Xarme(d)

Wine is inexorably linked to food. In all wine producing countries – particularly the old world – the cuisine is the driving force behind the styles of wine produced there. In Portugal this is as true as it is in Italy or France. Portuguese cuisine is a pretty good reflection of the country itself – understated, original and very good. I have found it is nearly impossible to get a bad meal in Portugal. This can also be said of Portuguese wines too, especially with the innovations and modernisation of the industry in the last decade.

For most people, experiencing wine comes at eating establishments rather than at wineries, so I would like to highlight a restaurant that offers great local food and wine in the Algarve. I was recommended this restaurant by the staff at Quinta dos Vales winery just outside Estombar. They gave me the GPS coordinates to place called Espaço Xarme in Lagos. Despite some tricky little streets in the old centre of Largos, I managed to find my way there.

Here I met with the owner and Chef Augusto Lima. Augusto’s life-long love of food comes across as soon as you strike up a conversation with him. His cooking days started at a very early age. After being banished from the household kitchen for nearly destroying it at age 6, he spent his time replicating what he saw using earth and water in his imaginary kitchen outside. At 18 years old, he unexpectedly got his first experience as a head chef, due to the owner and chef of the placed where he worked being involved in a minor car accident. With a fully booked restaurant and some convincing from the owner’s wife, he took over running the kitchen. Despite some imperfections here and there, the meals were received very well.

His passion for the local ingredients led him to Vincent Nas at Ermitage in Almacil. Here, while working along-side him for 4 years, he learnt much of what he brings to his own restaurant; great local ingredients made in innovative ways. And I can tell you it works very well! I was very impressed by the local and quite rare Algarve Churro lamb that was recommended for me to try along with a local red wine.

Although Espaço Xarme was only opened in early January this year, another innovation was launched last week. Augusto has decided to offer “mini courses” of Algarve and Alentejo produce, along with local wines by the glass. I highly recommend it if you are interested in getting to know more about the local food and wine of the area – or if you like me and just want to experience more of it.

In the word of Augusto – “We exist because we love what we do. Welcome! It will be a pleasure to cook for you.” I for one will be back to try some more, sooner rather than later.

By Chris Metcalfe

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