Epic Sana Algarve: from haute cuisine to Japanese cuisine, with identity


At mid-morning, the hustle and bustle of the Loulé market is still high. Pedro Pereira, also known as Manteigas, has nowhere to turn. He sometimes stacks boxes of fish caught at dawn, sometimes he mechanically scales the skin of the lilies, sea bass and turbot that customers ask him to take away. “Is it fresh?”, they ask him over and over again. “It can lead to confidence”, he retorts then, always with a smile on his lips.

At the 46-year-old fishmonger’s stall, there are 25 in the municipal market, you can find everything, he assures us. “Want to take what?”, he asks right after. Luís Mourão, executive chef of the Epic Sana Algarve and Dhiego Silva, chef at Uddo – the hotel’s Japanese restaurant –, are looking for the raw material that they will later use in a special four-handed dinner with guest chef Miguel Bértolo (Chirashi restaurants, in Lisbon).

“See? The redder the gill, the fresher the fish”, explains Pedro Pereira, holding in his hand a sea bass that will later be served at the Side by Side dinner (€150 per person / 6 moments) that “uses the techniques of the kitchen Japanese, which is very seasonal, using local products from the Algarve”, says Miguel Bértolo.

Visits to the market are part of the routines of the chefs at the hotel’s restaurants (Uddo, Al Quimia, Abyad and Lima), but this is also one of the experiences that guests can have during their accommodation at the five-star hotel. This time, Luís Mourão brought oysters, clams and the ingredients needed for a seafood cataplana that he will serve at lunch.

Heading the hotel’s kitchens since 2013, the chef, who previously worked at Bica do Sapato or Convento do Espinheiro, and the team have been especially dedicated to Al Quimia, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, which was distinguished with a Boa Cama Boa Mesa award in 2014 and which two years later was included in the Repsol Guide, in Spain. “When we opened the hotel, Al Quimia was a small space, completely different”, he says already at the table, while we taste the Algarve cataplana.

At the beginning of the year, Luís and the team went to San Sebastian, in the Basque Country, to learn from Martin Berasategui (Fifty Seconds, at Parque das Nações, in Lisbon, directed by Filipe Carvalho, who is part of the Sana group). The results of this work and learning with the chef who has eight Michelin stars in his curriculum are visible in the new menus presented for the season. The living room and decoration were also transformed, now presenting a more minimalist environment, in line with the type of kitchen presented.

Inspired by the Algarve landscapes and the diversity of fish and seafood on the national coast, the two new tasting menus finally have “an identity of their own”, acknowledges the executive chef.

Captura (€145 per person/€75 for wine pairing) has no meat, betting on all the products that are right next door, in the ocean. But as the Algarve is not just about the beach and the sea, Barrocal (€125 per person / €65 for wine pairing) takes us to the mountains. There is also Alcofa (€75/€55 for wine pairing), a vegetarian menu created from scratch to meet the growing demand of customers who prefer a menu without meat or fish.

“Al Quimia is very genuine in its way of thinking”, argues Luís Mourão. Asked if the high bar of the fine dining restaurant points to the Michelin star, the chef details that “the focus is not just that”. “Of course we would all like to receive a [estrela Michelin], but here there is a different dynamic, there are many restaurants in the hotel. I’m not just focused on this one.”

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