In Conversation With

A Mediterranean pearl not too far from the sea

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“For each mouth, a different soup” – Portuguese proverb

For someone who has been an expat all her life, I can’t help but feel like a tourist myself every time I re-visit my roots. Carrying a mixed gene pool and relocating often does not make things any easier either. Thankfully, one does not have to travel far if one is in Dubai, to experience a cuisine that is both local and international.

In pursuit of the spirit of Portugal, I had chanced upon Alto Mar – a placid, family friendly restaurant that’s tucked away from the hustle of Dubai, as a fairly new resident of the fishing harbour in Jumeirah 1. Getting there is not too difficult if you navigate the website for directions. I liked the rich graphics that they have used in the website and the ease of access between tabs as well. It’s easy to sync it with Google maps on any smart phone if you’re visiting this restaurant for the first time.

Quintessentially Mediterranean, Alto Mar brings back the flavours from Portugal, leaving the diner with a slightly different aftertaste called nostalgia. The dining area is designed to welcome natural light during the day and it’s hard to believe that one really is dining in Dubai when you can witness the fishermen going out to sea and sailing towards the turquoise waves. You may want to take advantage of the al fresco option if you’d like to bask in some familiar yet crisp salty air. Everything about this restaurant resonates the name itself – Deep into the sea or Alto Mar in Portuguese.

The simple yet elegantly white decor was probably the right choice to complement the stunning views of the shipping harbour that surrounds the restaurant. Come dusk, the mood changes as the sun dips into the ocean and that’s a feeling that words can’t simply describe. The aquariums light up at night and for lobster enthusiasts, you get to pick the one you fancy straight off from the tank.

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Enough about the decor, Judy. Can we please hear about the food itself? 
Why certainly.

The menu was self explanatory and additional details were provided by the service team members, which implied thorough menu knowledge. The suggestions that I was offered on complementing dishes and beverages left me feeling not just impressed but confident about the service team’s confidence. A bread basket with artisan breads made it’s appearance shortly after I had placed the order. The olives in olive oil paste was a good appetizer.

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For the amuse bouche, we were served confit fish fillet with crispy fennel and parsley puree. This sublime couvert felt more like the test drive of what was yet to come. I was told that the couvert changes every day since Chef Luis Salgueiro (General Manager and Executive Chef) likes to work with new flavours and concepts. Regular diners here might warm up to this quite easily.

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It’s very rarely that I get asked, “Would you like us to bring out the dishes one by one or would you like them all to arrive together?” When I do, I usually opt for the former because there needs to be a gradual transition between courses.

The cod fish cakes accompanied by Japanese coriander mayo and fried shrimps with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice went rather well as starters. I quite fancied the little dropper that came along with the slice of lime in fried shrimps and thought to myself, ‘They have taken care of such minute details.’ You could tell that the shrimps were fresh just from the luscious release of flavours and textures.

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While you’re in the middle of your meal, don’t be surprised to find a rather dapper and amiable gentleman called Eduardo Salgueiro meandering from table to table asking, “How are you and how is the food?”  Eduardo is Chef Luis’s brother and he oversees the business in general as the Operations Manager.

Amidst the casual conversation, he had elaborated on how they choose the fish that dots the menu and what it is that they do to ensure that diners like you and me not only experience a delightful meal but are also taken care of in terms of food safety.
Histamine fish poisoning, which can be easily mistaken for a common seafood allergy, occurs when the histamine levels in the fish build up because of improper temperature control during processing or storage. The histamine (a type of protein) that builds up cannot be destroyed even if the fish is cooked and this can have adverse effects on the person consuming it. Rest assured, you’re in good hands when you’re dining at Alto Mar.

Alto Mar has a fantastic spectrum of mocktails to choose from and I would recommend the strawberry mojito if you’re looking for something tangy or the apple slosh for a refreshing yet subtle dose of passion fruit and apples. The latter was not as strong as the mojito in terms of flavour so it goes well with most dishes.

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The mains sparked with a rather succulent grilled salmon with mashed potatoes and butter sauce. The salmon that reaches this restaurant goes through a cherry picking process as Alto Mar is very particular about the quality of fish that’s being brought in. For this reason, they choose to go with farmed salmon predominantly.  Adding some sun dried tomatoes to this dish was a brilliant idea.

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Vegetarians by the table have something to look forward to as well, even though the restaurant specializes in seafood. The tomato rice served with some tempura vegetables might be of interest to you if you’re opting to go green and lean.

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This next dish has probably redefined Portuguese food for me – octopus Lagareiro style with roasted baby potatoes. This ambrosial seafood dish involves a braising process  in olive oil. The popular dish is named after Lagareiro, the owner of a popular olive oil press in Portugal. Lagar literally translates to press in Portuguese.  It’s tricky cooking an octopus as it will end up feeling quite rubbery if it’s under or over-cooked. In our case, the octopus was well cooked and each bite released a minuscule stream of olive oil. Chef Luis explained how this recipe was passed on to him from his grandmother and how it captures the true spirit of Portugal, with a Mediterranean touch.

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What if I told you that we ate our next dish with our ears as well?
Behold – the chocolate explosion!

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This dessert comes with a myriad of portions of chocolate from brown to white, mizzled in zesty spices and white chocolate crackles. There will be a lot going on with this dish so please don’t rush dessert. Savour it to the last bite (just don’t lick the plate, alright?)

The Mediterranean culinary journey concluded on a sweet note with the berries pana cotta with vanilla ice cream. As I was clicking away for the blog, Chef Luis approached my table saying, “Did you know that there is a front and a back for each dish? What you’re looking at is the front.”
The delicately positioned wafer thin sugar glass (which is difficult to capture against a white background) on the pana cotta was crisp yet tender at the same time. I was told that the sugar glass sheets are not pre-prepped far in advance as the ambient conditions make it brittle during plating if it’s been stored for a long time.

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I simply had to take a picture of the entire team before leaving the restaurant as I believe that each and every one of them had a role to play in my exceptional dining experience.

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The charm that comes with this team is what lights up the restaurant and the Salgueiro duo – Luis and Eduardo accentuate the passion that fuels them through not just the food, but the service as well.

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I walked in feeling like an average diner, and I walked out feeling like I had dined with family.

The verdict:

Ambiance and decor: Excellent
Service: Excellent
Wait time: Excellent
Menu presentation and design: Excellent
Food: Excellent
Value for money: Excellent
Overall dining experience: Excellent

Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian

4 Comments

  1. Shaun Webber

    March 29, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Hey Judy.
    Came across this website as I was looking up reviews on Alto Mar and after reading this, I am convinced.
    Fantastic post!

    • Food She Blogged

      March 31, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Thank you Shaun 🙂
      Enjoy your dining experience there!

  2. Brandon

    April 4, 2015 at 6:17 am

    A lot of heart and soul in this piece. Loved.

    • Food She Blogged

      April 4, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Brandon and for your kind feedback 🙂

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