Porches Velho, Porches, Algarve, Portugal

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Porches Velho is a restaurant that could be called a hidden gem. Porches is an attractive village about three kilometres inland from the Southern Algarvian coast, between Carvoeiro and Armacao De Pera. It is quiet and calm, with narrow cobbled streets and is relatively untouristed, even in the height of summer. The area is famous for its pottery and the local workshops are certainly worth a visit. However, the largest of these are on the nearby N125 and not so many people go into the village itself.

The village has a pretty church. Its bells rang (8pm on a Wednesday, if you would like to try to recreate the effect) as we walked up the hill to the restaurant and a sliver of moon shone over its steeple, making us feel a little like we had stepped into a spaghetti western, so the romantic scene was set even before we entered the restaurant. The room itself has high vaulted ceilings, it is a 200 year old converted wine cellar. It has thick whitewashed walls decorated sparsely with antique agricultural equipment, tiles and old fashioned lamps. It oozes Portuguese tradition from every beam.

Porches Velho is a “Restaurante Tipico Potugues” which means that it serves classic Portuguese food. The tables are dressed in white linen with white napkins and soon after you are shown to your table the waiter brings the couvert dishes, fish paste, olives, pickled carrots and pickled beetroot, also a basket of sliced local bread with oil and butter. The wines are all Portuguese and there is a full list to choose from.

The starters consist of fish, soup or vegetarian dishes. We had a Portuguese Gazpacho and the vegetable soup. Both were excellent, the vegetable was thick and hot and the Gazpacho was spicy and juicy. The main course menu has many traditional dishes. Rabbit Cataplana, Alentejo Lamb and chicken casserole are among the interesting choices.

We went for the Old Portuguese Style Steak and the Medallions of Black Pork Tenderloin. The Pork was perfectly cooked, and served with a sauce of wild mushrooms on the side. The sauce was delicious and thick with different types of mushroom. The Steak is served in a deep dish, covered in serrano ham, surrounded by sliced potatoes, in a thick brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. This is a traditional way to serve steak in the Algarve and many restaurants offer this dish. This particular version though, was beautifully tender, the steak was very good quality and one of the nicest that I have had.

For the dessert offering, the waiters come to your table carrying the choices available. This is a clever idea, as one is much more likely to be tempted by seeing the dishes than by reading about it on the menu. The ice-cream is homemade and I can certainly vouch for the chocolate one being rich and flavourful.

The service was very good, we felt that they were genuinely interested in our opinions of the food and went out of their way to ensure that we had a good evening. Porches Velho is a wonderful Portuguese Restaurant with lovely traditional Portuguese hospitality. It is a hidden gem of the Algarve, a little of the beaten track but all the better for it and certainly worth the trip to visit it. Highly Recommended.

Campania Gastronomia, Ezra Street, London E2.

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The setting is idyllic. Even for hip and trendy Hoxton, this place has style. Ezra street is a small cobbled lane off Columbia Road. The restaurant itself is set in a Victorian terrace, it appears to have been converted from a shop or a terraced house. You will need to have your wits about you when looking for it, as the shop says S. Jones over the door and the name, Campania, is just written on the window.

The interior is decorated in washed plain wood, the crockery is old fashioned but pretty. It is mismatched, like the tables and chairs. It has a 1940s or 50s feel inside. The yard of the house has been covered over and holds a large benched table that seats about ten, this would be a good place to bring a big group. There are also seats outside on the street.

We found the service to be very good, our waitress explained the menu beautifully. The menu is short, but everything does feel home made. Our shared platter to start was lovely, it contained something for everyone. The pasta was made on the premises and it was nice, the risotto was good too. This being in the more fashionable part of town, the prices are at the top end of the price spectrum, without being excessive. The house rose wine, was not cheap, but it was delicious.

It was very busy, Luckily we had booked, as it is quite small, maybe 36 covers, and they appeared to be turning people away all evening. If you are planning to go for lunch or brunch, after visiting the flower market, on a Sunday, you will certainly need to reserve your table. The passageway down the side of the restaurant is pretty, with an old fashioned wooden sash window and a Victorian looking street lamp in a narrow, brick lined, cobbled street. It is very photogenic. If you are going out with visitors to London, this would be a charming, quirky place to take them.

We enjoyed our evening and would definitely return.

Royal Dragon Restaurant, Gerrard Street, London, W1

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Royal Dragon is in the heart of Chinatown on Gerrard Street. Decorated in browns and creams; when you step in, it is calm, away from the bustle just outside the door.

We had dim sum to start, Prawn dumplings and pork dumplings served in stacked bamboo servers. These were very flavorful and they were accompanied by a small dish of sweet chilli sauce and a dish of hot chilli sauce.

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This was followed by crispy duck with pancakes and a plum sauce. The duck was deliciously crispy, the pancakes were hot and fresh. We finally had lobster with ginger and spring onion. I am a bit of a lobster novice, but this was amazing. It was a huge portion of lobster served on a platter of noodles in a succulent ginger sauce. It even came with its own implement, a lobster fork, the first time I have seen one.

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To be honest, I forgot to check the wine list, I don’t often drink wine with Chinese food. There were three brands of beer on offer, Asahi and Carlsberg were the names I recognised. The service was excellent.

It is a relatively small restaurant, for Chinatown, we were there in the early evening and the place was busy without being packed. It is open late and it does Karaoke between 11pm and 3am. The waiter said that this happens in private rooms, so it should not disturb your meal. While we ate, there was background music; it was quiet and unobtrusive.

If you are looking for somewhere quiet and smart, and you want to stay in the centre of Chinatown, the Royal Dragon fits the bill.