Bon Bon restaurant, Portugal

Michelin-starred Atlantic bounty in the Algarve

When the 2016 Michelin stars for Portugal were announced, no one could have been more pleased than young chef Rui Silvestre (second picture) who won his first star for Bon Bon, a small, somewhat hidden restaurant in the Algarve. The region’s culinary stars tend to cluster in the manicured area of Quinta do Lago, near Faro, but venture further west along the Atlantic coastline and there is a distinct lack of gourmet options, save for the two-Michelin-star restaurant Ocean, at leading resort Vila VitaParc.

Bon Bon, however, is an altogether more relaxed experience; it has no sea view, nor is it open at lunchtime (a couple of reasons it has thus far remained off the radar), but these downsides are more than made up by the strength of its cuisine. When I was there last October I was bowled over by the succession of imaginative, tasty dishes (from €73 for three courses; €98 with wine pairings), from the tiny bites of crispy chicken skin, to the lobster with sweetcorn, egg yolk and ginger – the latter providing a delightful harmony on the plate, as well as on the palate. But the key to Silvestre’s cuisine is his ability to resist overcomplication; few flavours go into each dish – often no more than two – but the results miss nothing.

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Born in Valongo, Silvestre went to a culinary school in nearby Portimão before working in kitchens in France, Switzerland and the Costes restaurant in Budapest, which was the first recipient of a Michelin star in Hungary. Now in his second year back on home ground at Bon Bon, local ingredients are the pillars of his cooking – and that mainly means the bounty from the Atlantic. A dish he calls Violeta (first picture), for example, features shrimp from Tavira alongside fermented cucumber and sea water, and his new Fauna and Flora menu has a dish I have earmarked for my next visit: red mullet with squid and piquillo peppers. Silvestre explained to me how he roasts the fish liver to make the sauce – and I was lost, already imagining the taste of the sea…

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