Sunday, 13 October 2013

Vila Joya, near Albufeira, Portugal

Most meals begin with the starter, and as a result, so do most of my blogs. Somehow that wouldn't quite do Vila Joya justice. The whole experience began when we arrived at a secluded looking villa on the outskirts of Albufeira. It would have been easy to drive past, but our taxi driver pulled up to the gate and pressed the intercom. The gates opened to what would be a truly stunning experience from start to finish.

Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal
First, the setting. Pristine white tablecloths scattered with petals, a magnificent view looking down over the sea and certainly one of the best places to watch the sun set over the Atlantic. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We spent some time taking photos against the serene backdrop and the staff weren't hurrying us along. In fact, the waiting staff need an extra special mention upfront. They were flawless from start to finish, incredibly attentive. Our lead waiter talked us through every dish with impeccable knowledge and passion. I'd told them I was gluten free when we booked a few months before. No matter how good the restaurant is I nearly always have to let them know again as the information never seems to get past the person taking the booking. Not here, they re-affirmed that there was no problem with the menu and that they would ensure all my dishes were gluten free.
The menu - there must have been as many courses not on the menu
Some of the chefs surprises including the incredibly intense 'peanuts'
It operates on a set menu basis, but they check you're happy with everything first. They then take your taste-buds for a spin! A number of chef's surprises (little amuse-bouches) begin arriving. Each one pushes boundaries with techniques I couldn't even begin to describe. Highlights include a small sphere of olive which exploded in your mouth seemingly packing the punch of a whole olive tree. Something that looked like a peanut was crunchy on the outside and then a smooth centre tasting of a whole jar of peanut butter. I suddenly had doubts on the gluten free front when some little cones of a mousse arrived in what looked like filo pastry. I double checked and he assured me it was gluten free. How they created such a thin flaky pastry texture is beyond me! There was one which they couldn't adapt so I was brought out an extra special treat. It was a fois gras lollipop coated in dark chocolate and gold leaf. It's hard to sum up with out just using the word 'wow', sometimes being gluten free has its perks!
More surprises
Sphere of olive
Foie Gras and dark chocolate lollipop
We haven't even started the menu and I'm already running out of superlatives. As the sunset it made taking photos a little more difficult so you'll have to take my word for how beautiful every dish was presented. Picking highlights from this menu was extremely difficult, akin to picking the sweetest candy in a sweet shop, certainly plenty of candidates  A highlight for me was the avocado cannelloni crabs. Again I wasn't sure how they would do this gluten free but I needn't have wasted time thinking about it. The cannelloni was made out of the avocado itself! I've no idea how they did it, but it looked like it must have taken a steady, brilliant hand and considerable time and effort. It was stuffed with a crab mousse which was feather light and smooth. I also loved the ray wings, the fish cooked perfectly and the whole dish perfectly balanced. Veal was succulent and a watermelon dessert a refreshing palette cleanser, ensuring everyone was ready for a sumptuous finale, a Tonka bean and salted caramel dessert.
Avocado Cannelloni Crabs
Everything at Vila Joya comes together to deliver a world class experience, it's 2 Michelin stars, richly deserved. I certainly feel very lucky to have eaten at such an amazing place.