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Thursday 16 May 2019

Vila Vita Parc's Fine Wines & Food Fair - A Most Fabulous Weekend in Sunny Algarve

Vila Vita Parc

Vila Vita Parc is a luxury 5 star hotel in Algarve, Portugal, reputedly one of the top hotels in the country, it is set on a cliff top with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, just a 40 minute drive from Faro airport.

Set over 54 acres of subtropical gardens, with a golf course, numerous swimming pools, a tennis court and spa, and no fewer than 8 restaurants, Vila Vita Parc is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Its top restaurant, Ocean, has 2 Michelin stars. 

We were there to sample a couple of days from the biennial Vila Vita Parc's Fine Wines and Food Fair.  Now in its 8th year, this year’s event took place over 9 days from 5th to 13th May 2019. 

There is a tempting programme of gastronomic experiences, including dinners from Hans Neuner, Head Chef of the 2 Michelin starred Ocean restaurant, as well as an impressive line up of international chefs from Europe and the USA.

There were also wine tastings and masterclasses with some of the Europe’s top winemakers and gourmet food producers.

Our visit took place during the closing days of the event, including the highlight of the festival, the Saturday night Kitchen Party featuring 40 food stations where chefs were paired with gourmet food and wine producers and a live jazz band and a disco at the end – more on that later.

Accommodation at Vila Vita Parc ranges from exclusive Ocean View private villas to Junior Suites, and many gradations in between.

Our room was spacious and beautifully furnished, evoking the blue and white azulejos of traditional Portuguese houses in a completely modern way.

The room had beautiful local pottery and vases, and sliding doors to a private balcony with views of the sea, and also a Nespresso machine for that coffee fix whenever you fancy it.

It is wonderful to visit a hotel with such a strong culture around gastronomy – besides the dishes on offer in the fair itself, we also had excellent food from the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffets, a great lunch at the Mediterranean restaurant, Bela Vita, and dinner at the traditional Portuguese restaurant Aldega.

The breakfast buffet was exceptional, with various stations featuring cut tropical fruit, a mouthwatering range of local cheeses, hams and charcuterie, and some top quality patisserie including a daily change of traditional Portuguese cakes and pastries.

Fine Portuguese cakes and pastries are baked on the premises daily and available at the hotel’s café.  Vila Vita Parc’s Pastel de Nata was probably the best I have ever eaten – perfectly textured pastry, filled to the brim with rich and creamy egg custard.

Dinner at the Portuguese Aldega Restaurant was also noteworthy.  We had a mouthwatering monkfish stew with prawns and clams in a rich tomato, pepper and paprika sauce, served in a Portuguese cataplana pot.

Equally delicious was the oven-roasted suckling pig - this was meltingly tender and with great crackling, served with crunchy potatoes and a spicy sauce.

At Bela Vita restaurant, we had another great meal, including a sirloin steak with an intense flavour and the creamiest layer of fat, from cattle raised in the Herdade dos Grous region. It came with a rich, buttery truffled potato mash.

We also loved the surf and turf combination of monkfish and mussels stew with white beans and chorizo – heartwarming and delicious.  

A simple side of spinach sautéed with pine nuts and raisins might seem an odd thing to mention, but it was so delicious and as I write this, I am making a mental note to cook this combination at home.

Inside Kopke Wine Masterclass

One of the fair’s events was a wine masterclass given by Carlos Alves, the Head Winemaker of Kopke, the oldest Port wine house in Porto. Kopke was established in 1638 by German businessman Nicolau Kopke, although it did not have its own vineyard until the 1780s.

Unusually for a Port tasting, Alves decided to devote the entire event to white Port.  Representing just 10% of Port wine production, white Port is popular in Portugal as a simple fresh fortified wine to be drunk either on its own, chilled, or with ice and tonic water. We started with one of these, a Dry White Porto was fresh, dry and with tropical fruit flavours. The sweeter Kopke Lágrima White was golden brown in colour, with rich complex orange peel, honey and vanilla flavours.

We had a selection of Colheita (single vintage year) white Ports including the 2003 and 2008, before moving to the most venerable blended Ports – aged for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years in oak barrels before bottling for selling. Producing Ports of this age is an expensive business, not just because of the need for a lot of storage space (by law, in any year, Port houses have to keep two thirds of their stock and sell only up to a third), but also because up to 5% of the volume is lost each year through evaporation.

This was a real eye-opener of a tasting, experiencing the range and complexity of white Ports available in Portugal, and is something I would love to explore more, as I learnt that these Ports make a great accompaniment to sashimi as well as cheese.

The Kitchen Party 

We were thrilled to take part in The Kitchen Party at Vila Vita Parc to celebrate the 2019 Fine Wines and Food Fair. The event kicked off with an open-air Pommery Champagne reception on the hotel grounds, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

This was followed by the party itself, a casual mingling event, where all 18 participating chefs cooked their signature dishes for us to try, plus numerous stands of wine makers and food producers. There was a live jazz band too, free flowing bubbles and fine wines.

Chef Dieter Koschina from 2 Michelin star restaurant Vila Joya made a wonderful dish of layers of tuna tartare and tomato salsa topped with a bright green Jalapeño chilli foam, light as air and delicate, which for me was the finest dish of the event.

Flying the British flag, Nigel Haworth from one Michelin starred Northcote Hotel & Restaurant in Lancashire cooked a fantastic “British taco” - a thin crumpet topped with king crab, trout caviar and various types of seaweed and herbs.

Iran born, Reza Korouji from Berlin, brought his luxurious Imperial Caviar to the event, served with a shot of chilled seafood bisque.

Vila Vita Parc’s own 2 Michelin starred Restaurante Ocean headed by Chef Hans Neuner served another highlight - massive red Mediterranean prawns barbecued and served with a delectable mango salsa.

There were numerous Portuguese wine makers showing their finest fare - noteworthy was Celso de Lemo’s Quinta de Lemos winery from Dão region, that served us the some of the best red wines we tried during the entire festival.

How lucky of me to bump into mixologist Pedro Paulo - Portuguese born, but a Londoner at heart, Pedro is One Aldwych Hotel’s top bar man - his cocktail of London dry gin, St Germain liquor and Champagne, topped with edible gold leaves had everyone queuing up for it!

The Fine Wines & Food Fair at Vila Vita Parc has got to be one of the most significant, delectable and fun gastronomic events in Europe that I have attended in my 10 years of food writing. Look out for their 2021 dates, but if that is too long to wait, why not come to the Algarve and visit Vila Vita Parc in the meantime.

Travel Essentials

Vila Vita Parc
Rua AnneliesePohl
8400-450 Porches
Rooms cost from €355 per night including breakfast. 

Fine Wines and Food Fair


The London Foodie attended as a guest of Vila Vita Parc.  However, complete editorial control remained with Luiz Hara.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Sake No Hana’s Koinobori Menu 2019 Reviewed

Name: Sake no Hana

Where: 23 St James Street, London SW1A 1HA, https://sakenohana.com/london/koinobori/

Cost: The Koinobori menu, available until 11 Mary 2019, costs £52 per person. 

About: Sake no Hana is celebrating Japan's Golden Week, with its Koinobori (carp streamers) menu. This reflects the carp-shaped flags flown at the end of Golden Week to celebrate Children's Day.  Carp are considered the most spirited fish, so full of energy and power they they can fight their way up streams and waterfalls, which is considered a fitting metaphor for a child's journey through life. The menu will be served only until 11 May 2019, so if you want to try it, do hurry along.

What We Ate: We kicked off with a Sansai Shiriu -a delicate white miso soup with three types of vegetables.

From the Urokozushi, temari and maki sushi menu, chirashi gunkan had salmon, seabass and ikura (salmon roe), crab and avocado, spicy tuna, inari sushi (served in tofu skins), and hamachi. These were delicately made, the rice was well cooked and seasoned, they were excellent.

For main course, there is a choice of one of three options per person, and we were sampled all of them. 

The Haru Yasai salmon had been marinated in miso, making it firm, buttery and flavoursome, served with asparagus, wild garlic sauce and yuzu. For my palate, it desperately needed some accompanying rice (which is not on the menu but happily we had ordered a portion).

The kisetsu yasai tempura (seasonal tempura), with the Chef's choice of vegetables, was beautifully done. Light, crisp and without a hint of greasiness, this was deceptively simple and delicious, reflecting the skills of the chef behind these tempting morcels of shiso leaf, pumpkin, broccoli and inoki mushroom, aubergine and asparagus.

The yakitori of corn fed chicken were barbecued skewers, and featured grilled miso-marinated chicken, served with a sticky shishito peppers (the Japanese equivalent of Padron peppers) and yuzu chilli sauce. These succulent pieces of juicy, caramelised chicken thigh were a delight. 

For dessert, a selection of classic Wagashi (Japanese confectionary) included dorayaki (a pancake of red bean jam), a raspberry and strawberry mochi topped with a pickled cherry blossom, mitarashi dango (glutinous rice balls glazed with lychee) and matcha roll cake (green tea cake roulade with vanilla Chantilly cream).  Each of these was delectable, but the highlight was the berry mochi with topped with a pickled cherry blossom.

What We Drank: The suggested cocktail pairing for this menu is a Koinobori Martini (£15), with Belvedere vodka, sakura tea cordial, lime and dinky "koi carp" made from painted rice paper.

We shared a bottle of an entry-level white wine, a Pinot Blanc, Granit de La Vallee, from Cave de Turkheim, Alsace, France (£38). This was aromatic, and though lacking in complexity, had attractive peachy flavours, fresh acidity and minerality. 

Likes: Highlights for me were the sushi selection, the tempura and the desserts. 

Dislikes: The menu needs more carbs, steamed rice should be offered with the mains.

Verdict: We love Sake no Hana, and their seasonal Koinobori menu is no exception. Available until 11th May 2019 (although many of the dishes are also on the a la carte menu) we highly recommend it.

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