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Restaurant review by Uwe Heitkamp and Fotos by Graciete João

Open Tuesday to Sunday

Restaurant review by Uwe Heitkamp and Fotos by Graciete João

Restaurant review by Uwe Heitkamp and Fotos by Graciete João

Saturday the 29th of April 2023.

Standing outside the entrance to Restaurant Camilo high above Lagos Bay, we are waiting to be admitted inside by the doorman. If he knew our identities he might not lift the ribbon for us. What he says then is a bit odd: only if we have come to eat and drink will he give us one of the few available inside tables. To be clear: we are not standing at the entrance to a nightclub. And it’s midday, not midnight.

Should we however only want to order a drink, we can grab one of the available outside tables around the entrance. No, no, we do want to eat and drink, we reply. Do we look like tourists or something? Are we in swimwear?

Having known Restaurante Camilo for 34 years now, this week I chose it for you, my dear readers, to check whether it is still as good as back in the day (or maybe a bit better even) when the food was still served in a small shed right by the rock above the sea, which subsequently threatened to crumble. Every year Nature takes a few rocks, and at some point the sea came too close for comfort, requiring the restaurant to move. It was moved back a few metres and rebuilt from scratch further away: modern, and safe for now. That was in 2011.

Since then the glass cube with terrace has been a goldmine, also because the views are so spectacular, breathtaking, unique. From up here we enjoy an unfettered view of the sea, taking in Alvor, Portimão and infinity. And if you walk down the set of wooden steps, you reach the beach next to the famous caves. We are indeed just short of the small cape of Ponta da Piedade and Dona Ana lighthouse… This much just to place us.
Let’s get onto the food now. We order a couvert of cheese, bread and olives. Matured for some six weeks, the sheep’s cheese (€5.50) from Santiago da Guarda, Ansião (there are similar cheeses of the same quality in Monchique, Odemira and Salir, local economy, shorter distances) is served with a little bowl of red sauce that I’m very keen to sample. The recipe is the kitchen’s jealously guarded secret. We can only reveal that this „molho“ consists of sweet, finely chopped red fruit and the mild-spicy top of a chilli pod. It’s a well-balanced flavour, allowing the taster to keep breathing without numbing the palate. We are served a bottle of Monchique mineral water (ph 9.5) in a glass bottle. And the vegetable soup (€2.90) is prepared with carrots and potatoes (like a chowder) and with small green beans on top for decoration, hot & tasty. The eyes of course are always a part of the feast too.

The catch of the day is laid out on a bed of ice at the entrance to the restaurant and is constantly freshened up and sprayed with humid cold air. Every guest has to pass by. A fortune for any restaurateur. There are a few thousand euros laid out in front to tempt fish gourmets. How long is this variety, symbol of the wealth of the Algarve, likely to last? And what do the restauranteurs do with the fish they don’t manage to sell? Always those annoying questions that journalists ask. But yes, what  d o e s  a fish restaurant do with their unsold fish, in other words, why did that fish have to be caught in the first place if it is left over at the end of the day and maybe destined for the bin? This is the best way to study capitalism. But maybe the fish is made into paté?

Studying the menu I ask the chatty waitress whether they might have something for vegetarians too, a dish without fish or meat, as I‘m hard pressed to find anything on the menu that doesn’t involve a dead animal. And I don’t really want to eat yet another omelette. I am told that there will be vegetarian options in the future. Does this mean that vegans and vegetarians are people so far ahead of their time? Maybe we should come back in two to three years’ time? No, the chef will prepare a pasta dish with a vegetable sauce for me. That doesn’t sound so bad in fact, even if not particularly exciting. And why does this option not feature on the menu? So before I change places in my mind and head over to the drinking tourists, I confirm the tagliatelle with vegetables (priced eight euros), which allows me to keep my place under the parasol on the restaurant terrace. Saved by the bell.

Graciete chooses the skinned black „Peixe Espada“ filet priced 18 euros. Too expensive? Well, as I read in a book the other day, humanity can only survive if it stops emitting greenhouse gases and becomes more frugal. This insight is simple yet difficult to implement, in a seaside restaurant in the sun in particular. The kitchen is buzzing. Some hundred hungry people want to eat fish, and they don’t care how many fish are still swimming around in the sea – the main thing is that there is juicy grilled fish available in the here & now  – even if it’s a the second-but-last of is kind to be hauled out of the sea and placed on the barbecue.

No-one wants to forgo anything in a restaurant this beautiful. And as the chefs are not (yet) able to cook without fish & meat because they haven’t been trained to prepare vegan dishes, I can only say a well-educated thank you. Obrigado. What they do serve up then is not as spectacular as the sea view but, using the fine filigree cutlery, edible enough. Dessert is chosen quickly. From the 15 puds on offer on the menu I choose the baked apple, which turns out to be a good choice. Delicious. Wine? We are eating in Lagos. Is there no local wine? Of course, there is, but not availiable. Why not? There is the famous Sargaçal Vineyard Monte da Casteleja, and my red wine (2021) sulphite free, from the winemaker Guillaume Leroux. I stay with Monchique water.

After long deliberations we are prepared to give this restaurant twelve out of 15 points. We’ll-trained staff. Unique location. Spotless facilities. If, if … there had been vegetarian options on the menu and a local wine the rating would possibly have been even better. Even so we can definitely recommend Restaurante Camilo, whether for a visit as a couple or a wedding party. Depends on the depth of you pockets. Apart from those two options there are many other reasons for a good lunch. Actually, I haven’t mentioned the well-stocked wine list with national wines. And another thing: it’s never too late in life to take a few new steps, whether personally or professionally…

 

Restauarante Camilo, Estrada da Ponta da Piedade, Praia do Camilo, 8600-544 Lagos, Tel. +351-282 763 845 / 968 691 143, open Tuesday-Saturday midday to 21.30 and Sundays lunchtime;
https://camilorestaurante.com; https://montecasteleja.com/en/

 

Uwe Heitkamp (62)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations: Dina Adão, John Elliot, Ruth Correia, Patrícia Lara, Kathleen Becker
Photos: Graciete João

 

 

 

 

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