The best value meal, ever?
One of the places I was most excited about visiting on this trip was Armazem do Sol, it was recommended twice and is listed in the Michelin Bib Gourmand. The tasting menu is an incredible €44, the daily lunch special just €8.90 and the extra value menu just €31.90. This menu allows you to chose any starter, main and dessert from the a la carte menu and also includes an aperitif, water and coffee, you can add a wine pairing from just €9.90.
The restaurant is in an old salt warehouse and is made up of two areas, the main warehouse and a covered outdoor space in the lane adjacent to it. We were seated directly across from the entrance to the main dining room in the outdoor space. If, like us, you are there in the colder months, I’d recommend requesting a table inside, as it gets a little chilly.
We decided to go for the extra value menu, as the a la carte tempted us more than the tasting menu. Making our choices was tough, the menu is excellent and offers a broad choice. In the end,we ordered an extra starter to share, the superb sashimi of mackerel with nori, braised lentils, tomato chutney and pickled pumpkin.
Of the three starters, this was the hero dish and everything, barring the completely tasteless pumpkin, was excellent – from the rich mackerel, to the earthy spiced lentils and the sharp,tomato chutney which cuts through the other flavours.
E opted for the marinated octopus tentacle, served with aioli and truffle cuttlefish and squid tahlarim. This was a beautiful dish. The octopus was perfectly cooked and again, had a lovely balance of flavours.
My starter of terrine of foie gras with vinaigrette jelly, sorbet of red fruits, meringue and chocolate was less successful. I chose it because I love foie gras and was really curious how these flavours would work together. For me, they just didn’t. The foie gras terrine was excellent, rich and smooth. Each element, in isolation, was well executed but together they just didn’t work. The chocolate was actually a very rich ganache, it was too rich for the foie gras. I actually think a very dark 70% chocolate could work with foie gras, the bitterness cutting through the richness. The one thing that did work with it was the apple, which still had its skin on, it seems a small detail but it would be much better without the skin.
Thirty minutes later our mains arrived. Service was poor, we had waited thirty minutes to order and it was over an hour from being seated to our starters arriving. Apparently,they were ‘slammed’.
The broiled duck breast with duck samosa, pear two ways and rosti was excellent. The duck was beautifully cooked, flavoursome and tender. The rosti was more like a double layer potato cake with bacon in the middle, also very good. The pear , however, was undetectable on the plate. The duck samosa was more like a croquette, packed with spiced duck meat, it was superb and moreish. The dribble of citrus sauce, served on the side,added nothing to the dish.
I opted for the guinea fowl supreme. This was cooked sous vide, stuffed with mushrooms and foie gras and served on a bed of puréed potato, beet and truffle.
The bird itself was perfectly cooked, moist and packed with flavour. The stuffing was excellent but didn’t particularly taste of foie gras. The mash was soft and creamy but there was no hint of truffle. The beet was a sliver of raw beetroot and ,most strange of all, was the quarter of raw red onion on the plate. Totally bizarre and definitely didn’t add anything. What was a lovely surprise, though, was the giant peppery Parmesan crisp. The gravy, served on the side, was completely lacking in depth. The dishes were both excellent and didn’t miss the sauces so it seemed strange to serve them when they were so underwhelming.
We were both brought a glass of Madeira wine to accompany dessert.
E had the chocolate volcano, a fondant with vanilla ice cream, tile of pistachio and egg white. This was a very good fondant,if perhaps almost too soft, there was very little sponge. The fruit coulis and berries were a nice accompaniment. The ice cream and other bits on the plate underwhelming.
I opted for the financier of dry nuts which was served with a rich nougat, mousse and caramel ice cream. The little financier was beautiful, the caramelised walnuts on tops, sweet and sticky, the texture of the sponge light and honeyed. The caramel mousse,lightly flavoured,worked well with the cake. The caramel ice cream lacked depth of flavour.
We finished with coffee and paid our bill. While the service was pretty poor and apologies only made when we commented, Armazem do Sol offers an incredible level of cooking at simply,incredible prices. If you are visiting Madeira, you must try this restaurant, maybe more than once, just make sure to book.