Nara Vidal visits Mesa Real, in Portugal

Award-winning author Nara Vidal, who we recently collaborated, revels in her review of magnificent places, elegant hotels and beautiful restaurants from all over the world her latest unique experience The Mesa Real Restaurant, located at the decadent The Palace Hotel Bussaco, in Portugal. 

Not Your Average Small Town Restaurant

Nestled between Coimbra and Viseu, in an area of outstanding natural beauty and resources, is one of Portugal’s most traditional and decadent restaurants in Portugal: The Palace Hotel Bussaco.

The Mesa Real Restaurant is a key part of a bigger experience which is the hotel itself, a former royal residency that lies on the grounds of the Bussaco forest, also the hunting palace for the last kings of Portugal.

Having said that, the magnificent restaurant itself is more than worth a visit. I talk here about a sublime type of cuisine under the baton of chef Miguel Silva who understands traditional flavours but makes our taste buds come alive with more unusual combinations without ever losing the refinement of its cooking signature.

More is More

After being warmly welcomed by the hotel staff, I was invited to dine and take in the grandness of a dining room that could well be in any fairytale imaginable. The very tall ceilings are framed with paintings that depict the famous Portuguese saga, Os Lusíadas, written by national treasure Camões.

Just for the record, when I say grand, referring to the dining room at Bussaco Hotel, I do not mean it lightly. It is sumptuous, magnificent and decadent. It does not hold aspects of the type of luxury one might expect from sleek interiors and architectural projects. There is nothing minimalist about it. Here, more is more, but the opulence meets with a sombre elegance that resembles exactly what Bussaco hotel used to be: an aristocrat hub.

When I sit at the table, I already know what I am going to order. Attentive staff had already recommended the sample menu accompanied by the exquisite selection of wine produced by Bussaco and exclusively for the hotel. I feel spoilt already and little I knew that this was only the beginning.

A Truly Unique Experience

The Royal Sample Menu that followed consisted of seven courses, including Morgado do Bussaco, a traditional dessert that the Portuguese are, quite rightly so, proud of, as it involves a dreamy combination of caramelised nuts and regional soft cheese ice cream.

The first dish, Madeira island horse mackerel, is served with roasted pimentos and an intriguing powder, later explained to be hazelnut powder. As I happily work my way down the stunning menu of pescatarian delights such as John Dory fish and the Atlantic seaweed, and some pork and lamb, the highlight has to be the gorgeous foie gras and smoked eel with its delicate and glass like topping of burnt sugar, something that will make you think of a crème brûlée, with its flavours highlighted by cherry pickle and jelly.

The wines served in the first half of the sample menu are unique. The word is meant to be this: unique. Bussaco produces it own wine and the result is an exclusive offering in taste that is as far as you can get from the more predictable blancs and grigios that could complement a fish dish so well. Their selection has generous notes of citrous and as the tastes develops, a delicate vanilla hint rounds up the uncommon tang.

The red wine selection is as elegant as the white one. Not necessarily an easy task to bring elegant and fully round notes together to accompany such a rich dish as the braised lamb, pea puree and truffle reduction. But boy it works!

As coffee arrives, I could not believe I went through seven dishes in less than two hours. But thinking of it, that was the easiest and most delightful part. The hardest part is looking at the pictures and having to remember each one as I write, their smells, textures and tastes and admit that it was a one-off experience. But what and experience it was.