Last November, when London was cold and grey, Monsieur and I sunned ourselves at lunch in Funchal, Madeira. It was warm enough to take an outdoor table at O Visconde Restaurante, a complete find of an eatery, tucked away down a little alley near the centre of town but far from the cruise ship crowds.
There are but a handful of tables in the dark wooden interior, giving O Visconde the feel of a tapas bar or Venetian bacari, replete with a bunch of regulars glued to the chairs.
Our waitress was friendly and efficient, speaking excellent English through bucked tombstone teeth. She brought us a big bottle of water and a couple of bottles of the local brew, Super Bock as we deliberated over the menu choices.
Monsieur started with a salad which arrived as a beautiful array of fresh produce: a tumble of frisée leaves topped with cucumber and beets, tomatoes and apple, two halves of a boiled egg, melon and kiwi. The grated carrot which had appeared in all Portuguese salads that we’d eaten thus far had not been forgotten. A dollop of prawns drizzled with lime juice sat at the centre and an orange carved like a starburst showed off the knife skills of the kitchen staff. It was certainly the most colourful salad we’d seen in a while. Monsieur demolished it all, exclaiming at the freshness, the crispness, the full flavours.
My starter was a simple plate of melon and ham – one of those dishes which can either be tasteless and ordinary or bursting with flavour Thankfully, this was a case of the latter. The melon was the palest chartreuse with a slight taste of pineapple. The ham tasted strong and smoky, yet retained a delicacy that allowed it to fold softly onto the fork. It was the best cured ham of the trip so far. I was in olfactory heaven.
My main course was a plate of salt cod croquettes – a staple of Portuguese cuisine – served with a touch of Thousand Island dressing and salad. These were far superior to the croquettes I’d tried in Lisbon, which were quite dry, stuck to the palate and cried out for a squeeze of lemon or some sort of sauce to soften them. The O Visconde version were marshmallowy and had kept some necessary moisture, and the Thousand Island dressing was a welcome addition, complementing the strong cod flavour. Even the tomatoes wowed me. They’d been unpretentiously tossed into the salad and were deep red in both colour and flavour, oozing juice in the best possible way. And yes, the salad included (drum roll) grated carrot.
Across the table Monsieur’s steak also impressed. “Cooked to perfection.” he declared, something you don’t necessarily expect to find by accident down a non-descript side street. Given the quality of everything we’d eaten and the cheerful service from our waitress, we might have expected a much larger bill. As it was, the price of this simple yet delicious lunch was almost embarrassingly modest.
Looking back, this, our first Madeiran meal, may well have been our favourite. What we didn’t realise at the time was how steep menu prices could be on this Atlantic Island, so achieving the balance between quality and price isn’t easy. That’s why, if you find yourself on Madeira, I cannot recommend O Visconde enough. It exemplifies top value for money and oh, that pineapple tang in the melon – it really is something else.Restaurante O Visconde, Rua dos Murças 80, Funchal, Madeira 9000-058, Portugal
Tel: + 351 9 6532 5981