to stabilise - but my Dad was visiting from Down Under and had suggested meeting for a week in the Algarve, home of many memories from the many great holidays we spent there when I was growing up. It also meant that I wouldn’t have to properly unpack from my States trip. And, however much I think I hate doing other chores, there is a special circle of hell dedicated to opening your suitcase and actually dealing with the stuff stuffed inside.
While I’ve decided to only write about one restaurant we visited on our trip - no one has time to read about every sardine or Super Bock we ate over the week (spoiler, there were a lot) - Portuguese food is, on the whole, both excellent and underrated. It may not be fancy, but from cold beers to warm custard tarts, salt cod to cabbage soup, roast suckling pig to piri piri chicken, there are plenty of good ways to get fat.
And of course you can wash it all down with some serious booze with a range of port wines, madeira, vinho verde, ginja cherry liqueur, and medronho – a potent firewater made from the fruit of the strawberry tree, which confusingly look like lychees, that is a speciality of the Algarve – all cheap, good and available in copious quantities. I also recently discovered they make a rice pudding and cinnamon flavour cream liqueur, the thought of which fills me with a kind of delirious excitement that something so magical exists.
While it might not be the fanciest or the hippest, and it’s certainly not the quietest, Adega da Marina does remain one of the best known restaurants in Lagos. Even the Ewing had heard of it before our visit, although that may have had something to do with the fact that they are known for the football scarves and flags that hang from the rafters all around the cavernous room.
One of my Dad’s friends, who owns the apartment we were staying in, gifted them a promotional Wasps RFC flag, sponsored by a well-known cider maker, but it was put up on the wall with the Magners side facing out. Maybe they are just as upset they moved from Wycombe to Coventry as I was.
All meals in Portugal start with couvert - small plates that typically include breads, pates, olives and cheese - that are bought, unbidden to the table and are charged if you eat them. You can ask the waiter to take them away if you don't want them, but there was precious little chance of us rejecting slices of crusty bread slathered in sardine paste and the round of cheese made of a mix of cows and sheep milk.
The house salad is also excellent; a simple mix of knobbly tomatoes and cucumbers, sweet white onions and grated carrots, and topped with fresh oregano and a simple oil and vinegar dressing.
The dish they are probably most famous for is the prawns, ordered by weight, either simply boiled in the shell or, as we ordered, fried in plenty of garlic and olive oil. We ordered 400g , above, a giant platter that was nearly too much (there isn't really such a thing when it comes to garlic prawns) that cost the princely sum of 16 euros.
As good as the prawns were, the platter of fried baby squid from the special board were even better. Soft and bouncy, like the lyrics of a Prince song, there wasn’t a hint of grim, fishy rubber band elasticity, just the sweet hint of the sea combined with a slight hint of iodine from their ink and lashings of good olive oil and salt.
Alongside, although barely necessary, was a mountain of chips. While I’m fairly indifferent to a fried potato, or really a potato of any kind (with apologies to my Irish grandmother) there is something about a Portuguese potato that is quite untouchable. Holidays as a kid would see me eat my annual allowance in a fortnight, and I am pleased to say they are still as wonderful (and I have still retained my voracious capacity).
I didn’t get pictures of my Dad and the Ewing’s main meals, (probably just as well, judging the quality of the one’s I did take) but they enjoyed the classic piri-piri chicken and a majestic whole sea bass respectively. So much so that neither of them could manage desert, even between them, something virtually unheard of. Even more so when the Ewing had to walk past the desert cabinet on the way to the loo and was given a recommendation for the syrup-laden orange roll by a very enthusiastic lady.
Obviously she wasn’t going to let that information go to waste, so when my Dad was at the Irish bar by the Marina watching Ireland win their first test Down Under since before I was born (not before my wife and my father though, backing up my assertions during our trip that I wasn’t yet old) we decided to go back for lunch a deux. Partly for the orange cake and the prawns, and partly because we knew they would be showing the Belgium Algeria game from England’s World Cup group and it would be a shady place to watch it away from the heat of the afternoon sun.
As well as the prawns, we also ordered a portion of the clams à bulhão pato, served steamed with white wine, lemon and garlic. Like their mastery with spuds, the Portuguese are pretty good clam-cookers - in fact so much so that one of their most famous dishes, Porco à Alentejana, combines pork, clams and cubes of fried potatoes (I had a very good version a couple of doors down from Adega on our first day in Lagos, accompanied by a bottle of Matteus rose and the Portugal versus Morocco game) – but I digress.
These were equally wonderful, especially eaten, like the prawns, with a pile of crusty bread to drag through the briny, buttery juices and accompanied by another bottle of cold vinho verde. They also contain a serious amount of garlic, so make sure your significant other tucks in as well, or holiday romance may be off the cards.
The orange roll looks a bit like our swiss roll, but has a close texture and richness which comes from the fact it is made entirely of eggs and sugar, with no flour at all. It's then soaked in a orange syrup, and is sweet and rich and fragrant, like most Portuguese puddings.
I went with the classic pudim flan, which is very similar to a creme caramel. A rich baked custard of milk, cream, egg yolks and sugar, in a smoky puddle of caramel sauce and best served with a strong bica, or espresso coffee, alongside.
After twenty odd holidays to the Algarve over the years, it was great to finally show the Ewing some of my happiest childhood memories - including the beautiful beach that my Dad and I both confessed we never really liked going to. Too hot and too sandy. The apple never falls far from the tree.
Luckily she loved the holiday just as much as we did and there's already talk of returning, to both Lagos and Adega, where I'm looking forward to completing a hat-trick of visits.