We were genuinely excited at the prospect of visiting Foz Velha, one of the most talked-about and rated restaurants in Porto. However the complete lack of any acknowledgment or welcome on arrival, in either Portuguese or English, set the tone for the evening. We were led in silence to a window table in the main dining room, somewhat lugubrious, with heavy, dark woods, dark blue and burgundy colouring.
Things perked up with the kitchen’s homemade breads, served with a memorable olive oil, but then the first wait began, for drinks. After about fifteen minutes we asked for a drinks menu and chose a full bodied 2003 Vinha Paz Reserva. As we are complete novices regarding Portuguese wine, some guidance either from a sommelier or in the menu would have been helpful.
Dinner kicked off with two amuses bouches courtesy of Chef Marco Gomes. Thinly sliced salmon with dots of gravadlax and cream for me, a dark green (more on that to come) coriander soup for the vegetarian. The soup was definitely the better of the two, giving unusual depth of flavour – the salmon was just an assembly of ingredients with no cooking touch or finesse involved.
Next up came the pea and bacon soup, followed by the grilled squid with risotto. Unfortunately the two choices continued the procession of all things green for the rest of the evening. The soup was dense, somewhat cloying, but lifted by the sharp crunch of the bacon, I assume from one of the many locally-cured pancetta and hams. Risotto was a further sea of green – and as broad beans were the main ingredient (not listed on the menu), it was just too similar to the pea soup in both appearance and taste. The grilled squid was an unusual counterpoint to it, but perhaps they are rarely seen together on menus for a reason.
On enquiring, the only vegetarian option offered either as a starter or main (despite our hotel having called in advance to check vege options would be available) was a frankly dismal ravioli – which, of course, was also green. If they were hand made, as one would hope for a dish at 18 euros, then clearly the hand was a heavy one. No subtlety or surprise, just heavy, dry and rather sad pillows of spinach. We decided to forgo dessert or coffee, fearing a final incarnation of all things green.
All told, a lack of warmth and uninspiring technique resulted in a disappointing evening all round. In a difficult and competitive economic environment, one only hopes that things are turned around for Foz Velha to be able to deliver on it’s reputation.