I booked a room in Hotel Eva for two reasons. The first was the location, minutes from Faro's historic centre and overlooking the marina. The second was the hotel's roof-top restaurant, Haruna, which apparently had a famous chef and lots of awards.
We were very disappointed, then, when we got in the lift to the top floor restaurant and saw a freshly pinned-up notice: Hotel restaurant closed due to refurbishment.
The receptionist was very helpful when we asked for a recommendation, but she was clearly emphasizing one eatery: Adega Nova. So we went with that.
Past the bus terminal. Along a couple of poorly lit streets, past shabby shop-fronts. Had we gone wrong?
And there it was.
By the entrance were two glass cases with that morning's bright-eyed catch on ice, not a whiff of day-old fish. We were shown to a section of a long cantina-style table and brought the ubiquitous bread and olives, but also some Portuguese cheese and ham, and a menu.
All around us were casks stacked to the ceiling, dusty bottles, and warmly-lit, oaky décor. We had been transported to the old Algarve from times when Albufeira was a little fishing village - our waiter didn't speak a word of English - bliss!
The specials were hand-written on the first page, all twenty-odd of them. Mainly fishy, there were a few meat dishes too. And all very moderately priced, with mains ranging from 7 to 10 euro. All written in Portuguese, I might add - we were the non-local minority that night.
The fish was tasty, fresh and perfectly cooked. Served rustically, nothing pretentious, just fantastic Portuguese fare. Sarah enjoyed the best piece of salmon she claims ever to have eaten. My seafood medley in a winey sauce, not a million miles off paella, was served in a traditional copper pan, a hotchpotch of what was good and fresh that day: mussels, prawns, squid, fish. The jug of vinho verde (green wine) helped it all go down very nicely.
We felt very privileged, on this most tourist-saturated of coasts, to find a little piece of Portugal, still in tact, attracting locals and welcoming the few lucky (plucky?) souls to venture away from the prettier quarters of town.
It was so good, we went back the very next night! Who can turn down top-notch seafood for under ten yo-yos? Although Sarah decided to give the Portuguese steak a go. It was served raw, and a hot rock was provided, so she could cook the pieces to her own liking. We were seated elbow to elbow with our fellow diners - this is a popular place and the hotel was obviously sending everyone here - and they politely pretended not to notice flecks of hot fat speckle their table mats and wine glasses.
How typical - the best meals of our 10 days in Portugal were the cheapest! And in a jewel of a place that we found only because the one we researched was closed.
From November 2011
From November 2011