Wednesday, 1 July 2015

ms-havachat travel blog 10: Algarve, Portugal Part II - Food

Wish I'd taken this photo - it shows off Vilamoura Marina so well.

This summer, we spent 10 nights in Vilamoura on the Algarve coast in Portugal. We opted for a two bedroom apartment in the Hilton Vilamoura Golf and Spa Resort so that we could avail ourselves an easy, relaxing breakfast and lunch routine in between sitting/swimming in the pool.

The Hilton provided a courtesy shuttle bus to the Marina from 7pm with 15 minute intervals. Not knowing what was there, but thinking must be good if the hotel is offering this service, off we went.

Vilamoura Marina has the capacity to berth over 1,000 boats. The marina is a C-shape, with hotels, apartments and restaurants completing the area.  There are a few tourist shops selling quality items, and several 'High Street' retailers, and several tour operators selling tickets for everything from cruises, to para-flying, swimming with dolphins, deep sea fishing, golf and more.

As were were there in June, before the annual high season of tourists we probably didn't experience the area at it's best, but I have to say, I'm pleased. I think this place would absolutely heave in summer.

Our first impression as we walked down the stairs, past Haagen-daz ice cream (haven't seen that for years!) was WOW - the boats are super cruisers, majestic in their size and power. The berth areas are locked for security so you can't wander by the boats but merely stand and admire them.

To your left, and to your right, there is restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. We quickly realised every restaurant has an 'inside' seating option and a 'outside' seating option (overlooking marina) which in reality cuts down the number of restaurants we thought there were by half.

The waiting staff, and food runners go back and forth across the crowds as the kitchens are in the 'inside' restaurants - can only imagine what this must be like peak tourist season!

All the restaurants have their menus on display in Portuguese and English. We noticed one or two had French and German menus. Maybe if you asked for other languages you might be offered but as we are mono-lingual we were fine.

The prices are not-so-touristy, but higher than other areas for obvious reasons. We didn't feel once that we had an expensive meal as the service, quality of food, atmosphere etc was great. There was one meal, where MissM ordered chicken and chips and it was clearly from a frozen box and not prepared by Chef.

Here are our highlights, and therefore, our recommendations if you are ever dining here.

Primo Steakhouse. We sat outside, and as soon as the sunset, we realised (a) we need to bring a light wrap or cardigan cos it gets real cool real quick, or (b) sit inside next time. The service was fun. The wait staff were cheeky with MissM who loved the attention. MissMs chicken was so succulent, she ordered a second helping (they were small); G's surf'n'turf was yummy (for some reasons prawns are very expensive, but having them with the lamb not-so), and my beef was cooked to perfection.

As we had burned off heaps of energy in the pool, NO WE DIDN'T - we spent the morning at the medical centre because MissM had hurt her foot in the pool and couldn't walk!!!!!!!!!!! She was fine, thank goodness. The x-rays showed inflammation, so a bandage, medicine and rest and she was good as new.

Getting back to dinner - we had desert. It was, well, look at the photos!

Primo Steakhouse. 

Desert @ Primo

Dinner at La Frigate was nice, it was probably the least favourite of the one's we ate at. Just our opinion. See what I mean about the chicken - those square pieces of food on the bottom left pic. My prawn salad was nice as was the salmon (not sure where G's main meal pic is)

The driver who collected us from the airport recommended a few places for dinner, and this Thai place  was one. It's set back off the marina, out of the rujja-bujja (aka crowds), and the outdoor dining area is set in a courtyard within an apartment complex. All the doors to the apartments overlook the courtyard so I'm not sure eating there in the height of the tourist season would be fun .... might be wrong.  The food was delicious and the only reason there's one food photo is simply because it got very dark very quickly (we ate late this night cos G returned from golf late). The service was quiet and polite, the food was authentic and tasty.

The best meal of ALL was here at TAKU Japanese - wow wow wow.

Best sushi and sashimi we have had since leaving Japan (other than Sakura in Winchester, UK which was pretty awesome). The Chef had trained for 12 years in Germany and was so precise with his placement of the food on the platters it was like watching a dancer perform. His 4 assistant Chefs were masters of their skills too, slicing and placing delicate morsels of food onto beds of rice, or creating a tortoise from strawberries for MissM, complimentary of course. She knows how to milk our time in Japan very well when required.

Had we eaten here first, we'd have not eaten anywhere else for sure. It was absolutely delicious and very reasonably priced.

I can't find the photos of the two meals we had at Mayflower - the grilled sardines for entree were out of this world, as was my monkfish. G didn't need a knife with his steak, it was so soft and buttery; MissM's chicken (she is starting to cluck as she enters puberty) was yummy.

Our second meal there, we opted to sit outside, and G and I shared the Cataplana of mixed fish and shellfish for our main. It was brought to the table in a silver bowl with a dome lid. As soon as the waiter lifted the lid, the most amazing aroma's filled the air, so much so, several diners near us turned to look to see what it was - two tables of diners asked to change their orders!

Not 'our' Cataplana, but you get the idea. 

As always, there are several Irish themed pubs scattered around the Marina, and one or two set back from it.

A few suggestions, if I may if you are ever in this part of the world for dinner. This list was put together by G and I:

  • If you are in a group of 6 or more, make a reservation ahead of time, or be prepared to wait. The restaurants are set for tables of 2's, 4's and 6's and work to a high number of covers per evening. I'm sure for later dining you could sit and ponder, but in the high season, it's doubtful.
  • Walk around the entire Marina and compete your research of what's on offer, price ranges etc. There are several Indian restaurants for example, and numerous Italian/pizza places, so make sure you choose the one to suit you.
  • The restaurants along the 'back' of the Marina, near the hotel tended to be less busy and the atmosphere was completely different. 
  • From our observation, kids of all ages are welcome at all restaurants. They are well equipped with high chairs. It's difficult to get the prams/strollers into the 'outside' dining areas as you are pretty squashed in so indoor dining would be your best option tho we did see the staff take a couple of prams from parents and put them inside for safe-keeping.
  • Talking of safe keeping we felt very safe on the Marina, and didn't hear anything negative about it, but again, best keep your wits, especially in high tourist season. 
  • Take something to wrap around shoulders as once the sun sets, it's very cool.

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening stroll along the Marina before and after our meals.

Hope you do too.

With friendship

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