Casa Dos Salgados Restaurant
This place is not easy to get to. We drove up from the town of Caniço, parked and followed part of a caminho or what was left of an old ‘royal road’ to the restaurant. A word of warning; don’t wear your strappy stilettos or a tight dress. Guys… you’ve been warned!
“It's so worth it”
You can also descend from the village of Camacha but we didn’t do that so not sure how that might go.
Whichever way you get here, it’s so worth it! A sign outside says ‘Coffee Bar’. It’s anything but! The door was locked so I pulled a length of twine running through a small hole in the middle of the door. A bell rang inside. Eventually, someone appeared to let us in! It was like gaining admission to a 1920s ‘Speakeasy’.
For starters, we sat on an enclosed veranda with a view. And what a view! The outlook over ‘Vale do Porto Novo’ serves to charge your appetite. The Atlantic Ocean and Desertas Islands stand clear at the end of this deep, green ravine. Simply stunning!
‘Dentinho’ is what they call appetisers here in Portugal which translates as ‘little tooth’ (also the nickname of the diminutive Brazilian striker though I notice he’s recently had his dental gap bridged).
Aperitifs appeared and the liver dish tasted nothing like it! My mother used to try and dupe me into eating the stuff with slim success. If she ever prepared liver like this, there would have been no arguments!
Accompanying green beans, savoury carrots and succulent olives were met with a lank, white ‘Principal Grande Reserva 2011’ from the region of Bairrada in the heart of mainland Portugal.
‘Inês’, the house cat, otherwise known as ‘The Queen’ keeps an eye on proceedings but was never intrusive.
This place was once a cowshed! I say this in the most reverential terms as proprietor Inácio clearly loves what he’s doing and besides being the head chef, he singlehandedly converted the cowshed of his former family home into a one-man culinary man-cave.
Before he turned to culinary life, Inácio was a carpenter and here at Casa dos Salgados, he has given free rein to both his crafts. The walls of the restaurant are lined with side panels from wine boxes and cork ‘rolha’ displays.
Decades before, disenchanted with fitting aluminium windows, Inácio took a job in a tiny little restaurant in Odeceixe, a village to the north of the Algarve. He already had a fair idea about cooking from his mother and over the next 8 years, he’d acquired a new skillset. He opened the Casa dos Salgados eleven years ago, repurposing his family’s abandoned hillside farmstead.
‘Casa Dos Salgados’ is a completely different model from any other restaurant you will find on these islands or most other places on the planet. For openers, you need to book at least 15 days ahead of your intended visit, most certainly in the summer months. And order your main course while you’re at it. That’s how things are done around here!
If you’re a large group of say around 15, you can have the place all to yourself. Politicians and business people like it for that very reason! There’s no one eavesdropping and Inácio’s far too busy and/or disinterested. There are tales of such groups hanging out till 3am then stumbling back up the ‘Royal Road’ to awaiting transport. Alberto João Jardim, the popular ex-president of Madeira reportedly fell and broke his arm on such an outing. The message is to go easy on the after-dinner Aguardente (rum) which I’ve christened ‘whyte-lightening’, as three sips are about all I can handle.
Don’t hold back on the wine though. Inácio knows his vinhos and presents the vintages he likes at the time or perhaps have been suggested by customers, perfectly paired with the dishes you’ve ordered. His favourites are Douro and Dao! Alentejo is not his favourite!
“People who don’t understand, prefer to drink Alentajo because it’s easier to drink. It’s nicer on the pallet. The Douro has many different characteristics and takes time to appreciate.” Let Inácio lead the way and you won’t go wrong! Bottles are routinely €40 plus but you’re guaranteed to get ‘the good stuff’.
As is typical of Madeira, the main dishes are unfussy but in this case succulent and perfectly cooked. We started with a codfish dish then moved on to a black pig from Alentejo. They call Alentejo pig ‘wild pork’ but it’s actually free-range rather than the Wild Boar variety you get in Italy and France. The fat is infused into the meat making it all the more flavourful.
But what really got me was the rice! I know, I know! I shouldn’t get so excited about the supplementary carbs but this ‘arroz’, mixed with a few black beans and cubes of fatty pork was the best I’ve tasted. Inácio told me, “They kill the pigs locally, usually at one-year-old. Then the meat goes into a big box and covered in salt for 6 months. When we’re ready to use it, we put it in water then cook. It’s very tasty and the meat quite fatty.”
There was another in-house group and we got enmeshed. It’s almost inevitable. A house-party commenced! Our apres-dinner tables merged as did the free passage of wine bottles. Amália Rodrigues, the famed Fado singer was playing in the background but we soon drowned her out.
I like the organic, relaxed nature of Casa Dos Salgados. I grabbed Inácio in the melee and asked a couple more questions. “What time do you start each day?” I asked “I have no schedule. When there are lot of bookings, I’ll make a start around 8am. The suppliers bring the fish, meat, everything.”
What is your day off? “No set day – when there are no reservations, that’s a free day.“ What do you do on your days off? “I go to lunch – eat and drink. And see what the others are doing.”
When Inácio came back from Algarve to build his restaurant, people would tell him, don’t go there. Nobody will go there. Even his wife asked him “Are you going to do it in there – in that place?” I’m just glad the man had the vision… and perseverance!
- Feijoada à Brasileira
- Galo Caseiro no Tacho
- Arroz de Pato à Antiga
- Cozido à Portuguesa
- Macarrão à Casa dos Salgados
- Sopa de Trigo
- Entrecosto de Porco Preto
- Espetada do Lombo
- Misto de Grelhados com Espetado do Lombo
- Cachaço e Entrecosto de Porco Preto
- Feijoada (beans) done Brazilian-style
- Homemade Rooster in the Pot
- Old Duck Rice
- Portuguese stew
- Macaroni done Casa dos Salgados-style
- Wheat soup
- Black Pork Spare Ribs
- Tenderloin Skewer
- Mixed Grill with Skewer of Sirloin
- Cachaço and Black Pork Spare Ribs
Peninsula São Lourenço Hike
Close by is a wonderful Hike to the most eastern point of Madeira Island. And with some luck you even can spot Porto Santo.