What are you dreaming of right now?
It’s Friday and the sun is shining but perhaps you’re thinking about next year’s holiday? Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a guide to restaurants when you go somewhere new from someone you trust? I can’t do that for everywhere on the planet (open to offers though!) but I reckon I know a fair bit about Vilamoura and Quarteira on the Algarve in southern Portugal.
We went to the Algarve for the fifth time this summer and during those visits we have tried lots of lovely places that I wanted to share with you. Here are the top 5 to date in no particular order …
BJs - this is where I spent my recent special birthday so I have very fond memories and we went back again this year. The menu is fairly simple and I wouldn’t say it’s fine dining but it’s certainly good dining - as you’d expect, there is delicious fresh fish a plenty on the menu, cooked simply (as often the best food is) and served with simple salads, chips or rice. It’s child friendly and with its beachside location, if little ones become bored, they can always have a mess around in the sand within view (always make sure you can see your children though!).
What people really come for is the atmosphere - it has a real buzz, service is great and the staff wear a smile as well as their sometimes cheeky BJs t-shirts (available to buy too such is their reputation!). There is live music some days, playing cheesy pop like “Sweet Caroline” (obviously the one that sticks in the memory) and there is a large wicker basket of colourful props for you to dress up. Diners young and old are encouraged to leave their tables and have a sing-along and a boogie, wearing silly wigs, glasses and moustaches. Check out their FB page for videos - luckily none starring yours truly! You MUST book - only open for lunch and it is very popular.
Piri Piri - this place is a great destination for a truly authentic Portuguese meal. We were introduced to it by some friends who sold it by telling me that there wasn’t a menu, you just had to eat the food they made.
You’ll find it down the narrow, winding streets of Quarteira where the houses are bedecked with walls of colourful tiles, locals hang out of their windows chatting to friends and parking a car is tricky! It certainly was authentic, the restaurant was filled with locals, dining like us on meat and bean stew, fresh grilled sardines, home made bread and more delicious fish: Jose told us what fish had been caught and delivered that day and we chose from those - cooked simply again and really moreish with more bread to soak up those yummy cooking juices. The children had grilled chicken and chips but as much of what we ate was served family style, they could try what we were eating/devouring too.
The local wine flowed freely, there was grappa at the end too and all for an unbelievable price. This was real value for money - DO try!
Julia’s - this is another beach side bar and restaurant but unlike BJs, this serves lunch and dinner. Julia’s has been around for a while and is a destination for many returning families. Like, BJs, it’s very popular so do make sure you book.
There’s a bar area which is relaxed so beach attire is ok and then built into the rocks is a tiered seating area where you can enjoy a drink and watch the sun set (or star spot as we did this year when we spied Louise Redknapp), listening to Café del Mar-esque tunes - all very chilled.
The restaurant area is up top, overlooking the beach and is more energetic. This was our fourth visit this year and I have to admit that the service was pretty poor but I’m willing to put that down to a bad day as we’ve never had reason to complain before. We really like it for the whole package - chilled out pre-dinner drinks followed by good food.
Moon - I’m definitely not sure about the name for this place but don’t let that put you off as the food and ambience is really excellent with contemporary decor in sumptuous midnight blue and emerald green velvet.
The meal was amazing - I didn’t take notes as I was on holiday so you’ll just have to believe me! and I would definitely return. Moon definitely did feel like fine dining but was still child friendly with a more interesting menu for them than other places (children’s menu staples but made and presented with attention to detail) and even an ‘entertainer’ (she did some very detailed face painting - it amused the children for 30 mins or so!). However, the children spent most of the evening mesmerised by the water droplets that didn’t soak into the tablecloth and could be moved around the table! Simple things and all that …
Retiro do Campones - this is another local haunt and the Friday night that we went, there were long tables laid out for big family gatherings which was so lovely to see! This place is up in the hills, tucked away and family run, serving homely, rustic local dishes. They bring you homemade bread, local cheese, sardine pate and marinated carrots to nibble on while you peruse the menu which is definitely aimed at the carnivore. Whilst the picanha steak was the talk of the table thanks to our friends who’d been before, I opted for boar stew - not something I make everyday at home!
The red wine was flowing, the food was great and the children were happy playing cards or having a wander round the garden as the sun set and the light dimmed. Digestifs were drunk (it was the last night of holiday after all), doggy bags of stew filled (and then promptly trodden in by my friend!) as we said obrigado Portugal for another lovely holiday.
I would love to hear from you if you’ve been to any of these places and what you thought or perhaps you have a place to recommend to me in the Algarve - it’d be great to try somewhere new! As for now, tonight I’m back to eating in Tonbridge - come say hi if you see me!