Text by Maria Simiris, Barlavento
Aurora, in Loulé, focuses on signature Portuguese cuisine. Chef Vitor Veloso gives it a touch of the world. At the heart of the city of Loulé, the number 14 on Rua Dom Paio Peres Correia hosts the Aurora by Vitor Veloso restaurant, a space idealised by the chef, whose name has a special meaning.
“I promised my grandmother many years ago that one day I would create a restaurant with her name. Since I opened it in the middle of a pandemic, I always thought that the next day’s rebirth would be better than the previous one. Aurora means both. Besides, I also gave it my name so that people can immediately understand that there’s a chef behind each dish”, he tells Barlavento.
When questioned as to the concept, “I usually say that it’s a signature cuisine with a Portuguese and Algarvian origin. It’s not your typical Portuguese restaurant, because my recipes have a twist, and I give them a different look. The inspiration for each one is taste and the Portuguese and Algarvian products. I also play with different flavours, because I’ve been travelling for a few years. Black garlic, red curry, for example, are ingredients I identify with and I know they are a good bet. So, Aurora is not a traditional Portuguese restaurant, but in many dishes, you can feel that we’re in the Algarve and in Portugal. I insist on it, and I’m very proud of that”.
As to choosing Loulé for his first project in the Algarve, the chef says that, despite not being his first choice, when he saw the place, he decided immediately.
“I realised that it has everything to do with me. This is a borough that has the type of client for this sort of restaurant, whereas in other towns it would be harder. I really like Loulé, it has the charm of an old town, at the doorstep of the hills and almost alienated from the Algarve’s beach circuit. Those that come to Loulé want to enjoy the town, its culture and gastronomy”.
As for the gamble of opening a new business, with a differentiated concept, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vitor Veloso stresses that it wasn’t, and is still not, an easy time.
“I am very stubborn, and I invested at a time when many people are disinvesting. It scared me and it continues to scare me, because we are having difficulties due to the current situation and the fact that it is a different space. Everything that is different has an added difficulty. I am apprehensive about everything that is happening. It was a pandemic, now a war and prices going up. But we are confident for the summer and we are building our own path. Obviously, it takes time for a new space to stabilise, and we will have to do our job twice as well,” he says.
Ria Formosa at the table for the summer
The summer menu has been in place since the beginning of April. The premise for the high season, according to the chef, is to have “the Ria Formosa at the table”, hence the ‘choquinhos’ (small cuttlefish), the octopus roe, the muxama (a sort of tuna prosciutto), the local shrimp, and the tuna with barley and shellfish risotto. “It’s the Algarve in its purest state”, he points out.
In fish dishes, he highlights the mackerel tartar under ‘filhós de forma’ (a traditional type of fritter) with chorizo, avocado and fried corn porridge; and the catch of the day, served with false pea risotto and a razor clam ragout. “These will be perhaps the most successful dishes,” he anticipates.
For those who prefer meat, Veloso highlights the suckling pig belly with roasted pumpkin puree, and grilled baby romaine lettuce with suckling pig sauce. And for desserts, the ex-libris – also with very regional flavours – is the orange tart with black olive caramel, lime and coconut ice-cream and olive oil powder.
Soon, there will also be a passion fruit meringue pie, which was a success in February on the Valentine’s Day menu. Also on the menu, there is the cataplana option, which will be prepared according to what’s fresh on the market. There are also several vegetarian options, such as roasted carrots with fermented cabbage, cured egg yolk and slivers of São Jorge cheese; and even vegan options, such as aubergine with miso, vegan demi-glace, caramelized onions and broad beans. The wine list includes only wines made from Portuguese grape varieties, and the focus is on small productions.
For the future, Chef Vitor tells us that the first objective is to make Aurora by Vitor Veloso a regional reference. “Then, I’d like to open a second restaurant in the Algarve. I’ve had an idea all planned out in my head for many years”, he reveals.
The Aurora by Vitor Veloso restaurant can accommodate 32 people inside and 10 on the terrace. At the chef’s table – a space reserved for events, tastings and more private meals – eight clients can be seated. It is open on Mondays for dinners, from 7 pm to 10 pm, and Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 12 noon to 3 pm and 7 pm to 10 pm.
The average price for a meal at lunchtime is around € 22, and for dinner € 32. For more information or reservations, just check out their social media (@aurorabyvitorveloso), or contact them by phone or e-mail.