Throughout the month that I recently spent on Madeira, the subject of wine came up frequently. This was largely due to my repeated purchasing of the stuff, be it in a restaurant, bar, supermarket or funicular café overlooking Funchal (chilly, but what a view!). One phrase seemed to pop up continually, as the locals defended a presumption that tourists clearly make when they visit this beautiful, remote island: “We don’t just have sweet wine!” Their sweet wine is clearly what they’re famous for, but if you delve a little deeper into their oenophilic culture, you’ll discover myriad red, white and pink delights, of which they are equally proud. One venue that is particularly apt for this exploration is the appropriately named Uva (transl. grape) in the equally appropriately named The Vine Hotel.
We enter the hotel through the shopping mall in the centre of Funchal, Madeira’s capital city, and are immediately taken with the artful décor that seems to permeate every nook and cranny of the venue. It’s no wonder that they share and architect with the Design Centre, a beautiful bar, restaurant and museum concept perched at the end of the pier just a mile or so away, with both buildings boasting a pebblestone flooring in the lift.
If you find yourself in Funchal on New Year’s Eve, The Vine Hotel is the place to be; its outside bar area offers an unparalleled view of the city, which will be illuminated by the thousands of fireworks that tourists flock from all over to watch. After admiring the night-time scenery, we head through to the elegant dining room where the wine theme is imbued throughout, via the pistachio green drapes, twirling vines emanating from the floor, and a light structure over the bar that looks like a grape bush – even the menus are made of cork.
A couple of glasses of Piper Heidsieck Champagne fortify us as we pore over the options in front of us, cool electro music sailing overhead. The French chef has taken recipes from his native country and combined them with local ingredients, gracing the whole menu with a seasonal concept. The friendly sommelier offers to pair wine with each of our dishes and I’m almost tempted to ask if they can all be sweet simply to see his reaction, but grown-up David takes over the ol’ tongue controls and I simply thank him for his kind suggestion and prepare for my feast.
Our amuse-bouche is a small cup of very hot pea purée, infused with leek and onion and sprinkled with powdered bacon. Served on a futuristic, gold-striped plate, it’s a decent winter warmer to get things started. A salad of sun-dried tomato and pickled artichoke hearts exudes a base earthiness and pairs well with the dry, minerally Toucas Alvarinho. Even better is the lobster bisque, marrying the piscatorial overtones of the crustacean with floating hunks of cauliflower and tempura samphire that goes down a storm with a healthy glug of Solista Pinot Noir.
The main courses arrive and my girlfriend’s consists of a cauldron of organic vegetables covered with slivers of boiled seitan and dried olives, sprinkled with a selection of crunchy pine nuts. The accompanying wine is delicious; taken from the Dão region, the Casa de Mouraz tastes similar to a Malbec but without the bite – heavily tannic and a real head-spinner.
My main is rich and decadent, just like a plate of black pork roasted with hunks of blood sausage should be. The cinnamon-infused sauce covers the segments of sautéed apple and seeps willingly into the globes of mashed potato that I dip into the dish. The Marquês de Marialva 2012 tastes almost as thick and sweet as the jus on the meat, so much so that I hardly know whether to drink it or pour it over the meat (actually, I definitely do know).
After a dessert of crêpe with Morello cherry and almond ice cream and a curious concoction of rum baba with pineapple, we sink a couple of the island’s famous sweet wines, a Barbeito 10 Year that leaves a gorgeous, hazelnut aftertaste on our palates, and toast the sommelier’s choices for the evening.
If you’re looking to explore the island’s interesting and impressive selection of wines, you could do a lot worse than propping up the bar in Uva restaurant and let the team match bouquets to your banquet. Madeira does have an eclectic mix of wines at its disposal and you’d be doing your taste buds a disservice if you stuck to the sweeter end of the spectrum…but remember that they do sweet pretty damned well (just don’t say this to the locals)!
Uva, Rua das Aranhas, No 27-A, Funchal 9000-044, Madeira, Portugal
Tel: +351 291 009 000
The restaurant is situated in The Vine Hotel in La Vie shopping mall, and is open for dinner seven days a week from 7:00pm to 10:00pm.
Type of Restaurant: French-influenced fine dining
“This trendy restaurant boasts cool décor and great views with an emphasis on fine wines.”
Price Band: Expensive
Reviewer’s rating: 7/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Uva