Address: Ac. Particular 47, 8135 Almancil, Portugal
With the golden sunshine beginning to lose its fierce afternoon intensity, we wound our way in a taxi through the leafy, tree-lined roads of Vale do Lobo, in search of Paixa, a Portuguese tapas restaurant that enjoys a considerable reputation in the Algarve.
Given the Portuguese habit for eating dinner in the middle of the night, we were the only people in the restaurant when we arrived at 8pm, and were ushered to our seats in the garden at the back. It was a lovely setting for dinner, perfectly manicured trees ringing the restaurant, a warm breeze dancing across the tables, and, as darkness fell, flickering torch light illuminating the scene.
The menu was a smorgasbord of delights, every line of it containing some tantalising dish that makes you wish for an ever replenishable reservoir of hunger: pheasant terrine, duck foie gras, fresh goats cheese with tomato and basil, salmon mousse, roast beef. Given our normal habit of ordering freakish amounts off the menu, eating ourselves into a food coma, and then cancelling all evening plans and crawling back to our hotel room, it took all of our self-discipline to order only 8 tapas dishes, which was still twice the recommended amount.
We kicked things off with a cup of sheep’s cheese, uncured and with the texture almost of butter, which we spread over bread studded with small pieces of chorizo. As an aficionado of pork scratchings, I ordered a side dish of fried pork fat, much to the horror of partner in culinary crime. They were delicious, the second-best pork scratchings I’ve ever eaten, ceding top spot only to A. Gold, an inconspicuous sandwich shop in Spitalfields Market that serves the best scratchings in London.
Meanwhile, my partner was tucking into some blue fish, which were sharp and vinegary, but ultimately a little disappointing, lacking that spark of the best tapas, and the meat a little thin and watery.
The mushrooms, stuffed with iberico ham and onion, were a highlight, the mushrooms buttery, softly cupping their contents. A tuna loin with a crisped exterior, a melting heart, on a bed of tomatoes, was awesomely fresh, although we were starting to flag a little. An uninspiring side salad sat unloved on the corner of the table, a few green leaves and uncooked mushrooms not offering much that you couldn’t get from grabbing a handful of grass from the garden.
By this time, the restaurant was humming with people, both local and expatriate. The crowd was young, elegant and attractive, and we blended in with ease…
All in all, Paixa is a good restaurant with a relaxing, convivial feel to it. It is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Algarve. But the dishes lacked that killer twist that the very best tapas has. Everything was fresh, everything was done well, but nothing left us astonished, and writing this blog a few days later, no one single dish has seared itself onto my culinary memory.