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  1. Wealth
August 22, 2013updated 29 Jan 2016 2:13pm

Sitwell scoffs in Quinta do Lago, Portugal

By William Sitwell

I’m sun-kissed and stuffed. But not from the classic dishes of Portugal

In the summer of 1970 Polish-born property developer Andre Jordan drove his car up a dirt track in the Algarve, through forests of acacia and almond trees, past tall withered grasses and up towards an old farmhouse. 

From there, he was told, the views were tremendous. Pulling up by the ruined building he got out of his car and scrambled up to the top of a hill. Panting as he reached the summit he gazed out at the view. Beneath him and out towards the Ria Formosa lagoon lay lush-looking pine forests.

Jordan was captivated by the natural, seemingly un-touched beauty. And he felt a great peace as he gazed out at the landscape. This was a man whose family had escaped Nazi persecution in Ukraine and who had passed through Portugal en route to Brazil. Later he would settle in Portugal and make his fortune in the property world. And the view in front of him was a crucial part of the jigsaw that formed his business plan.

‘This will be perfect,’ he thought to himself. Four years later his dream was unveiled and the Quinta do Lago Golf Course was opened. The landscape may have looked peaceful but 1974 was a period of considerable social and political unrest in Portugal. But Quinta do Lago had a fan in the commander of the bloodless coup; known as the Carnation Revolution which had overthrown the Estado Novo dictatorship in favour of democracy.

Lieutenant Colonel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho arrived to officially open the course accompanied by a small army of soldiers. After a brief lesson in the art of golfing – and a little mingling with the tanned and wealthy locals – the soldiers left the rarified and well-trimmed grass lawns, the villas and neatly tarmacked roads and returned to their rather less plush barracks in Lisbon.

Today the view of Andre Jourdan is pretty similar. As I write I can see across a forest of pine to hills beyond. I’m on the terrace of a villa, with a swimming pool a few feet from me. And fifty yards ahead is the 17th hole of the golf course.

I’m sun-kissed and stuffed. But not from the classic dishes of Portugal: the cinnamon flavoured rice puddings which hark back to the spices that returned home from the triumphant explorers of the 16th century, or the national dish of this country, bacalhau, the dry salted cod which has its origins in the fish stored for the voyage home from Newfoundland.

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I’m stuffed from barbecues, big salads, long lunches and late dinners. I also scoffed a perfectly medium rare steak at Gourmet Natural, one of a smattering of restaurants in the Quinta. And as we were shipped in to be scorched by the Portuguese sun, so the steaks there are imported from Uruguay and cooked on a large parilla grill. 

Twelve of us sat out on the large decking on a big circular table; all the better for added shoutiness. I shared a plate of seafood to start: tender squid that I dipped in a relative of Thousand Island dressing. There was a cake-type fish thing, not a fish cake, more a cake of fish – a little stodgy, it collapsed when attacked with a fork. 

I also tucked into someone else’s beef-filled pastry, Uruguayan apparently (not the someone else, the pastry) and it was surprisingly good – rich and satisfying.

But the steak was the main player here, along with the local red wine that kept coming until we ordered it to stop and be replaced by countless glasses of tequila to aid the shouting. 

They must love the English here. I wonder if Andre Jordan could imagine our beautiful late-night voices when he had his golf club vision.

Another restaurant we ate in was Casa do Lago. This stylish place sits between a salt-water lake and the sea and kindly provides a pool so you can wash the salt off your body before dining. The menu is largely made up of fresh locally caught fish.

I guzzled some of the tenderest calamari I’ve had, along with clams cooked in white wine. Then, a few bottles of wine under our belts we took to the lake in a pedalo. These work well as bumper cars we discovered. We also realized the fun that can be had if you drive a pedalo over a fountain. 

Good old Andre Jourdan. And good old us living his dream. 


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