Elevating the Algarve’s finest ingredients, chef Rui Sequeira offers a new concept that proves that fine dining can be a relaxed affair
White tablecloths, serious-looking staff following strict rules and regulations, bite-sized dishes and astronomically priced menus… Some fine dining experiences feel just a little bit too stuffy. To prove it doesn’t have to be so, chef Rui Sequeira opened a restaurant in his hometown of Faro, offering an experience he likes to call “fun fine dining”.
The young chef is a proud ambassador of the Algarve’s gastronomy. In fact, he has been passionate about food, and fashion, from a very young age. He left Faro when he finished school to pursue his dreams in Lisbon, where he worked as a model for a while. But his fervour for food soon took over and led him to study at the Lisbon School of Hospitality and Tourism, followed by an internship in France, with chef Serge Vieira.
Upon his return from France, Rui achieved one of his greatest objectives: to work with chef Hans Neuner at Vila Vita Parc’s Ocean restaurant (with two Michelin stars), where he became deputy and creative chef. After six years at Ocean, having learned the tricks of the trade with his idol, he decided to set up his own restaurant in partnership with his wife, Cristina Monteiro. In December 2018, he opened Alameda, a reflection of his gastronomic ideals and a permanent tribute to local products.
Located on a street corner, just a few steps from the Alameda gardens, the cosy corner restaurant with a decked terrace, is a contemporary space with a tropical décor. “I wanted to bring in the verdant foliage of the gardens, located just a few steps down the street,” explains the chef, which also resulted in the restaurant’s name. Inside, wine racks line the walls and a long bar leads to the main seating area where porcelain monkeys hang from the light fixtures. As for the classic fine dining concept, it is nowhere to be seen.
Alameda really is all about the freshest flavours of the Algarve. Here, chef Rui Sequeira explores the region’s cuisine in a technical and creative way few others do. “I love the area I was born and grew up in. I have the privilege of having my restaurant here, a place that allows me to have not only creative freedom but also where I have direct access to the best suppliers of local products, which make our menu so unique. I want to offer dishes that are a reflection of the region and its flavours, but with innovation, technique and surprise, to create unforgettable memories for our customers,” says Rui.
In the kitchen, a down-to-earth atmosphere rules, combined with the talent and creativity of a young team of professionals preparing flavourful dishes using local products, tradition and contemporary techniques. Rui is proud to elevate the regional traditions, developing new creative approaches to its products, such as the Ria Formosa oyster, clams, vegetables, octopus or tuna from Tavira. The small local producers, with whom the chef has a close relationship, have priority on his menus.
Having worked at a Michelin star restaurant for several years, some habits die hard for the chef. There is no à la carte menu. He believes in giving his clients a complete experience and has, therefore, created four different menus, each with a corresponding wine pairing option. These are all mainly focused on seafood, apart from the vegetarian option, and change regularly according to the availability of the fresh products, as well as the chef’s creativity and inspiration.
For a full experience, choose the “Origami”, the experience recommended by the chef. This is a tasting menu based on 12 distinct ingredients, including an oyster, cuttlefish, octopus, smoked eel, smoked ham and a very moreish homemade bread. With the presentation of a fine dining restaurant and the laidback feel of a family eatery, it is a unique and very pleasant experience. From the first mouthful (an oyster from the Ria Formosa) to the very last (a light citric dessert with a rose aroma), we find the freshest flavours of the Algarve.
The “Alameda” menu is simpler, but representative of the concept and includes snacks, a starter, a dish and a dessert. The restaurant offers two more menus: the “Umami” and the “Vegetal”. The first, whose name translates into the fifth taste of the human palate, apparently the most balanced one, consists of eight moments and explores the various flavours — salty, sweet, bitter and acidic. “Vegetal” is a 100% vegetarian menu, with dishes such as algae Carbonara with cured egg yolk, and shiitake mushrooms from São Brás de Alportel. A truly innovative and creative experience for those who opt for this diet, and for all those who want to taste a meal based on the best vegetables of the region.
The young sommelier, André, is wise beyond his years when it comes to his expertise in wines. His deep understanding of each producer, terroir, and grape variety gives him the knowledge to make the perfect pairings, which is astonishing. His choice highlights small local organic producers, such as Monte da Casteleja, in Lagos, the only organic wine producer in the Algarve, and national producers focused on low-intervention wines with low alcoholic content, like Filipa Pato and Arribas Wine Company. He gives the final touch to what we can only agree is a fun fine dining experience.
By Alexandra Stilwell