Thursday, 22 September 2011

[Restaurant - Portuguese] Port & Camel's Drool - O'Fado of Knightsbridge

Location - Knightsbridge, London [UK]

Choices. Coming from living in Saudi Arabia, the oasis of "no rush" lifestyle that it is, choices are a relaxed affair - ignoring the suicidal transportation systems - you decide, make your choice, then mosey on up. In London, the opposite is very much the truth. Perhaps a bit dramatic of an opening statement, but when faced  with an oversight or twelve that led to a rapidly building hunger, it became a figurative issue. In a centre where bookings are seemingly requisite regardless of how thin the attendance, choices are vast, all coupled to my useless decision-making ability, slight annoyance was building at the prospect of having to make tactical off-the-cuff choices. It did not help that a box of Laduree Macaroons in hand were deviously vying for my attention. 

I was originally due to lunch at a Korean Demonstration being held at Harrods, and was ready and eager to experience this seldom and sparsely entertained cuisine. I was swiftly dealt a palm to the face when I appeared at the demonstration, and observed the thimbles of Korean food being handed out to the surrounding few. Granted, I would have attended regardless, as the demonstration introduced the "twist of fate" of being located in the same establishment of a certain divinity of pastries, and hence ample opportunity to seize it, however, I was not amused. Unperturbed, I figured however, that with the Columbian Food Festival taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel nearby at Park Lane, a buffet lunch could be a relatively fail safe choice. Except I safely failed, turning up a day early when only organisers, associates and trade were allowed in. I drowned my anguish with a couple of the delectable little macaroons. With the sugar serving to not lead me into disheartening dramatic nullities, I figured I would be dropped off at Beauchamp Place, as choices are not short there, and it was within reasonable distance of my required bus stop. With the Russian restaurant being one of short listed establishments I had wanted to try, in lieu of it being a relatively unknown entity to me, I thus ventured towards what would be a shut door and empty restaurants. BAH!

What now?! I had eaten at one place here already and everything else was thoroughly generic. I take the matter of food very seriously, in the end, I had gone through the Herculean effort of getting into a car and driving a whole twenty miles or so for lunch [/sarcastic drama]! At that point, I decided to stop ignoring the presence of the Portuguese restaurant, whose menu I had perused months ago online did not particularly move me, scaling down my preconceptions of Bacalhau-monopoly. I had little other choice, I was hungry, and it was diverse. Not sure what I was hesitant about as it was already on my short list. I think I was suffering a deficiency of the fiendish Laduree macaroons, having not eaten one for five whole minutes..

~ Starters ~ 
- Sardinhas Assadas

Perusing through the menu, I was met with relatively little of interest, so I chose what most stimulated me. Grilled sardines. Obviously. Perhaps I was slightly obscured by the notion I was having lunch a whole half hour later than usual, as a later viewing of the menu would reveal far more interesting starters but I figured sardines were an item I had never really eaten before. They took a while to arrive, though their aroma certainly filled the air long before they arrived infront of me. Then the gargantuan trio was served. Where I was expecting a mound of plentiful miniature fish, I received just three, thoroughly imposing creatures. Served with what was a hopeful notion of a salad, I devoured it before attacking the sardine, not quite knowing how to start.

Rather tellingly, it was a basic dish - it looked, smelled, and also now tasted, quite like grilled fish. A light sardine aroma was infused, quite delicate and not at all overpowering, an oddity to me having only ever had sardines in their preserved variant and thus tasting of the Dead Sea. It was pleasingly not too greasy, the flesh dense but falling apart with a light steam permeating through, though regardless of these faint praises, it was, and still remained, grilled fish. Thus it was slightly monochromatic, though appetising. I should have gone for something containing Bacalhau, as despite this dish being listed as "traditional", I'm sure there are hundreds of other countries willing to claim the same. Despite this, I left the third sardine behind, mostly for the sake of conscience. And my thighs.

~ Main Course ~
- Açorda de Marisco

When I spotted the incoming monstrosity, I instantly wondered if in the midst of my greed I had ordered a dish for two yet again. It was oceanic - fitting as it seemed to contain an entire school of sea life as well. I was also rather taken by surprise by the composition of the casserole; despite being described as a "Bread-based casserole", I did not figure it would be such a literal description. It was literally, made of bread. Bread, egg, and seafood, and larger than my gluttony, it was almost like a contorted breakfast. Considering the base of the casserole, I first tasted the casserole itself. A thick, dense and hearty mush of bread, it was a bit like a savoury porridge. A slight richness was imparted by the sautéing with onions, which added a little sweetness as well, the chopped coriander adding a few notes of freshness in between. Unleashing the yolk from the poached egg, a plain but welcome richness suffused into the casserole dish, not adding much else though. The seafood itself was inoffensive, it was rather simple I guess, and clean tasting, but otherwise rather boring. The chopped coriander did perk up the seafood a bit though, if only to balance with the omnipresent satisfyingly rich bread.

This perpetual sea of bread however soon became a bit monotone after the initial novelty wore-off. It was certainly delicious, but somewhat lacking in character, more appealing in its heartiness rather than intricate flavourings. I could have finished this whole, but yet again in the sake of my conscience and for the wish of dessert [I'm not kidding myself, there will ALWAYS be dessert, even after consuming an entire pachyderm], I left just under a half over. Though some serious restraint was required to do that, it was just so deviously easy to eat. Again, the lonely voice in my cranium quipped that perhaps I should have had some Bacalhau based dish, though the staid descriptions and predominance of starchy [Unlike Bread-stew..] potatoes dissuaded. The thought of not eating all the potatoes not being immediately apparent to me..

~ Dessert ~
- Baba de Camelo

Finally, after all the allowances I made for desserts' sake [thank you conscience], it was time to satisfy the perpetual sweet tooth. And I was stuck. Usually I just have all of them Whilst initially I was enamoured by the Arroz de Leche, I was undecided, as a Rice Pudding it still remained, and being as ubiquitous as it was, I could have it elsewhere, whilst other items were also tempting in their traditional background though not particularly interesting descriptions. In the end, I caved in on the waiters' suggestion and went for the above, or "Camel's Drool". Endearing images of what it would resemble were dashed when a breadcrumb topped pudding arrived. I was hoping for something more vile, not that I've ever seen a camel's spittoon to verify. First spoonful, and.


Described as a condensed milk souffle', a light toffee caramel infusion was dominant, an intensely glorious creaminess from the condensed milk. The diverse textures were also interesting, with the breadcrumb topping just adding some variety to the soft pudding. Digging down to the bottom of the plate, a clear yellow syrup lay underneath the pudding, very viscous, which when spooned up rather made it clear where the name came from. I was sipping slobber. It was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet but I did not care, the condensed milks' all-conquering smooth, creamy deluge conquered the show, and it was rather quickly inhaled. This intense nature of the dessert though did somewhat overpower the dessert wine I had chosen, smothering its initial taste, only revealing a bit of a finish at the tail. Something had to take the centre stage.

~ Drinks ~
- White Port

Ordered as an aperitif, as if my hunger ever needed further stoking, it was a peculiar drink I had always wanted to try, but never had done in my novice former- "snobbery" of Port, so it would essentially be a new discovery to me. Intrigued at the colour, a deep golden, hay colour, the aroma was interesting - it had a slight red wine quality to the nose, which confused my lacking mind with the colour it showed. On the palate it was not even very port-like, it was very delicate and soft on impact. Quite similar to a Sauternes infact, though with less of a honeyed note. Maybe there was some toffee laying there too? It was interesting.

Any attempts at pretending to describe of were hampered by my lack of having a clue, and the fact that I struggled to make it last. At least it distracted me from the no doubt chargeable olives and bread.

- Setúbal Moscatel

As a dessert is as expected in my dining repertoire as it is to not find flower-covered pictures of George Bush and Barack Obama in cave hideouts in Afghanistan, a suitable sweet wine was also requisite for this rather substantial lunch. Not wishing to default on the natural, easy, and just plain predictable choice of Port, considering the cuisine on offer, I had decided on the aforementioned Moscatel. Arriving in a rather intriguing hue of raspberry-tinged amber, it certainly looked promising. Somehow. The aroma was certainly hard to define, there was a definite hint of oak on the nose. Then I think my distinct lack of knowing what I am talking about resumed, as I'm sure I could perceive a hint of celery. CELERY?! I don't know.

Fortunately it did not taste of celery, rather, on the palate there was a lot of oak permeating from the aroma. As a result, some parallels could be drown from a whisky, subtle notes of oak entwined with a slight silken hay note. I am pretty sure I could sense some red berry fruit as well, perhaps raspberry or cranberry. Or maybe I was tasting with my eyes again. Certainly the solitary brain cell was over-tasked with all these subtle nuances. One certainty however, is that the Camel's drool had rather overpowered the wine, despite its generous body. The fore-taste was washed out by the decadent creaminess of the dessert, only to have some fruity notes permeate on the tail. Very much enjoyable glass of wine.


The perpetual lunch had finally culminated, and rather contrary to belief, I had not turned into a bacalhau. Not terribly convinced - at least at the point in time - as a first choice, but if anything, very much satisfied on the conclusion. My fear perhaps was grounded in not knowing just how representative the restaurant would be of its namesake cuisine, not that I would know any different for either case, and not that I am elitist to the point of not entertaining any establishment other than those that are genuine. Though it would be nice for the food to be sincere, and certainly the food at O'Fado was just that. Honest fare, a bit lacking perhaps in flair, but all the more sincere for it, combining hearty, simple ingredients in seemingly industrial proportions to provide straightforward food. The menu, whilst oceanic [though I was maybe a bit disappointed not to find the purported 365 Bacalhau dishes], did not overly inspire, with most dishes seemingly variations on a theme or not particularly interesting. This is however one restaurant, in Knightsbridge as well, were clients may have a certain discerning quality for their food, and where restaurants perhaps cannot afford to stray into overtly country-style or eccentric dishes. Even of the fifteen or so Bacalhau dishes, most just included potatoes, which were just cooked in a different manner between the dishes.

Satisfied, not enlightened, though delighted by the discoveries in the wine. It had only taken me five years to brave the frontier of the White port since being introduced to the drink, and whilst not blowing me away, it had its appeal in its slight deceit. Not only deceitful, but also , the bill proving rather substantial. Considering the feast bestowed onto me however, and the resultant Knightsbridge tax of the area, perhaps it was not overly exaggerated. Whilst this choice has not led me to a thoroughly reaffirming experience, it did leave me satisfied. Even more so as I consumed three more of the fiendish Laduree Macaroons. I also scored +1 for another diverse cuisine sampled. I can only look forward to going to Portugal now and being spoilt by hundreds of choices of Bacalhau. 

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