Cream of the southern crop
With an ingredient-focused approach, Austa brings a genuine breath of fresh air to Almancil’s gastronomical scene
Less is more! Yes, it may be a platitude, but it rings so true in this day and age. As we are increasingly bombarded with information, new trends to follow and urged to buy more “things”, keeping it simple intuitively feels like the best thing to do for our bodies and minds. And that goes for food too. Wholesome ingredients do not need bells and whistles; they just need to be allowed to shine.
This simple reality is one that David and Emma Campus live by. Passionate about quality produce, provenance and the stories behind small producers, they created Austa: a restaurant where they champion cooking simply and seasonally, and let ingredients speak for themselves.
This singular project results from the young couple’s growing passion for the Algarve’s and neighbouring Andalusia’s food cultures. During the pandemic, they initiated an incredible journey through these regions’ flavours, recounting their countless savoury adventures on their social networks. Indulgent experiences that were, in fact, part of a mission to find the best ingredients and producers for their network of quality suppliers.
From organic meat from small independent producers to sustainably produced fruit and vegetables, and from low-intervention wines produced in small batches to little-known sherries, they handpicked each product to enable them to create a refined seasonal menu that highlights the best of each region. With this, they wanted to bring about change and open people’s minds to a more genuine food culture. Hence, the name: “Austa means ‘South Wind’ in Latin,” explains Emma. South because they focus on southern Portugal and Spain, “and wind represents new ideas and change”.
The cosy restaurant is tucked behind the brand-new Dunas Living concept shop in Almancil and is accessed through a car park next to Austa’s beautifully manicured organic vegetable and fruit garden, “which the whole team planted and looks after daily”, points out the restaurant owner. Inside, the elegant décor is sober and creative. As with food, Emma wanted to create an ambience that says something about their location. “For me, it was important to use local materials and explore local traditions, patterns, crafts, artisans, work with sustainable producers and natural materials.”
For this, they worked with Lisbon-based designer João Gameiro. Inspired by the local copper tradition, he created a beautiful lamp installation influenced by the shape of traditional cataplana pots. Unusual benches were built with rock salt bricks from Loulé’s salt mine, chairs and stools inspired by tasca-style seating, and the modern lighting was designed in collaboration with Dunas, using fixtures by Italian brand Flos.
Their crockery is also full of meaning. “David’s father is one of the biggest 20th-century ceramics collectors in the UK,” says Emma. “And so, when we came to Portugal, we visited potters and studios, which was also a way to understand the craft and the tradition in Portugal,” she says, pointing out plates made by Madalena Telo, a young artisan based in Monchique.
They designed the ideal spot for an honest and down-to-earth meal, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Because, with Austa, they are also filling a gap in the market for a wholesome breakfast with “jams made with fruit from the garden”, their own sourdough bread and eggs.
To execute their culinary dream, they had to find a chef who shared their vision and passion for ingredients. By chance, they met David Barata, who, until he embraced the Austa project, was doing a stint at Bon Bon (one Michelin star) in Carvoeiro. Having worked in some of Lisbon’s most demanding kitchens (Eleven and Feitoria, both with one Michelin star), he was looking for a ‘non-Michelin-star’ project, something more down to earth. “For him, it’s all about the provenance of ingredients. He is a fisherman, he hunts and forages,” reveals Emma.
With the chef, they created seasonal dishes to be shared. “Little things change, not every day, but every week, depending on what fish we can get and what fruit is coming off the trees.” Curated and refined, the menu highlights a mix of flavours from across the Algarve and its neighbouring regions. Four or five dishes are the ideal serving for two, including starters, which can include snacks such as Ria Formosa garnished oysters, wild boar croquettes, cured amberjack with tomato dashi and coriander or violet shrimps with ajo blanco and dill.
Depending on the day’s catch and suppliers, main courses can include char-grilled lamb from the Alentejo with aubergine and spring onions from the garden, or the Fisherman’s catch – which is sometimes caught by the chef that very day – with confit peppers, and sides of seasonal tomatoes or garlic fries. Fruits from the garden and beyond are highlighted in the desserts, such as seasonal figs with huacatay and lime or roasted Algarve banana with miso toffee and carob.
The wines, “a selection of low-intervention, organic wines made by small independent producers”, are handpicked by David, with wines such as Vinhos Aparte’s 2022 white Monda from the Lisbon region and the 2022 Meia Praia red from Monte da Casteleja in Lagos available by the glass or the bottle, as well as various Spanish options.
The cocktails are also great pairing options, such as the gin and tonic made with pennyroyal from the garden or the Azorean black tea with Adega Velha brandy, Frangelico and walnut: an absolute must to start or finish the meal.
Austa is open Tuesday to Saturday for breakfast and lunch, and Friday and Saturday for dinner.
By Alexandra Stilwell