Half-way through our meal, No. 4 realises something: “We didn’t order anything, but they brought us everything.”
The perfect kind of place where the “menu” is for information only. No decisions, no scope for arguments, just platefuls of deliciously simple food squeezed onto our table. Fresh fish chosen at Olhão’s morning market, grilled in the open, right in front of our eyes. All shapes, sizes and colours – with the fish still looking like fish with eyes and teeth intact and (once the rest is devoured) fascinating skeletal anatomy. The kids are hooked.
For 10 euros per person (children eat for 5 euros) we feast on ever-replenishing fish (horse mackerel, tuna, sea bream, salmon, scabbard fish, tuna, sardines) with these side dishes:
Wine costs extra, but it’s a small drop in the ocean at 2,50 euros for half a litre. And, for me, nothing tastes finer than the unfussy honesty of an unlabelled local wine, decanted into a jug.
When we think we are finished, the young “Boss” (it’s written on his T-shirt) brings us more. And more. Still later … bellies stretching, we find room for even more.
Then there’s pudding. Because when the Boss describes sweet things full of the goodness of local produce (figs, almonds, carob, cherries), it’s hard to say “não” (as our mini-mooning* table neighbours find when No. 4 – heeding hints – offers them the last bite of his torta, which to his amused surprise they accept with a swipe).
A few notes
Fish: the Boss speaks excellent English (and possibly other languages too) and explains the provenance of every fresh fish he gives you. But if you begin to feel lost, the table covers can help.
Finding Vai e Volta: get your appetite going by roaming the market (parking spaces nearby). Then meander through Olhão’s prettily tiled lanes until you reach Largo do Grémio. Tucked in the corner of this sleepy square, you might detect the softly animated chat of a lunchtime crowd which rises with the arrival of each new plate of fish, before falling again with satisfied mastication.
Or find it here on Facebook.
Tip: open only at lunchtimes (12pm until 3.30pm, Tuesday-Sunday). Arrive early or be prepared to wait. It’s worth it.
Açorda: there’s always one dish I especially love in a new place – this time açorda. It’s a way of using up stale bread – soak and mix with olive oil, garlic, coriander, salt and pepper. The Boss tells us it comes from the Algarve’s northern neighbour, the province of Alentejo (with its wheat fields it’s the bread basket of Portugal). A traditional recipe uses fish broth in which eggs are poached to grace the bread mix. There’s even a song about it:
More on Olhão in the Eastern Algrave: here. It’s a lesser-known gem on this coast, and all the better for being so.
Huge thanks go to my parents-in-law who introduced us to Vai e Volta and treated us to a lovely lunch. Thanks too to my brother-in-law, Jamie, whose clever discovery this was.
*I married too many years ago to know the term “mini-moon“. Apparently it refers to a brief break taken by a newly married couple in advance of a bigger trip planned for a later date. Lucky them.