The cuisine of the Hotel Meira, in Vila Praia de Âncora, is back to its best. Themed meals, amazing dishes and consistent preparation mean that the family-run establishment once again features on its own merit in any gastronomic itinerary. The lamprey prepared with care, the flavours of the sea at the table and the tripe are some of the obligatory points of the menu of the Hotel Meira. The establishment is reinventing its cuisine and under chef Álvaro Costa’s guidance is rapidly gaining projection on the northern gastronomic route.
The careful menu is a tribute to Felisbela Brito, the founder of the house who, according to tradition, had magic hands. People from Porto would come to eat her tripe, in a time without motorways, and the lampreys she prepared had “a taste like no other”.
Times have changed, generations have passed and the restaurant at the Meira hotel has always been characterised by honest cooking but which didn’t attract large crowds. Now, since the beginning of January, the music has changed. Álvaro Costa, the renowned chef from the north of Portugal, is the maestro that makes the cuisine in tune and puts dishes on the diners’ table that, on the palate, surprise with their harmony.
The partnership between Meira and Álvaro Costa has worked well. The thematic meals take the dining room to its full capacity and guests return to the restaurant with its simple and modern decoration.
At weekday lunches the menus are maintained, but it is at night and at weekends that the restaurant innovates. Friday dinners are dedicated to just one product, with octopus kicking off. These are tasting meals that will create school. Then there’s a sea buffet on Saturday dinner and the other family-friendly dinner. They also serve themed dinners where the wines and dishes go hand in hand in suggestions that are sometimes daring and work to perfection.
It’s good to see a house with great traditions returning to its best days, which is the reason for this article. Since chef Álvaro Costa took over the kitchen of the Hotel Meira and became also responsible for the wines, we had dinner twice in this nice establishment in Vila Praia de Âncora.
The two meals we had there were memorable, which is – we think – the most you can say about food. And how do we know this? When we found ourselves describing a dish that had been presented to us at the first of our dinners, and heard the response “I’d heard of it”.
At issue is a “corvina with sea cabidela”, which came out of Álvaro Costa’s imagination. In a restaurant in Alto Minho, you serve the dark rice with its strong, vinegary aroma. When the dish arrives at the table – all very well presented – the eye sees the traditional “cabidela” rice and the aroma of vinegar helps to deceive us. But when you finally take it to your mouth, your taste buds smile with the flavours of the sea that the cuttlefish and squid lend it. Make no mistake, this will be a flagship dish of the Hotel Meira’s reinvented restaurant.
The second time we went to Vila Praia de Âncora, the lamprey was the queen of the feast. If the weather is suitable, it is convenient not to go at the last minute and park the car on the seafront, so that our steps can follow the avenue bordering the beach and our eyes can rest on the contrast between the extensive sandy beach and the immense sea.
The lamprey dinner was also an experience. Álvaro Costa did not invent much and that is one of his greatest qualities: he takes the ingredients that make sense (which here are those from the sea and the mountains) and enhances their flavours, giving them that touch that only masters can, without in any way distorting them.
In a meal which had as a menu smoked lamprey carpaccio and leaf salad, lamprey in the oven in fricassee and lamprey Bordeaux style (with the grace of the dessert being an egg lamprey), the surprise was in the wines chosen for pairing. In the land of vinho verde, Álvaro Costa invited the Alentejanos from RibaFreixo to accompany. And whoever said that Alentejo wines don’t go well with lamprey was totally wrong. The pairing was first made with a Pato Frio Grande Escolha Antão Vaz, 2016, with the lamprey in the fricassee oven having the honour of being paired with a Gáudio Espumante Brut Nature (an exclusive edition of 1,000 bottles) and a Gáudio Reserva red wine from 2014 being chosen to accompany the lamprey à bordalesa with distinction.
“Vila Praia de Âncora is at the beginning of the lamprey excellence region of the Minho River”, says Álvaro Costa, recalling the great demand for this product. “We also want to be a reference, not only because of the project we are developing, but also because we are dignifying a product that is a regional excellence”. This is why, until the end of the season, there will be lamprey at the Hotel Meira, even because it is in the “matrix of the hotel’s genesis. Its founder was an excellent cook, and this is in the history of the tourist routes that exist from that time, so it wouldn’t make sense to bring my pure and simple cuisine here. What does make sense is to bring my technique and my vision of things, but also to try and recover the ex-libris of what was the success of other times”.
Renewed and reinvented, Hotel Meira’s cuisine is back to the best times that made it a benchmark in gastronomy in Minho, to the delight of those who like good food.