It was quiet as we made our way into the Rural Hotel Convento dos Capuchos in Monção, Portugal. This was the third stop of the day on our epic Vinho Verde wine tasting, and was the one I was most anticipating – because it involved lunch.
The Convento Dos Capuchos is a restored Portuguese convent, so perhaps it was appropriate that it was so quiet. The monastery dates back to the 14 century, and the restaurant, Cozinha do Convento, or Kitchen of the Convent, was set in the former private chapel of the monastery. I felt every step I took echoed through the hotel, and the restaurant, as we approached our table.
The owner, Mrs. Agueda, an older woman, about half Eric’s size, escorted us to the table. Although she did not speak English, she welcomed us with big smiles.
The contemporary design of the restaurant was in direct contrast to the historic setting. But, we didn’t have much time to explore the hotel. Chef Marco Conde descended on the table, and eagerly provided a preview of our meal and his theory on Portuguese food.
Chef Marco at Convento dos Capuchos
Chef Marco attempts to use modern techniques on traditional Portuguese, and Alto Minho, recipes that are often over sixty, or even seventy, years old. These are recipes that he has learned during his years of cooking. He is not classically trained, and did not attend a culinary institute. Instead, Chef Marco learned his craft by starting at the bottom in his first kitchen.
Chef Marco also tries to match his cuisine to the local Alvarinho grapes, which can provide different flavors of wines depending on how they are produced. It was just about harvest time, so a basket of Alvarinho grapes were placed in front of us, in order to try the raw product.
Our meal was entirely accompanied by Alvarinho, the grape used to produce the famous Vinho Verde. But, each wine we tried was entirely different from the one before. We had a sparkling wine, a white still wine, and even a dessert wine. Each one was carefully chosen to accompany the meal, and each dish Chef Marco served carefully chosen to highlight local ingredients, and traditional recipes.
Dining at Convento dos Capuchos
If dining on traditional Portuguese cuisine, even dishes with modern interpretations, there are two dishes that have to be served: sardines and bacalau. Each dish is a cornerstone of Portuguese cuisine.
Chef Marco came up with a new twist on the traditional sardine, by serving a trilogy of sardines. The first was marinated with onion, olive oil, and vinegar, in an escabeche, set over a pressed bread made with three kinds of local flour. The second, on the right, was set on cornbread with basil, and served with, what Chef Marco called “a tomato explosion.” As he promised, the tomato did in fact, explode inside my mouth.
The third, in the middle, the Chef referred to as a sardine sobremesa, or the dessert of the three sardine dishes. I loved just the concept of a sardine for dessert. The fire grilled sardine was layered with sweet red pepper sauce and citronella, giving it a sweet taste, hence the dessert quality. These were easily some of the best sardines I’ve ever had.
Next, Chef Marco took the traditional dish of bacalau, or a salted cod, to a whole new level. When I first tried bacalau, I have to say I was not a fan. It’s dried, salted cod, which is then rehydrated. At first, I did not like the salty flavor of the fish. After spending as much time in Portugal as we did this year, I’ve become accustomed to the saltiness, and even crave it on occasion.
Chef Marco’s bacalau was a confit, which is a slow cooked preparation, cooked, of course, in Alvarinho. He used the neck of the codfish, which was unbelievably tender. He then placed the codfish on a chick pea puree. The chick peas are not traditionally Portuguese, and was a perfect contemporary accompaniment to the saltiness of the codfish.
And, because Convento dos Capuchos is a Portuguese restaurant, Chef Marco couldn’t stop at just one dish of codfish. Next, he served a perfectly grilled cod served over a punched potato. Literally, it looked like it was punched in the middle.
Next, we tried a beef cheek confit, again cooked in Alvarinho served alongside a pork cheek marinated in thyme, and then grilled. Set over what Chef Marco referred to as a Galician cabbage, providing an homage to their neighbors to the north, in Spain. Eric was thrilled to have two different kinds of cheek on one plate.
Finally, we finished the meal with a cream filled pastry, served with a drunken pear, and a cinnamon stick.
The meal was incredible. And, as I’m learning about the occupational hazards of being a food travel blogger, there was no way I could finish each of these dishes. Normally, a tasting menu like this would involve slightly smaller portions to make sure the dishes could be finished. These dishes in no way made it seem like they were petite portions. This at least made the meal a good value. But, the two types of cheek on one plate just did me in.
We enjoyed our lunch, not only because the meal at Convento dos Capuchos was good, but Chef Marco delivered each course, and we got to know him a bit better. We were the only table of diners in the restaurant that afternoon. And, the initial quietness I felt walking into the convent gave way to a fabulous mixture of laughs with the chef and yummy sounds.
It’s been one of my favorite things about traveling Europe as a food travel blogger. We’ve never had more access to chefs, and that means speaking with someone who is even more passionate about food and ingredients than we are. And, that made our Vinho Verde wine tasting tour that much more special.
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We were hosted by Hotel Minho on our Vinho Verde wine tasting experience with Bliss Tours, but all views are my own. Tours with Francisco and Bliss Tours start at 190 Euros for up to 3 persons, and can be arranged through Hotel Minho. Our tour included a visit to Vale dos Ares, a larger wine company called Quinta de Pedra, lunch at the Hotel Convento dos Capuchos, and a tapas and wine tasting at Hotel Monte Prado. It was a pretty full day. Francisco works with other wine tourism partners, including some other hotels, to create unique experiences wine tasting in Minho. Meals at Convento dos Capuchos range from 20-50 Euros per person.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.