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The Portuguese empire was one of the longest in history. It lasted from the 15th century until Macao was returned to China in 1999. Fast forward to 2008 and the country was hit hard by the financial crisis. Now it seems they are conquering the world once again. This time, with their kitchen!
The latest conquest is a gorgeous Georgian townhouse in Covent Garden. Husband and wife team, Simon Mullins and Isabel Almeida Da Silva have brought elements from all the former Portuguese colonies under one roof. Fabulous! Together with Head Chef George Tannock of The Dorchester, Fat Duck and Sexy Fish, it’s a master class in fusion. (Volta do Mar, by the way, means turn of the sea, and also return from the sea.)
Isabel heads the front of house and it’s worth a trip just to meet her. Her laugh will light up your life! And she knows her stuff. She and hubby curated the unique wine list. We sampled a white Pedra Cancela Winemakers Selection at £28 a bottle. Extremely light, full of citrus and mineral. A Tinto Vulcanico (£12/glass) comes from the Azores! Again, very light, full of fruit, with a peaty nose like whisky! Both worked well with food.
The house is magnificent. 3 floors of dining space can accommodate any occasion and artists in residence decorate the walls. The art is for sale, so the space will continuously transform itself.
The menu is original and inventive. Chef Tannock manages to weave a myriad of global flavors into dishes that are at once, rustic and refined. Algarvian-style fish soup (£5) was clean and fresh, with cherry tomatoes, coriander and stortini (baby macaroni). Quality and value combined.
Ovos com tomate with Dorset Crab (£11.50) is a light savory 'flan', somewhere between a mousse and a custard. Beautifully decorated with slivers of radish and lovely fresh crab meat.
Seabream 'Alimado' (£8) gets its influence from the Japanese connection. Nagasaki was part of the Portuguese empire in the late 16th century. The fish is cured, poached and served in a light pickling juice with ginger, pink peppercorns and shamashi mushrooms. Pickled fish with elegance!
Tiger prawn and fish Moqueca (£19) elevated a meaty piece of Pollock with a bisque-like sauce. Lovely with a side of vibrant Mozambique green rice (£4.50). Iberico pork 'vindalho' (£18) won the day. Gorgeous, tender meat in a rich, spicy Goan curry. Garnished with fresh mango chutney and a fine, lightly dressed 'slaw', it hit every taste bud. Twice!
For the first time, a side of carrots sent me over the moon. With spiced granola and fresh cheese (£4.50) I would happily make a meal of it.
Castella cake (£8), similar to angel food, with its slightly rubbery consistency, came with wonderful baby figs in syrup and a delicious Liquor Beirao ice cream, similar to caramel in taste. Grilled pineapple was a dream, with coconut sorbet and fabulous candied chilli. They should sell bags of it on the way out!
If the Portuguese keep conquering, I hope they take me prisoner!