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Image 1: Located on the beautiful coastline with a panoramic view of the Atlantic ocean, this 20-room luxury villa has been gaining attention in the foodies' circle as the restaurant has not only recently achieved its second star, but also entered the 50Best!
Image 2: We were welcomed by the manager who gave us a quick historical overview of the house. Opened in 1982 by the Austrian owner Klaus Jung, this hotel was named after his daughter, Joy. He brought in Chef Koschina from Austria 21 years ago.
Image 3: www.vilajoya.com Chef: Dieter Koschina
Tasting: €180 (7-course) À la carte menu: €125 (4-course)
Open daily lunch and dinner. Closed on Sunday.
Image 4: We had more than enough time to check-in and relax a bit in our room.
Image 5: This place surely knew how to pamper us. A bottle of champagne was already waiting for us in our massive suite!
Image 6: Certainly a good way to indulge ourselves by chilling out in a private heated jacuzzi on our sundeck whilst sipping our champagne!
Image 7: Prior to the meal, the manager invited us to visit the wine cellar below the ground level of the hotel.
Image 8: An ideal place for wine tasting just outside the cellar.
Image 9: This wine cellar is naturally temperature controlled with its openable roof and water running underneath.
Image 10: Back up to the lounge as it was time for a pre-dinner drink.
Image 11: Our tasting experience began with a glass of wasabi peanut to accompany our Gin & Tonic.
Image 12: The main dining room had about six small tables, each decorated with flower petals and candle light, creating a romantic ambience. This room has a totally different atmosphere during lunch service with an endless view of the horizon as the backdrop.
Image 13: Shortly after a friendly chat with our server, our table was filled with an eye-opening set of amuse bouche. The first item was beetroot and eel macaron. It was actually beetroot sponge cake instead of meringue so it wasn't really a macaron, but I loved the marriage between the intense beetroot flavour with the creamy eel!
Image 14: A tempura of salmon roe wrapped in bacon.
Image 15: The roe was salty by itself and the flavour from the bacon was also very salty.
Image 16: More El Bulli serviceware was used. A pistachio enclosed by a crystalized yogurt wrap. First sour, then sweet, before ending in savoury. A playful snack for the palate!
Image 17: A light and airy cold sandwich of parmesan cheese.
Image 18: A nibble that demonstrated the chef's spherification skill giving a splash of olive oil in my mouth. Fun, but it was just like drinking a big sip of oil! We had the same amuse bouche before at El Bulli.
Image 19: A stylish serviceware holding a mini cone. Crunchy texture followed by intense flavour of sun-dried tomato and olive. Though Dieter has been cooking in the same kitchen for 21 years now, the presentation and techniques used for this set of amuse bouche indicated that he was keeping up with the culinary trend.
Image 20: Our first course of the tasting menu. Served in a sparkling stemmed martini glass was a jello of wild duck consommé topped with chive cream and imperial caviar. We all loved this first course; strong, yet the balanced flavour made this one of the best items of the meal.
Image 21: The service here was friendly and impeccable. We had a few long conversations with the staff during the meal. Not only was each course explained in detail, each wine was carefully prepared on a wine trolley beside our table. In addition, our napkins were changed midway through the meal and before the dessert.
Image 22: Next course was Variations of Scallop. The first creation was a mosaic composed of scallop and celeric, dressed with vinaigrette.
Image 23: Blanketed by a thin black truffle jello was a seared scallop on artichoke purée.
Image 24: And the final variation, scallop carpaccio with cauliflower underneath. All three were delightful, consisting of different components without distracting the scallop itself! An excellent illustration of Dieter's creativity to highlight a particular ingredient.
Image 25: Dieter seemed to be on fire that night! He then created two courses using the mushroom of the season. Luckily for us, it was Alba truffle! This was my first time having lobster with white truffle. With two of my favourite ingredients on the same plate, I couldn't ask for more.
Image 26: The lobster was moist and precisely cooked, and the aroma of truffle was divine, needless to say. Hidden underneath was crunchy cèpe and broccoli purée bringing in different dimension of texture. An incredible course!
Image 27: The second dish with Alba white truffle was a classic carbonara agnelotti. Similar to Heinz Beck's signature Fagottelli, these delicate parcels bursted out cream with concentrated bacon flavour into my mouth. It was already an outstanding dish by itself, but the white truffle really took it to another level. Stunning!
Image 28: Moreover, it came with a truffled brioche on the side for us to soak up every drop of the sauce from the plate.
Image 29: Onto the fish course, a small piece of poached turbot, cleverly coated on top a layer of finely chopped oyster garnished with an oyster leaf. What an original idea using oyster as natural seasoning for the fish! It was risky but worked wonderfully here. This course was all about the sea!
Image 30: We were all very satisfied with the turbot but Dieter still wanted us to try another fish course, a confit of cod topped by a deep fried aioli ball. Not sure how the fish was prepared, but it had a distinct soft fibrous texture. Also loved the garlicky aioli and the earthy chanterelle! Apart from the sauce being over-seasoned, it was an excellent dish!
Image 31: Yes, it was a long tasting menu, but still one more seafood course before the meat - "Cataplana Vila Joya", Dieter's version of a local seafood dish that is cooked in pot with pork, lobster, and crockles. Although we were getting quite full, all of us continued to finish every bit of this course.
Image 32: A beautiful dish, meat and seafood combo of pork belly and grilled octopus. The pork had a good proportion of fat-to-meat ratio and crispy skin; the octopus had a nice crunchiness. Again, apart from the slightly over-seasoned sauce, it was wonderful. I also admired the precision of cutting the pork belly into a perfect square!
Image 33: It also came with a bowl of chorizo sauce on the side that contained croûtons, tomato and onion.
Image 34: Just one more, Duck 3-way. A rectangular cut of breast with a flick of beetroot raspberry sauce, accompanied by a mini spring roll topped by a beetroot curl, and silky liver ball bounded by a crispy surface. The breast was a bit too heavy after the amount of food we had, but I had no problem finishing the spring roll, which was crunchy on the outside and moist inside.
Image 35: We were glad that the dessert was more like a pre-dessert portion as we were getting quite full at that stage. Raspberry and pineapple wedge soaked in white chocolate soup with pine nuts at the bottom for texture. Sounded like an odd mixture of ingredients but it had a lovely balance between the acidity from the fruit and sweetness from the soup.
Image 36: Another pre-dessert sized dessert, similar idea as the previous one but a chocolate and pear combination instead. Floating on top of a pear soup was a milk chocolate ice cream and a dark praline fondant chocolate ball garnished with a thin but crunchy chocolate stick. Wow, the delicate soft chocolate ball was filled with intense chocolate liquid inside!
Image 37: A proper full-size dessert to finish a long meal, comprised of a croissant soufflé, marinated apple with spice, salt caramel sorbet, and apple tartare. Sweet, fruity, salty, spicy, and a contrast between hot and cold, maybe too much going on at once for a dessert.
Image 38: And of course, petits fours to go with our tea -- vanilla truffle, passion fruit madeleine, pear jello…
Image 39: … and some cute Portuguese egg tart to finish.
Image 40: This is the crEATivity table in the kitchen with photos of many top chefs from around the world. Vila Joya hosts various culinary events throughout the year in collaboration with many Michelin starred chefs.
Image 41: Of course we couldn't leave here after such a good meal without having a long chat with the master of the kitchen!
Image 42: A much more modern cuisine than I had expected. The whole menu was well executed; the over-use of salt in a few courses was my only criticism. It was a very satisfying meal, making our long and stressful day with an early morning flight worthwhile. At that point, nothing was better than our suite being only a few steps away!