Vila Joya, Estrada da Galé, 8201-917 Albufeira, Portugal
Vila Joya, a home, restaurant, and spa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is the Algarve’s best kept secret. Vila Joya means “House of Joy” and is named after Joy Jung, the sole owner. As one of the leading luxury hotels of the world, impeccable service and elegantly appointed rooms are a given. But it is the gourmet restaurant led by Austrian chef Dieter Koschina that draws gourmet food lovers from around the world to its doors. The only restaurant in Portugal to make the top 50 on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s Best Restaurants, Koschina’s daily changing menu is a complete and utter sensory delight. This is our review from a sublime day spent at Vila Joya in June.
Upon arrival, before we began sampling the courses on the day’s menu, we were treated to an array of special surprises and a perfectly balanced champagne based aperitif. From delicate spheres of sloe gin that melted in the mouth, to foie gras coated in a crisp crumb with quince, to a light zesty sea bream ceviche, every element was thoughtfully curated.
The first course was tuna tartare, with jalapeno and datterino tomatoes. Aesthetically pleasing, the presentation of this course was impressive, and the glass bowl’s spikes were reminiscent of the spikes of sea urchins – appropriate for this course. The vivid green upper layer was a stark contrast to the enticing pink tuna that lay below the surface. Covered in a velvet, almost mousse-like jalapeño creation, the freshness of the firm textured tuna came through with every bite. The warmth of the jalapeno and freshness of the tuna were complemented by the sweetness of the datterino tomatoes which brought the entire dish together.
Course number two, described as pargo, escalivada, and bell pepper on the menu, was an elegant, colourful, layered work of art in the flesh. The bell pepper espuma was flavourful and light. The perfect pairing for the fillet of pargo which was undoubtedly the star of the show. Incredible care was taken to ensure that this beautiful piece of fish remained tender and succulent. This meaty fish fell apart at the touch of the fork. And it was clear to see why pargo is a firm favourite in Portugal, and of Vila Joya, often featured during the annual Vila Joya International Gourmet Festival. Carefully draped over the delicate pargo was the escalivada. From the Catalan verb escalivar, “to cook in ashes” the escalivada was rich in flavour adding an interesting dimension to the dish. The smokiness of the peppers added an additional layer of flavour without overpowering the pargo.
For the meat course we indulged in a variation of Iberico pork across two separate plates. The first plate was comprised of the tender loin and the deep rich cheek. The contrasting textures were a delight. Whilst the succulent carabineiro added a splash of colour and was cooked to perfection. The risotto and rich robust sauce brought the entire dish together. For the second plate in the meat course, white pearl onions were flash blanched and grilled bringing out the sweetness and intensity of the onion then wrapped in wafer thin slices of translucent Iberico pork. With the simplicity of this second plate it was easy to appreciate the quality of the pork with a smooth texture, rich flavour, and distinctive marbling.
The final course, dessert, was a decadent assortment of dark chocolate and cherries. A dark chocolate disk was the base for a ring of cherry jelly, and a rich dark chocolate mousse encased in a dainty white chocolate shell. An indulgent Morello cherry jam infused with kirsch had the acidity to counter the sweetness here. Whilst the cherry yoghurt, and cherry mousse added to the indulgent nature of the dish. A chocolate covered cherry drizzled with white chocolate and edible flowers added extra wow factor to a stunningly impressive dessert. Sweet, sharp, indulgent, and visually pleasing, once again Vila Joya had created an incredible dish.
To draw our meal to a close we sampled an array of petit fours. Each one was perfectly formed with white chocolate macaroons, miniature blueberry tarts, and a sphere of rich sultry caramel to name a few.
Whilst we have not included every special surprise throughout our afternoon in this review, it is important to note that it is not just the spectacular food that makes this restaurant exceptional. Each dish and drink was served by several members of staff who talked you through each of Koschina’s creations. Extra care was given to explain the provenance of a range of elements from the specially selected olive oil, to the sloe gin – handpicked by Koschina, to the more robust elements of our lunch such as the prango. Nothing was too much to ask and no small request was of insignificance. And as for the views, dining al fresco on a warm summer’s day overlooking the ocean and the private beach only added to the occasion. On that afternoon in June it was abundantly clear that Vila Joya is not only a house of Joy, but it is a place where unforgettable memories are made.