“There’s a unique restaurant just below the village of Camacha... not easy to find… but most good things never are!” — David J Whyte
Follow the Yellow Brick Road…
This place is not easy to get to! We drove up from the town of Caniço, parked and followed a ‘caminho’, what was left of an old ‘royal road’ down to the restaurant. A word of warning; don’t wear your strappy stilettos or a tight dress. Guys! You’ve been warned!
The road is rough and more of a challenge after a few glasses of wine.
A sign outside says ‘Coffee Bar’ which I believe is part of the disguise. The door was locked so I pulled on a length of twine running through a small hole in the middle of it. A bell rang somewhere inside. It was like a scene from the ‘Rocky Horror Show’! Eventually, Dr. Frank-N-Furter appeared to let us in…
Aperitifs are served on the veranda to let you savour the view along with the starters
For starters, we sat on an enclosed veranda with a view… and what a view! The outlook over ‘Vale do Porto Novo’ serves to whet the appetite. The Atlantic Ocean and Desertas Islands can just be seen at the end of a deep, green ravine. It’s simply stunning!
‘Dentinho’ is what they call appetisers here in Portugal which loosely translates as ‘little tooth’ (also the nickname of the diminutive Brazilian striker though I notice his distinctive dental gap has recently disappeared). Aperitifs however did appear! The liver dish tasted nothing like liver! My mother used to try and hoodwink me into eating the meat with rare success. If she ever prepared liver dishes like this, there would have been no argument, in fact, I’d ask for more and on this occasion, I did!
Accompanying green beans, savoury garlic carrots and succulent olives were paired 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 unless you wanted her to be.
CULINARY MAN CAVE
I was surprised to learn from Emanuel, our friend and fixer that this place was once a cowshed! The former manger has been repurposed to perfection and regularly welcomes any amount of wise men. Inácio, the owner, clearly loves what he’s doing and besides being the head chef, it was he who singlehandedly converted this former family steading into a culinary man-cave. The religious overtones didn’t end. Before he turned to gastro-life, Inácio was a carpenter come window-fitter. Disenchanted with fitting aluminium windows on the Portuguese mainland, he took a job in a tiny little restaurant in Odeceixe, a village to the north of the Algarve. The native Madeiran already had a fair grounding in cooking from his mother but over the next 8 years, he acquired a whole new skillet set. He opened Casa dos Salgados twelve years ago and at the time people told him, “don’t do that...nobody will go there!” Even his wife asked him “Are you going to do it there? In that place?” Here in humble Casa dos Salgados, Inácio has been able to give free rein to both of his talents. The interior design is very arty, the walls of the restaurant lined with panels from the many wooden wine boxes that come this way along with cork ‘rolha’ displays.
Casa Dos Salgados is a completely different experience from any other restaurant you will find on these islands or most other places on the planet. So popular is it, in a very reposeful way, you need to book at least 15 days ahead of your intended visit, certainly in the summer months and order your main course while you’re on the phone. That’s how things are done around here! If you’re a large group of around 15, you can have the place to yourselves. Politicians and business people like it for that very reason! There’s no one to eavesdrop and Inácio’s far too busy and/or disinterested to care. There are tales of such groups hanging out till 3am then stumbling back up the ‘Royal Road’ to waiting 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’. Three sips and you get struck in the head with a bolt from the blue!
WORLD OF WINE
Focus instead on the wine!
Let Inácio lead the way with wine!
Inácio knows his vinhos and presents the vintages he likes at the time or perhaps those that have been recommended by regulars, perfectly paired with the dishes of the day. His favourites come from Douro and Dao! Somewhat surprisingly to me, Alentejo is not his favourite! “People who don’t understand Portuguese wine,” he told me, “and prefer Alentajo because it’s easier to drink. It is nicer on the palate.” I had gathered that much. “The Douro Valley wines have so many different characteristics and takes more time to appreciate them.” The message is to let Inácio lead the way and you’ll get a lesson in Portuguese wine for free. Well, not quite! Bottles are routinely €40 plus but you’re guaranteed to get ‘the good stuff’.
As is typical of Madeira, the mains are unfussy but succulent and perfectly prepared. 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 find in Italy and France. The fat is infused into the meat making it all the more flavourful. But what really got me for the main dishes was the rice! I know, I know! I shouldn’t get so excited about supplementary carbs but this ‘arroz’, mixed with a few black beans and cubes of fatty pork was the best I’ve ever tasted. Inácio told us, “They kill the pigs locally, usually around one year old. Then the meat goes into a big box and is covered in salt for 6 months. When we’re ready to use it, we put it in water then cook.” Infused with the rice, it’s very tasty.” I couldn’t agree more!
There was another group enjoying a long lunch, sustainable energy guys. Some of them knew Elsa and Emanuel. A house party commenced! Our apres-dinner tables merged as did the free exchange of wine bottles. Amália Rodrigues, the famed Portuguese Fado singer was playing in the background but we soon drowned her out. I grabbed Inácio in the melee and asked a couple more concluding questions. “What time do you start each day?” I asked “I have no schedule. When there are a lot of bookings, I’ll make a start around 8am. The suppliers bring the fish, the meat, everything really.” What is your day off? “I have no set days,” he told me. “Only when there are no reservations, that’s a free day.“ What do you do on your free days then? “I usually go to lunch, eat and drink. I like to see what the others are doing.”
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
Macaroni done Casa dos Salgados-style
Black Pork Spare Ribs
Mixed Grill with Skewer of Sirloin
Cachaço and Black Pork Spare Ribs
Just remember, you’ll have to climb back up the ‘Royal Road’ after your dinner. Go easy on the Aquardente!
David J. Whyte