Last Updated on June 23, 2024

“A restaurant is a fantasy – a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast” – restauranteur Danny Meyer.

I thought of this quote when I was in Lagos, an ancient maritime town nestled in the famed Algarve region of southern Portugal. While Lagos is known for its beautiful beaches, rock formations, gorgeous marina, restaurants, and hotels, it also holds title as a historic center of the Portuguese Age of Discovery and was a frequent home of Henry the Navigator.

Lagos seemed a perfect destination to continue my pursuit of authentic Portuguese cuisine.

I wasn’t expecting to find that experience in a hotel restaurant, but I’ve learned to trust the advice of locals when they say it’s good. Good in this case was an understatement!

Restaurante Páteo Velho is in the very heart of the Old Town in Lagos, in the Tivoli Lagos Algarve Hotel, a 4-star property that strives to reflect local culture. To find the restaurant you must step outside the hotel and wander along a winding walkway lit at dusk with glowing lanterns.

I soon found myself stepping into a white-on-white world, beautifully lighted to create an ethereal ambiance of serenity, and artistically decorated with blue-on-white wall tiles depicting Portuguese nautical scenes, and mosaic handmade stoneware gracing the clever niches. I felt transported in time.

From the moment my husband and I were warmly greeted and welcomed into a charming intimate setting, it was an epicurean experience to remember. 

To Couvert or not to Couvert?

Blue and white tiles honoring Portugal's long nautical history at Restaurante Páteo Velho in Lagos.
Blue and white tiles honoring Portugal’s long nautical history at Restaurante Páteo Velho in Lagos. Photo by Sarita Simmons

We arrived early, at 7 pm; while most Portuguese do not dine until later, usually around 8:30 to 10ish, we were offered a lovely table near the large fireplace. The evening light coming from a high window above us cast a diffused feathery glow across the room, while candles flickered artfully on walls and at each table.

I immediately noticed that an aromatic and symbolic sprig of rosemary was tucked into every place setting. Rosemary signifies love and remembrance and is also believed to bring good luck and prosperity.

We were off to a good start.

We chose to begin our meal with a traditional Portuguese couvert of freshly baked bread, Algarve olive oil and an amazing platter of bespoke flavored butters and olives. The chilled and mounded dollops of butter arrived on a traditional blue and white tile, which made points for a lovely presentation. The first bite announced that these little butters were going to be an amazing treat to taste, starting with the garlic and parsley flavor butter, along with the “Alheira” and its Portuguese smoked sausage flavor.

My favorite was the one that entertained my tastebuds with the mouthwatering flavor of anchovies and saffron. Delicious!

Epicurean Magic

Traditional Portuguese Cataplana fish stew at Restaurante Páteo Velho in Lagos.
Traditional Portuguese Cataplana fish stew at Restaurante Páteo Velho in Lagos. Photo by Sarita Simmons

I specifically requested an authentic local dish, one that might be served regularly in a Portuguese home. My eyes widened when a silver, clam-shaped vessel was delivered tableside, and a traditional Portuguese seafood dish of Cataplana was ceremoniously served with steaming fanfare.

A rich, savory aroma immediately enveloped the table – heavenly! I found myself leaning forward to inhale the sublimely melded aroma of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, white fish, and a medley of vegetables simmering in a piquant tomato-based broth.

Cataplana is both the name of the dish and the traditional pot that it is cooked in. One could describe the cataplana pot as looking like a clam, or even a flying saucer with a bowl-shaped base and clip-on lid. The lid is the key – it holds in the steam when the dish is cooking so the sauce simmers, but the seafood arranged on top only steams.

Our seafood was all cooked to perfection and the vegetables were perfectly tender, with all flavors merging to create of silken tangle of tomatoes, red and green sweet peppers, and onions; all swimming in a rich garlic and lemon broth with big chunks of cod and grouper that tenderly melted in our mouth.

The Perfect Portuguese Wine

Our waitress, Leticia, was very knowledgeable about the wine list and at her suggestion, a lovely Portuguese Cataplana, was paired perfectly with Muralhas de Moncao, a white ‘vinho verde’ from Moncao e Melqaco, a wine sub-region located in northern Portugal. This region is known for its high-quality wines, especially the globally recognized Alvarinho.

The Muralhas de Moncao was described as showing a succulent range of ripe apricot, blood orange, white blossoms, lemon peel, and pickled ginger, with a hint of saline on the finish. It is a wonderful complement to fish.

I enjoyed this vinho verde so much that I did a quick search to see if I would be able to purchase it when I returned home to the USA, and that’s when I found that the Muralhas de Moncao earned a very respectable 90 pts with Wine Spectator and was declared Wine of the Week for December 25th, 2023. Not too shabby!

Wine Spectator devoted an issue to the wines of Portugal in November of 2023. Portugal has long been known for its fortified Ports but more recently fans of dry wines have begun to embrace its red and white wines, particularly those produced in the northern regions.

The Sweet Finish

The grand finish to this exceptional gastronomic evening was a luscious dessert fit for Portuguese royalty. We had the “Abade de Priscos” which was described as a rich crème caramel pudding, but I’m going to say just think flan. Not your traditional flan. In this case, it was served in a 2 x 4 bar of luscious velvety caramelized sinfulness, topped with a light flaky crust that imparted hints of vanilla and almonds. It was embellished with chocolate crumbles and garnished with slivers of fresh strawberry and blueberries … and fluted with more caramel sauce of course. 

Delectable!

Its silken goodness lingers on the tastebuds offering notes of vanilla, brown sugar and sweet cream after each bite.

Ambiance in Abundance

Restaurante Páteo Velho offers authentic Portuguese cuisine that is beautifully plated and artfully presented. The lovely and secluded setting creates an ambiance that is both beautiful and cozy and the service was perfect, ending in an evening that still feels special and memorable.

Tivoli Lagos Algarve Hotel, R. Nova da Aldeia 12, 8600-722 Lagos, Portugal,

+351 282 790 079

Hours: 19:00-22:30/7:00 – 10:30

Know Before You Go

Apetitizer of Couvert at Restaurante Pateo Velho in Lagos, Portugal.
Apetitizer of Couvert at Restaurante Pateo Velho in Lagos, Portugal. Photo by Sarita Simmons
  • Make reservations in advance, they are very busy in the high season! We found an app called The Fork that is very similar to Open Table and it’s easy to use.
  • The restaurant also offers dining outside on a small patio that offers an equally intimate setting where you can dine by candlelight and watch your meal prepared at an open grill.
  • Make note that this restaurant is attached to the Tivoli Lagos Algarve Hotel.  Fortunately, our Uber driver was experienced and knowledgeable of the Old Town street addresses, and even he had a hard time figuring out that he needed to drop us at the entrance to the hotel.
  • What is a couvert? The couvert is a selection of small dishes designed to whet the appetite while you peruse the menu, order and await your meal. The most common couvert involves bread and olives. It is not complementary, as it is in the U.S. This sometimes creates a misunderstanding when the check arrives, therefore it is advisable to simply (and politely) decline if it automatically arrives at your table. Most upscale restaurants like Pateo Velho, place it on the menu along with descriptions and the price of each couvert offered.

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