We visit Hotel Sublime Comporta’s main restaurant, Sem Porta, to see how Chef Tiago Santos and his team work with local produce and bring new life to Alentejo feasting.
Just as when we try to sit at the bar when ordering drinks, if there is an opportunity to watch the kitchen team at work, we will always take it. Sem Porta grants diners this insight thanks to a long window that runs between the kitchen and restaurant. We take a seat in full view of it so that we can witness Chef Tiago Santos and his team do their thing as the night unfurls.
As we have a look at the dishes on offer, we’re brought corn and brown bread served with smoky chorizo butter and Cartuxa Winery olive oil. The menu at Sem Porta changes seasonally and promotes local ingredients and the reimagined flavours of Alentejo. Tiago works with local fishermen, farms, hunters and wineries, as well as utilising produce from the hotel’s organic garden wherever possible. We make our selections with some difficulty (everything sounds delectable) and follow our knowledgeable server João’s wine recommendation of a regional Quinta do Piloto Coleçäo da Familia 2015 (€80).
A trio of “Chef’s Welcome” treats arrive, beautifully presented and full of the flavours of the region. Bubbles of sweet muscatel wine with a touch of lime produced by reverse specification burst in the mouth, refreshing the palate and getting us excited for the meal ahead. Nori crackers coated in puffed rice hold perfectly seasoned veal tartare. The gentle nuttiness afforded by the rice puffs work with the umami of the nori to highlight the meat’s natural sweetness, allowing its quality to shine through. Our final morsel is a mini scotch egg lightly finished with panko crumbs. A creamy quail egg is nestled within a spiced potato mix that is unexpected and delightful.
Our starters arrive and we quickly dig in. The Grilled Octopus & Apple (€20) is simply delicious. Fresh slices of green apple add a bright crunch to the dish, whilst the apple and pumpkin purées lend light sweetness that meets the octopus’ textural heft. However, what really brings the dish together is the octopus’ tangy and spicy glaze. The symphony of flavours is brought to a head when cooked, crescendoing into a fanfare of paprika, pepper and chilli that is supported by the dish’s fruit sweetness.
Sadly, the Suckling Pig and Oyster (€20) does not win us over with the same fervour. The meat itself, sandwiched between fried slices of bread, is pull-apart-soft, powerfully flavoured and divine. Huge, pale pomegranate seeds don’t taste of much but do well to quell the strength of the pork. However, we are left somewhat confused by the addition of one plump oyster, that doesn’t seem to add to the dish or particularly fit. It is perhaps an homage to the Alentejana’s classic pork and clam stew, and aims to showcase the produce of this coastal area. Unfortunately, we’re left feeling a bit perplexed and not overly enamoured by this surf n’ turf concept.
Two fish dishes present themselves for our mains. The Fish of the Day (€28) – an incredibly meaty chunk of fish, similar in texture to monkfish – sits atop a base of incredible coriander and clam rice that has been cooked with some water from the seafood (à la Vongole). It is a simple plating but very well done and the rice with its fresh coriander leaves and delectable stock is something we could happily eat bowls and bowls of.
When ordering, João cautioned us that the Turbot, Grits and Scarlet Shrimp (€35) was a very strongly flavoured choice but also insisted that is was fantastic. He proved to be right on both counts. An impossible huge and bright red prawn creates a striking first impression amongst the corn-coloured seafood grits and fillet of turbot. João explains that the colour is due to how salty the water is in the nearby sea where these prawns are caught. The chef has cooked the crustacean in a bit of butter and with a dash of red wine vinegar to excite the palate and help the meat’s natural sweetness and creamy mouthfeel sing. The grits have been cooked with clams in a similar manner to the coriander rice, imparting them with rich seafood flavour. Unlike polenta, which is often a tad goopy, the grits’ grains maintain an aldente bite that is pleasing and stops the meal getting too heavy. The turbot itself is also full-flavoured and salty, combining with the fresh coriander and other elements to produce a bold and dynamic course that is truly exquisite.
Whilst we’re still brimming with excitement about our demolished mains, dessert arrives. Our choices of Citrus Tart (€10) and Chestnuts, Pear & Honey (€10) both received approving nods from our server and, as we dive in, we understand why.
A small tap and our spoon breaks through the hard caramel and hazelnut top of the chestnut crème brûlée. Below, a light and creamy custard is more savoury than expected, its nutty character adding a grown-up element to this gleefully cheeky dessert. Delicately syruped poached pears doused in muscatel temper the deep caramel and finish the dish off perfectly.
The citrus “tart” is a work of art; a thin shell covering a cheesecake with a lemon curd centre and a buttery shortbread base. Around it, lemon curd granite adds further delight and keeps the sweet light and refreshing.
As we savour our final plates, João pours us a digestif of Blandy’s 2010 Harvest Colheita Madeira Malmsey. The single harvest bottling has been made with Madeira’s richest style grape varietal, Malmsey, and is a true wonder. Aromas of nut, fig, milk chocolate, tropical fruit, cappuccino, affogato and hazelnut mousse fill the nose, waltzing into a palate of tart citrus, plum, peach, pineapple, passion fruit, almond and macadamia. Sweeter in the mouth than on the nose, the Madeira has great acidity and balance, lending itself to both desserts brilliantly.
We sit back and drink our digestif with slow appreciation, reflecting on the meal that we’ve just enjoyed. All of Chef Tiago’s dishes were powerfully flavoured, combining time-honoured flavours and techniques with contemporary flair and vision. We loved the fact that the menu honours the region and could not fault the relaxed and warm atmosphere of Sem Porta.
If you’re ever around Comporta and looking for a truly heartfelt, high-dining experience, make your way to Sublime’s Sem Porta.
Sublime Comporta, N261-1, 7570-337 Grândola, Portugal