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Casa dos Salgados

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

“There’s a unique restaurant just below the village of Camacha... not easy to find... but well worth the effort!”


The road is rough and more of a challenge after a few glasses of wine.


We drove up from the town of Caniço, parked and followed a ‘caminho’, an old ‘royal road’ down to the restaurant. A word of warning chaps; don’t wear your strappy stilettos or tight pencil skirts.


You can also descend from the village of Camacha but we didn’t do that so I can’t tell you how that might go! Whichever way you get here, it’s so worth it!


A sign outside says ‘Coffee Bar’. This is some sort of cover for what really goes on here as it’s anything but! The door was locked so I pulled on a length o f twine running through a small hole in the middle. A bell rang! It was like a scene from the ‘Rocky Horror Show’! Eventually, someone appeared to let us in.


For starters, we sat on an enclosed veranda with a view… and what a view! The outlook over ‘Vale do Porto Novo’ serves to stir the appetite. The Atlantic Ocean and a glimpse of the Desertas Islands can just be seen at the end of a deep, green ravine. It’s quite wild, windswept and interesting!


Dentinho


‘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 distinctive dental-gap bridged).


Aperitifs appeared, the liver dish tasting nothing like liver! My mother used to try and hoodwink me into eating the stuff with rare success. If she ever prepared liver like this, there would have been no arguments from me! In fact, I’d ask for more - which 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 kno wn as ‘The Queen’ keeps an eye on proceedings but was never intrusive.


Different Model

Casa Dos Salgados is a c ompletely different model from any other restaurant you will find on these islands - or most other plac es on the planet for that matter. For openers, you need to book at least 15 days ahead of your 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 around 15, you can book the place exclusively. 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 ‘R oyal 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’. Three sips and you get struck with a bolt from the blue! It’s not so bad in Poncha though!




A World of Wine

But don’t hold back on the wine! Inácio kno ws 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 favourite wines come from Douro and Dao! Alentejo is not his favourite! “People who don’t understand Portuguese wine,” he told us, “prefer Alentejo because it’s easier to drink. It is nicer on the palate,” he conceded. “The Douro Valley wines have so many different characteristics and take more time to appreciate.” The message is to let Inácio lead the way and you won’t go wrong! Bottles are routinely €40 plus but you’re guaranteed to be getting ‘the good stuff’.



Mains


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 freerange rather than the Wild Boar variety popular 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 supplementary carbs but this ‘arroz’, mixed with a few black beans and cubes o f 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!



House Party


There was another group having lunch, sustainable energy guys I believe. Some of them knew Elsa and Emanuel and our apres-dinner tables merged - as did the free exchange of wine. 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 around that time.”


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.” Not a bad life I would say. Better than fitting double-glazed windows anyway! Here’s a look at the menues…




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