Being humbled by my inability to speak a foreign tongue while abroad is not a new feeling for me. Turning up to a double Michelin-starred meal slightly late because I didn’t translate the Entrada de Serviço sign until I was a good 300 metres into the service entrance tunnel through which Il Gallo d’Oro gets their fresh produce delivered, however, is. Life’s all about ticking the boxes.
When we do arrive at the infinitely more glamorous entrance to Cliff Bay Hotel, the Madeiran resort whose restaurant has recently been awarded its second star, the casual yet stylish décor makes us feel immediately at home, albeit the home of an ludicrously rich uncle. We have a quick look around the hotel, which has a well-equipped gym for burning off the Michelin-grade calories we’re about to ingest, a stunning view of the ocean, which is just a stone’s throw from the outdoor pool and bar area and hundreds of luxurious rooms that, despite it being January and Madeira’s ‘winter’ (meaning ‘a couple of clouds’), are at 85% capacity.
We head down to the restaurant and I want to make up for my prior linguistic ignorance, so I translate its name as The Golden Cockerel before realising that some phrases are best left in their original language (si?). The friendly staff greet us with a warm welcome and the manager brings a brace of Pommery Champagnes to our table, explaining that the chef will serve a 5-course degustation menu that can be tailored around any food allergies or dislikes. We clink glasses and settle in for what is going to be an ótima refeição! (Thanks, Google).
The décor of the restaurant is similar to the rest of the hotel in that it is refined and relaxed; it’s simultaneously minimalist but with a lot going on, the swirling pattern of the carpet evoking rolling waves and a sea urchin-like vase on our white clothed table continuing the sea theme.
Our charming waiter offers us a selection of bread and we ask him for his favourites, the green and black olive-dotted crusts perfect for slathering with the quartet of flavoured butter that accompanies them. Although the creamy plain, walnut, and truffle turrets are all excellent in their own rights, the prize has to go to the salt-flecked, smoky paprika and pepper dollop that I would happily spread on every sandwich from now until the end of time.
The amuse bouche arrives on a gorgeous cloudy glass plate, a curious collection of chewy octopus segments, light and herbaceous whole chickpeas and a sliver of onion that brightens the whole dish. It’s a textural wonderland, the crunchy couscous pairing with the lighter-than-air tomato paprika foam.
The piscatorial motif is continued in both cuisine and crockery with the next course, a tuna tartare served in a white sea anemone-like dish that is one of the most visually pleasing plates I’ve ever seen. And it doesn’t taste half-bad either. The tuna flesh is married to a cornucopia of flavours, the bulbous roe crowning the soft fish as nuggets of candied ginger create sweet and spicy detonations with every bite. Thin strips of apple and shavings of dill offer a welcome freshness and the sea anemone-shaped plate reminds us that we’re eating in a Michelin-worthy restaurant. This playful dish is accompanied by an equally rambunctious wine, a tropical, effervescent little number that reminds us of an ’80s beach party that we were too young to attend.
Next up is my favourite course of the evening, a plate that blends Indian, Persian and Madeiran flavours without ever seeming out of step with its individual components. A barbecued langoustine tail is lightly curried and absolutely delicious, its bitter charcoal aftertaste pairing well with a few mounds of sliced mango-topped couscous. A crunchy wafer of Iberico ham is ideal for dipping in what tastes like a walnut, dark chocolate and black bean emulsion (but is probably only one of those three). A flash of saffron oil completes the dish and a healthy glug of Vicentino, which has a salty overtone thanks to the vine roots reaching the ocean, ties it all off with a minerally bow.
We move on to the most inventive dish that we’ve seen in ages; essentially a deconstructed-and-then-reconstructed egg, in which the white has been separated from the yolk, whipped into a meringue, and then reformed around the golden molten inside before being baked to create a sort of soufflé. I mean, I usually just scramble mine, but each to their own… Topped with edible gold (naturally) and served with a Portuguese scallop and shrimp tail as well as a truffle and onion foam, this is a far cry from your average cod omelette. The wine steals the show, however, the Quinta Do Portal tasting like the top of a crème brûlée but with a bone-dry finish – all the calories but no guilt, right?
The meat course arrives and we’re treated to a dual explosion of colour and flavour; the terrine of chicken is as tender and juicy as you’d ever want a bird to be, two flakes of olive toast cross over a thick mushroom sauce and a miniature log of foie gras offers a reassuring crunch. Flashes of sweetened jus encircle the plate, with Dão red wine acts as a ballast for the dish, anchoring its lighter notes in its deeper, pepperberry undertone.
With just enough room to fit in a dessert, we polish off the artfully prepared Piña Colada-inspired sorbet, complete with frozen pineapple lemon and lime wafers and a sweet-and-tart raspberry coulis. A snifter of Muscatel tastes like a sweet cigar, its wash of burnt orange and cinnamon swishing around our mouths to coat them in a wonderful, lingering final tang.
We bid, “Tchau!” to the wonderful staff and head out of the hotel’s exit, walking past the Entrada de Serviço and back to our apartment. I make a solemn promise that I’ll be back to Il Gallo d’Oro, even if I have to pose as a deliveryman to do so.
Il Gallo d’Oro, Estrada Monumental 147, 9004-532 Funchal, Madeira
Tel: +351 291 707 700
The restaurant is a twenty-minute walk or five-minute taxi ride from the centre of Funchal and is open seven days a week from 7:00pm to 10:00pm Monday to Saturday.
Type of Restaurant: Double Michelin Starred Fine Dining Restaurant
“As understated as one can get from a double Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Gallo d’Oro leaves pretentiousness at the door and focuses on exquisite flavours matched with an inimitable wine list.”
Price Band: Expensive
Reviewer’s rating: 9/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Il Gallo d’Oro