We had enjoyed a great degustation meal at Origens in Evora a few nights before, and the recent glowing reviews of Degust’Ar led us to book for their 68 Euro per person 5 course degustation with premium wine for our last dinner in Portugal.
Things got off to a shaky start when they couldn’t find our reservation, but eventually we were shepherded to our table (note to Maitre D: It’s a big restaurant, and you know where our table is, we don’t, so it’s a better idea if we follow you). The room itself is beautiful, with vaulted ceilings, and the tables are well spaced and nicely appointed.
First up was a generous plate of olives with orange, olive oil, what was described as goat cheese but which was more like goat butter, and three different types of bread. Then came an amuse bouche octopus salad, in which the taste of the octopus was unfortunately swamped by diced red and green capsicum, followed by a very bland tomato “and egg” soup which had us both reaching for the condiments.
The first of the five courses, a perfectly cooked scallop with cauliflower puree and seafood foam, was the best thing that we had on the night. Unfortunately the crab pattie with lettuce salad that followed was not so great, and the two fish courses - red mullet and sea bass - were both reasonably well cooked pieces of fish, but the latter was spoilt by an accompaniment of barely warm and undercooked chopped mushrooms.
Next up came the toughest sliced duck breast we’d ever come across, accompanied by an overly acidic citrus sauce and something which fellow Australians might recognise as the first cousin to the infamous Chiko roll, together with a bitter blob of creamed spinach. We both returned this course to the kitchen, noting the issues with the wait staff, and were somewhat surprised ten minutes later to be presented with exactly the same dish, together with the young chef. We gave him our feedback but declined to repeat the experience.
Next up was a veal dish, in which the meat was edible if a little overcooked, but there was no excuse for the cold, diced undercooked potatoes and even colder chestnut puree. After the first of the two dessert courses, a peppermint ice cream with apple that reminded me of eating toothpaste, we decided to cut our losses and called for the bill.
We had noticed from the start of the evening some disorganisation amongst the waiting staff, and we ended up interacting with at least four of them. Consequently there was no one tasked with keeping track of where we were up to with our matching wines, and twice I had to leave the table to track down the wine that went with the course we had been presented with. In one instance one of the wait staff offered us the first white wine again instead of the second, insisting that it was the right match. He had no sooner poured a glass than a more senior member appeared with the right bottle.
The wines themselves were undistinguished, and the whites served much too cold. A later check online revealed them to be mostly in the 4-8 Euro category. I’d hate to imagine what the non-premium wines were like. The background music was also interesting, ranging from easy listening to Ibiza techno in the space of a couple of minutes.
To their credit they did reduce our bill substantially in view of our dissatisfaction, but I would have preferred to pay full price for an excellent experience. We had eaten in a few Michelin star restaurants in nearly four weeks in Portugal, and we weren’t expecting a Michelin experience at half a Michelin price. However, the meal and the experience we had at Origens a couple of nights before was far, far better than this at half the price. Both the kitchen and front of house need to be drastically reformed if the restaurant is to deliver the sort of customer experience that would be in keeping with the lovely surroundings. At present it’s little more than institutional food.
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