Bored of long-life supermarket stockpiles? Dream of dining along the Algarve
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Lift spirits by planning a foodie trip to Portugal's delicious southern coast, says Nicole Whitton
Not only has coronavirus limited our travel movements, it's also potentially curbed our food choices – if the manic stockpiling in supermarkets is anything to go by, beans and dried pasta are on the menu for months to come.
Heave yourself out of dietary doldrums by fantasising about future foodie holidays; once normality resumes, the taste of travel freedom will never have felt so good.
Famous for its fresh seafood and sun-soaked dining, Portugal's Algarve region could be top of your list. Its cuisine has been shaped by a tumultuous past of conquests and periods of foreign occupation; almonds, citrus and rice, for example, were introduced by the Moors.
Economic hardship also forced residents in the countryside to get creative with their cooking and celebrate simple pleasures, making garlic, bread and wine staples on the kitchen table.
The result is an inventive cuisine, where simple ingredients are combined with exotic flavours to create a rich variety of dishes.
If you are at home planning adventures for a time when travel across Europe is once again care-free, whet your appetite for the Algarve with these gastronomic highlights.
A taste of the sea
A 20-minute drive from Faro, 2 Passos restaurant (restaurante2passos.com/en; mains from €14.50/£12.60) is a wonderful introduction to the wild Atlantic coastline and the region's fabulous seafood offerings. It's best to share plates, as you won't want to miss out on the salmon gravadlax, fresh clams, juicy langoustines and sea bass cooked the Algarve way, with tomatoes and garlic. Accompanied by local wines, the menu is a real treat, and food is easily walked off along the shoreline.
Comprised of fish, bread and hard-boiled egg, with a punchy injection of garlic and coriander, acorda is a seafood broth beloved by locals. Try it at O Palhacinho, just outside Faro's local market (€6/£5.24 per person).
Raising the game
Fish may take centre stage, but carnivores are also catered for in these parts. Located in the small hamlet of Barranco do Velho ('Hill of the Old Man', comprised of just 30 people), A Tia Bia restaurant (atiabia.com/en; mains from €9.50/£8.26) can attract up to 200 diners a day. Highlight dishes include deer and plum stew or oven-baked black pork cheek.
Owner Catia Graca is passionate about the variety of ingredients the Algarve has to offer. When she's not in the kitchen, she's likely walking along trails in the surrounding countryside, where many of her ingredients are sourced.
"Growing up, there's not much to do here – aside from learning to gather mushrooms or snails," she explains.
At sophisticated steakhouse Bovino (quintadolago.com/en/restaurants/bovino-steakhouse; sharing platter for four €65/£56.40 per person) in Faro, the sharing platter is recommended; it's the best way to sample the various cuts of rump, fillet, prime reserve and USDA New York strip. Make sure you prepare your stomach – you won't want to leave any of the melt-in-your-mouth meat behind.
A bustling town, Faro offers an impressive range of restaurants amidst its winding lanes, opulent churches, sleepy marina and historic town centre.
A Venda is excellent for inventive cuisine, with an ever-changing menu depending on what's available and who's doing the cooking. When I visited, the roasted mackerel in tomatoes and onions was sublime, with the fish-egg salad providing a zesty accompaniment.
Algarve wines are rare outside the area – producers are too small to export much – so it was a real pleasure to sample Portal da Vinha, a lively white from the Alentejo region.
Or, if you fancy reclining in the sunshine, you could do worse than Cidade Velha (restaurantecidadevelhafaro.negocio.site; mains from €11/£9.56) in the old town. Try fresh tuna belly marinated in garlic, pot-boiled clams pared with xarem (similar to a wet preparation of couscous, made of cornflour, garlic, herbs and water), it's a great place to dine and take in the surroundings: massive stork nests sit atop historic buildings and orange trees line the roads, heavenly fragrant from late February until mid-March.
From crusty Pao de Cabeca loaves to creamy ricotta-style goat's cheese, Faro's local market is a foodie's delight.
Join retired gents bantering about football at Snack Bar da Xica for a breakfast of bifana sandwich (€2.25/£1.95). The pork, marinated in garlic and wine, will line your stomach – particularly useful given that you won't be judged here for starting your day with a glass of red.
Where to stay
Four Seasons Fairways, with its self-catering accommodation, is particularly handy for the gastronomic tourist: it's close to restaurants and local markets, but comes with a fully equipped kitchen for you to release that inner chef. You can even request barbecue meats or order groceries from the supermarket to your door – ready for your arrival.
The resort's fine dining restaurant, Amara (amararestaurant.pt; four-course chef's tasting menu €39/£33.89), is a must-visit, whether you stay here or not. Prices are reasonable and dishes exquisite.
The wine workshops are also not to be missed. Hosted by passionate sommelier Miguel Reis, whose grandfather owned a small vineyard, it's the perfect way to discover rare Algarve wines. Workshops cost €25/£21.85 per person.
How to plan your trip