Almeja

These past few years, with the tourism development, Porto has been through an ocean of changes, for better or worse. From the real estate bustle, new hotels, new roads, and of course, many new restaurants. Good restaurants, young and talented cooks, nice decorations and even some bold projects that we hardly imagined would work; And, of course, there are many bad businesses in the mix and lots of spaces that for whatever reason didn’t work.

The lack of success or simply the acceptance of failure wasn’t on João Cura and Sofia Gomes’s plans when they decided to open their first restaurant, with a name that anticipated the wish to conquer and leave their mark…

Well, the truth is the success came, maybe even faster than they expected, so much is the receptivity and the many and good reviews Almeja and the cuisine of João Cura has been getting. João is still a young cook, of those who abandon a college degree to follow their passion in front of the stoves. From the Hospitality school in Coimbra, he went to Barcelona, where he worked at the starred Dos Cielos e Cinc Sentits and the at the famous Monvínic, creating a project of “at home chef” and the rest is his present, being drawn at the number 819, of Rua Fernandes Tomás.

With a fine dining concept, Almeja intends to ally a signature cuisine with a good price/benefit relation. The decoration translates just that, simple but tasteful, keeping the old lines of the former Japanese grocery store located in that place.

Croquettes

The experience starts in fine dining mode, with the snacks arriving quickly at the table, first, a croquette, with panko crusting, crunchy outside and very creamy inside, could’ve been just a bit less greasy and more flavorful. Followed a great madeleine with chorizo and apple gel – very good!

 Chorizo madeleines, with apple gel 

And then the bread, a homemade sourdough, with good aroma and texture, very well accompanied by a butter with milk crunch and salt flower, and a great Angélica olive oil.

Toast, cabeça de xara (traditional Portuguese pate), marinade and apple 
The presentation transports us to French pastry, but don’t be fooled by the accurate aesthetics of the plate, here is present a good Portuguese tradition. Nicely prepared cabeça de xara, elevated by the acidic touch of the marinade. A very good dish, in which I just missed some crunch, once the toast and the apple didn’t much present that texture.

 Mushrooms, parsnip, and lemon 
One of the best moments of the evening was this “simple” plate of wild mushrooms, with a velvety parsnip puree and lemon sauce, which freshness contrasted with the earthy notes of the remaining elements and took the dish to a beautiful level.

Chicken Soup
A comfort dish on a cold night, simultaneously a reinterpretation of our famous chicken soup. A good consommé, low-temperature egg with a perfectly cooked yolk, and the pasta replaced with small ravioli. The touch of leek gave more flavor to the dish.

Mondego Rice
João Cura’s “Portuguese cuisine” is not just the reinterpretation of classic recipes, but also the attempt of presenting new products and national producers that few may know, a good example of that is his homage to the Mondego rice. Using probably the best national rice “Arroz da Ereira”, to create a great, great dish! Rice, cockle, razor shell and squid, all perfectly cooked and enrichened by the intensity and salinity of the samphire and the plankton. A great dish!

Pork belly
Flawless pork belly, moist with crunchy skin, nicely paired with pak choi and some fun potato souffle in the shape of piglets that must take more time than the rest of the dish together! Very interesting also the demi glacé jam elevating the entire dish.

 Mangococonut, and lime  
A light and fresh dessert, as I like, but a bit lost among the creamy and gelly textures.

Banoffeebanana, peanut and white chocolate 
The last dessert brought back the level of the previous dishes, here with a great combo of textures, from the cake to the gel and the purees, the crunchy and the excellent caramelized white chocolate. A great ending!

Our choice of wine went to a Riesling Duriense, 2015, by Marcos Hehn. An elegant wine, showcasing its caste very well, and an acidity and elegance that worked very well along the meal. About the wine list, it’s based mostly in small national producers, where everything is good, but also a bit too “right”. A bit more boldness in the choices, to go with the boldness of the plates is something to think for the future.

About the service, I was expecting a bit more “casual” and less fine dining, from the beautiful tableware to the white gloves, or the little service details, everything was very close to a top restaurant. Also here, Almeja wished more and better, revealing a nice surprise, especially for presenting a differentiated service to a broad public.

Final Remarks
In less than a year, João Cura has made this Almeja one of the most interesting projects in the city, good products, nice technique, an accurate aesthetic sense and honest prices (rarer each day). Besides the menu, Almeja can be discovered through a tasting menu (55€) or in a very interesting lunch menu (15€), where some tests for new menus are made. The cuisine is Portuguese with some and obvious influences of the chef’s life in Spain. Showing knowledge but with a restraint capacity rare in young chefs, that usually try to show everything at once and eventually fail.

If Almejar is to wish or want something very badly, this Almeja dreamt, wished and became a refuge in this competitive Porto of gastronomy. So we’re just left with accompanying the work of this young talent and his team because the future is theirs to draw…

Almeja
Average price: 30/35€ pax without wines 
Rua Fernandes Tomás,819 – Porto
22038120

Versão Portuguesa

Photos: Flavors & Senses

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