By daytime, Damiano, Rosalba and Sergio are busy preparing everything from scratch at their restaurant Pisco, which translates to ‘robin’ in Portuguese. They open six evenings a week and offer a range of seasonal vegan and vegetarian food along with a variety of pizzas.
Damiano best described the restaurant as “simple, with no pressure. The restaurant is just a reflection of ourselves and what we like.”
The restaurant is cosy, eclectic and intimate. With only 20 seats, you feel as if you are sitting in “grandma’s living room”, in Rosalba’s words, awaiting a heart-warming meal.
At the beginning of their venture, they visited the second-hand shops and markets in the area and started collecting. These finds, combined with ‘treasures’ sent to them from their friends and family in Italy, decorate the space to give it a personal, unique touch.
Damiano and Rosalba arrived from Italy around six years ago looking for a change of life close to the ocean. “We packed up our jobs and started travelling around Portugal. We came to this part of the Algarve but were a bit put off by the August wind. However, we met a nice guy in Sagres who offered us jobs, so we ended up staying,” they said. After a few months in the wild west coast, they noticed a restaurant in Vila do Bispo which was about to close permanently, so they enquired about it on the off chance. “It wasn’t our plan to open a restaurant, but it turned out to be much easier than in Italy,” says Damiano.
Coming from Italy, the couple are very enthusiastic about natural, organic wine, however, according to Rosalba, it was very rare that they could find places selling this type of wine. “So, this is something we definitely wanted to look into,” she explains.
Contrary to their experience, they wound up finding a very nice scene for natural winemakers with interesting backstories. “Monte da Casteleja is very sentimental to us,” Damiano reveals, referring to the organic winery based in Lagos. “It was the first local, natural winemaker we found, and we have sold their products ever since.” Mania Brewery is another favourite for beverages and is also based in Lagos.
Although the cuisine is mostly plant-based, they did not want to brand themselves as exclusively vegan. The pizzas can be vegan, vegetarian or even with some meat, but the other dishes are usually vegan or with cheese. “Often we see families where the younger generation could be vegan, but the father just wants chorizo,” the couple laughed. “We don’t want to exclude anyone and, most importantly, we want to make sure everyone is happy.”
They alter their menu four times a year, in-keeping with the season, to ensure they have the freshest local ingredients. Their menu can even change daily depending on what they have been offered. “We usually go directly to the person or farm who grows the produce,” Rosalba explains. “We even have local Portuguese people knock on our door to sell us what they have picked that day! These special items tend to go straight on our menu that evening.”
They also strive to have as little waste as possible. Filtered water is always offered on the table in their own jugs. Their lemonade, kombucha and juices are all handmade by the team in the morning. “We like to practise what we do at home in our restaurant as we think this is important,” the couple states.
Despite his Italian roots, Sergio creates the pizzas with a Portuguese twist. The base is formed using a type of Portuguese flour which is made in a traditional stone mill and whatever meat is used is always from Monchique.
A notable favourite is ‘The Pisco’ red pizza, which is inspired by the flavours of Napoli but is actually vegan. Sergio uses the traditional tomato and capers and goes on to drizzle a miso sauce over the pizza to replace the ‘kick’ from the anchovy. This ingredient was one of Damiano and Rosalba’s ‘great finds’ and is produced by a Japanese man based in the Alentejo.
During the winter, Damiano and Rosalba will scout out new and existing organic farms, vineyards and breweries as a passion of theirs and with the aim to form new business partnerships. “We love this part of our job, and we get so excited to tell our customers the story behind what they have chosen.”
The people are the beating heart of this quirky restaurant – from the producers and farmers to the owners and customers. “We know a lot of our customers and it makes us so happy to have most of them come back,” they say. As the team enters this year, they are most looking forward to further establishing their identity. “Today, we know our style even more and we have found confidence in what we are doing. We are excited to be even more experimental as we carry on.”
By ALEX BRENNAN