37:57.1N 008:52.2 W Sines Anchorage

Wed 16 Sep 2015 10:44
Last year, on the Rally, when we arrived here we had to spend the evening washing out the accessible parts of the bilge after the black water tank had leaked into it, so we missed out on the memorable meal our friends told us about the next day. A quick text to Geoff confirmed the location of the Restaurante O Castello, just behind Vasco da Gama’s birthplace in the castle, and on the right. Since my Open University days I have always enjoyed seeing things by comparison. Not only do I find it fun but two apparently quite different things or concepts, approached from different angles can result in similar outcomes. Remember the old adage, more than one way of skinning the cat.
When we arrived in Lagos, a few days later, we decided to have a meal out and during one of our shopping trips we happened by the open door of a little restaurante called Artistas Restaurante. The door was barred with two quality chairs upholstered with spotless blue covers. A notice in English and Portuguese read ‘Please come and enjoy our Garden.’ We decided we would do just that in the evening.
So we have Restaurante O Castello in Sines and Artistas Restaurante in Old Lagos. On entering the former a vast glass counter full with joints of meat, fish and glass bowls of fruit mousses and topped with bottles of wine greeted us, making me wonder if we had happened upon the local butchers by mistake. A man in his fifties, the owner I guess, greeted us and found us a table which abutted the one next to it. The room was say forty foot long and one end was the kitchen and half of one side housed the counter. So not much room and lots of tables crammed in. The decor was spotless and the fourteen little square tables could be moved easily to increase the number of seating places. Next to us a Portuguese man was just finishing his supper. Strangers engaged in conversation with their dining neighbours. The atmosphere was very friendly and social.
The menu was simple and could be guessed at from the counter contents. Rob had rump steak that he said could be mistaken for fillet as it was the most tender and tasty he had had for years, and I had a calamari skewer with peppers and onions and inch wide strips of sweet and tender calamari seared so the edges crinkled like brown lace. The service was almost instant and the turnover at the tables was brisk. A quick meal and the diners were off, but not before our Portuguese neighbour said I must put lots of olive oil on my calamari to keep it moist. Our new neighbours started their holiday by renting a hire car at Faro Airport and were coast hopping as far a Porto before flying home from Lisbon. They ordered sardinhas and were not sure what to do with them. We laughed and made a few suggestions, “Head off, tail off, open along the back”.
We sipped the blanco wine from the Douro region as the kind man topped us up before returning the bottle to the fridge with all the other open ones. I wondered if he ever poured the wrong one at table, but then there was no room for the bottle on the table anyway. The kitchen organisation was brilliant with starters, salads and cooked veg all prepared in advance and the latter kept in a heated cupboard. The staff, family members I think, were very busy and smiling, sharing jobs with a liquid style that comes from experience and working together in harmony. In just over an hour we were done.
By contrast in the Artistas in Lagos the waiter encouraged us to pause between courses and we got to know a lot about him. From the Ukraine, his Russian mother and Ukrainian father brought him to safe and beautiful Portugal when he was nine and he has now taken on the nationality. He learned English from children’s programmes with English sub-titles and from working with tourists for years. The house was built on the ruins left by the 1755 earthquake and the garden was surrounded by a sandstone wall and dotted with a subtle and effective mixture of real and artificial plants that blended different hues of green. White LED lights shone up into the branches of the trees and green lights shone down from the cream umbrellas over the tables. There was no question of chatting to the neighbouring tables as they were insulated by the space and potted trees around them. The atmosphere was serene, quiet and restful. The crudity of seeing the unprepared food was eradicated and only in its most sophisticated, nouveau cuisine form, was it brought to the table by smartly uniformed waiters to whom the name of the game was refinement and perfection.
While we were still menu gazing the chef came up with delicate crab pate and three types of bread, followed by carrot, orange and vanilla soup accompanied by half a quails egg, broccoli and roasted tofu in soy sauce.
Then, to start with (!) I had black prawns smothered in some sort of froth with curry flavoured rice and Rob had different cheeses, then he tucked into pork medallions on seared aubergine slices and I had home-made pasta with truffles and saffron stems. The preparation again was done largely beforehand but the attention to detail reached artistic rather than rustic standards. In between courses the chef’s home-made lime sorbet cleansed the palate and for pudding we accepted his invitation, as written on the menu, to wander through their patisseri choice of tiny pastries, sorbets and sliced fruit in sweet liquor.
The prices also were at high contrast. The O Castello was yet another sufficient and affordable meal. The Artistas, we decided at the time, would be our sixth wedding anniversary celebration to justify the expense and the latter experience lasted nearly three hours. Both dining experiences were worthwhile, enjoyable and faultless in our view. Vive la contrast!
Now, back to reality. On the Sines evening I had decided to wear a long, body hugging horizontally stripped dress. Nice and easy to put on by just pulling it up sufficiently far for the stretchy fabric to cover most of my top. Remember the saying, ‘What goes up.......’ The evening was cooling as we left O Castello so I slipped my cotton jacket on and we explored this historic town in its after dark character. Vasco was gazing far out to sea from his plinth, other restaurants were full of people eating while they watched football and as we wandered back to the beach a group of people were approaching us. I was nice and warm now so happily unzipped my jacket looking forward to some cool air when I realised said bodice had now become a waist band. Rob, as you can imagine, was beside himself “Sort yourself out you 17th century tart!” The oncomers smiled kindly.