Eating out in Madeira? The possibilities are endless. On Madeira, there are many small and cheap restaurants. Actually, you eat out everywhere. The prices are, certainly by our standards, very low. Yet there are a few that are extra nice for us. It is important to know that especially the smaller restaurants change owners sometimes. The buildings are usually leased, and when the rent suddenly goes up it happens that an owner can’t manage it. That’s why the mentioned restaurants and their qualities are a snapshot. Next month everything can be different.
When we go out for dinner, which we do so often, we prefer to go to Joe’s Bar in Jardim do Mar. It’s always crowded, unlike most restaurants in the neighborhood. Don’t forget that we are only there in the winter. There aren’t that many tourists, and most of the Portuguese eat out in the afternoon, especially on Sundays, and in the evening they eat at home. So the chances of sitting in an empty tent are always high in winter. That’s why you want to visit a restaurant with a mix of Portuguese and foreign guests. Joe’s bar is one of those. Another restaurant we go to is the restaurant of Hotel Quinta Alegre. Both Joe’s bar and Quinta Alegre have prices that we find very low in the Netherlands. The two of us usually eat for under € 50, – and that is with a bottle of wine. If you each take a glass of wine it will be another tenner cheaper. In the winter the restaurants are in principle not heated. For a place as low as Joe’s Bar that’s not necessary either, but in the Quinta Alegre we’re happy with the fireplace, it’s always nice and warm, even in winter.
Because Noud loves to cook, and is very good at it, we don’t eat out very often. You always have to drive to get home afterwards. And we do like that glass of wine. But if we want a Fado night, we have to go out. Basically, we’d have to go to Funchal. And there’s only one Fado restaurant that has the right atmosphere. Sabor a Fado. Located in the ‘zona velha’, oldest district of Funchal, in the Travessa das Torres at number 10, a side street of the famous Rua de Santa Maria. Sabor a Fado is owned by ‘Fadista’ Alexandra Sousa, and has been for years, so here you can count on it not to change hands. If you want to go out for dinner in Madeira, and you want a fantastic experience, go to Sabor a Fado. Fado takes place right in front of you, no microphones like in most other restaurants where they now also have Fado, but Fado with a capital letter, as it is meant to be, Portuguese folk music at your table.
Of course, the prices at Sabor a Fado are considerably higher, but still a lot less expensive than you would be used to at home for eating out. And here you get a show.
With all that, we have to say that the cuisine of Madeira is quite simplel, really. It is wise to avoid the big tourist joints. They quickly want to feed a lot of mouths and that means that a lot of things are deep-fried. Of course there are exceptions as well. If you want to have a bit more exciting meal, go to the hotel school in Funchal. For around €20 per person you have a three-course menu including wine, water and coffee. Everything we have eaten here is absolutely excellent.
If you want the very best Madeira has to offer, you can go to the Armazem do Sal. Interesting food, with of course the corresponding prices. Nice location in the centre of Funchal.
If you want to stay in the neighborhood, you can have a nice dinner, with a cozy interior, and with, not unimportantly in winter, a wood stove, we do in Prazeres. We are talking about Restaurante Chico. Nice people, and excellent cuisine at very reasonable prices, especially compared to the ridiculous Dutch hospitality prices. We haven’t eaten for a while and we heard that there is new management in it, but the reviews on TripAdvisor are still good. One comment says that the tuna was too dry. Yeah. That may be an issue when you go out for dinner in Madeira.
Madeira is, of course, Portuguese, and Portugal is a warm country in the summer, with all the problems of spoiling food quickly. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet learned that the fridge fixes all that, so there is no longer any need to fry meat and fish all the way through for safety reasons. We now know: always being very clear about how you want your meat, and of course your tuna. Never say ‘medium’. It is also a non-choice. So you get everything completely overcooked. It is really a sin to spoil a good piece of meat or a delicious tuna steak. So: ask him ‘rare’ in English, or even better, in Portuguese: mal-pasado. We say ‘muito mal-pasado’ because we really like red meat and almost raw but warm tuna. If you don’t, you might as well eat shoe soles. If you want something that is cooked, eat chicken, which on Madeira is absolutely no popped chicken with hormones and antibiotics. Fish is also always a good option, many restaurants have a ‘Caldeirada’, a fish pot. But whatever you do when eating out in Madeira: eating Peixe Espada is mandatory. The Black Dabbard Fish. Behind the link is my recipe, but also a short description. The Espada is on the menu in almost all restaurants. The biggest chance for an Espada that is not fried but fried in olive oil you have at the restaurant Onda Azul, under the Savoy Calheta Beach Hotel, in Calheta.
Another must if you go out for dinner in Madeira is the Espetada. Not to be confused with Espada. An Espetada is a skewer with large pieces of beef. Again: muito mal-pasado. Because this is always prepared on a Churrasco, a Portuguese grill with a blazing fire of Eucalyptus wood, you can actually eat it safely anywhere. Originally, the pieces of meat were skewered on a laurel branch, but because so many restaurants serve it now, that branch has been replaced by aa marinade with lots of laurel leaves. Luckily, from the primeval forest Laurissilva wouldn’t have much left otherwise.
Apart from eating out in Madeira, the island’s rhum punch called Poncha is an absolute must. It is sold all over the island. But we prefer to drink it in the Taberna da Poncha in Serra de Agua, on the left-hand side along the road between Ribeira Brava and Sao Vincente. The bar is unsightly and small, but the parking lot is big and very often full. Take a Poncha de Limao (lemon) or a Poncha de Laranja (orange). Make sure you have found the right Taberna, because further down the road there is another one, on the right side, but we don’t mean that one. But in the meantime, there is also a delicious Poncha close to home, in the bar Formiga (the ant). It is on the left when you come from home and drive in the direction of Prazeres or Calheta, opposite the ‘town hall’, the Junta de Freguesía. You can also walk: take the footpath to the yellow hotel above us in the valley, turn right on the levada, follow it until you cross an asphalted street, the Caminho de São Lourenço, turn left into it, up. At the crossroads above you will see Bar Formiga on the other side of the road. They have their own recipe, with some tangerine in it. Very tasty.
We really aren’t eating out in Madeira very much. We aren’t on holidays, we live here in winteer and that is different. However, whenever we are in Funchal we always eat – or drink, depending on the time of day – at the Parque Municipal. We go to Cafe Concerto, next to the open-air theatre. A lovely place to be. Even when it rains, under the parasols. Taste the atmosphere among the exotic plants and trees. There is an atmosphere that looks a bit colonial, but at the same time contemporary. Delightful city. And not only if you want to eat out in Madeira.
Finally, we would like to betray you the name of our two main watering holes. Watering should not be taken too litterally here. One is the Bar de Pedra ‘O Poleiro, in Ribeira das Galinhas, which is the most western part of Paúl do Mar. You drive along the BANIF-bank (with ATM) down in Paúl, to the street along the sea, you can only go straight. Almost at the end are two pubs next to each other. The last one, MakTub, is populated by youngsters and would-be foreigners (the older ones still want to join in). The first, next to it, the Bar de Pedra ‘O Poleiro’, is mainly populated by Portuguese of all ages. The delicious caipirinhas are highly recommended, but of course, they also make a reasonable Poncha, though not as good as the ones in Bar Formiga. In the winter months, the sunsets can be spectacular.
The second tavern is Bar ‘O Ideal’ at the harbour of Paúl do Mar. When it is warm Arnaldo makes a delicious Sangría, but very different from the Spanish variety. He uses white wine as a base, and it goes with everything, but ginger and passion fruit usually play the main role. Recommended.
More tips on eating and drinking out in Madeira are available in the house, in the information folder.