Anyone looking for a touch of sunshine this winter can find it in Tunbridge Wells. Elio Virissimo, director of Restaurant Madeira in Camden Road, takes us through the menu…
How long has Restaurant Madeira been open?
It will be three years at the end of November, but we’ve been living in Tunbridge Wells for 17 years. I’d been working in other restaurants since arriving in the UK in 1998, but finally decided to open my own place.
What brought about that decision?
We just wanted to bring some traditional Portuguese food to Tunbridge Wells, because there weren’t any Portuguese restaurants in town. So we decided to embark on this adventure.
How is life in Camden Road?
It’s great here. We used to go to the restaurants along this road and have always liked the area. Now we know everybody else here and get good footfall at evenings and weekends.
For those who have not tried Portuguese food before, what can they expect?
The cuisine features lots of fresh fish and grilled meats. It’s simple but tasty. The menu has lots of dishes from Madeira, which is where I’m from.
Tell us about your signature dish.
We have several dishes I would love customers to try. For meat lovers, we have lovely chunks of tender meat on skewers, which are traditional to Madeira. From mainland Portugal, we have a seafood one-pot dish – a good mix of seafood is steamed with wine and spices. That’s a very traditional dish.
What if we wanted to indulge in three courses that summed up Madeira’s cuisine? What would you recommend?
To start, I would suggest our flame-grilled chorizo. It’s not like the Spanish chorizo, which is spicy; this is smoked.
For the main course, you must try the Portuguese salt cod. Known as ‘bacalhau’, the fish is salted, then put into spring water for a couple of days to remove most of the salt, then cooked. It’s poached in a light tomato sauce and served with new potatoes, black olives and fresh chopped parsley.
And for dessert?
Definitely the molotof. This dish is composed of baked meringue with caramel, which is a very typical dessert from Madeira.
What’s your personal favourite on the menu?
I really like the piri piri chicken. Everyone knows that from Nando’s, but ours is much more authentic. The chicken is cooked fresh and we use a homemade piri piri sauce.
Sounds good – how should we wash it down?
Madeiran wine is known all over the world, so our customers should definitely try it here. We have ten-year-old wines, including dry varieties and a sweet wine that goes really well with our orange cake. We also have fantastic port and white port.
How about something stronger?
We have a great cocktail. It’s called ‘poncha’ and is like a punch. Using the rum made from sugar canes grown in Madeira, we mix it with lemon and honey to create a strong cocktail. You can have it purely as a cocktail, or drink it as an aperitif or digestive.
Christmas is on its way, so what will Restaurant Madeira be serving?
We’re going to be offering a lot of cod and octopus. I will do a few specials through the Christmas period, but it won’t be a full Christmas menu. Last year I put on a festive menu, but everyone still ordered from the a la carte menu – they left Christmas behind!
What will you be tucking into on Christmas Day?
I’m going to be enjoying sea bass baked with salt – no turkey for me! It’s not that I don’t like it, but I’ve eaten turkey for the last 17 years, so I’ll be sticking to Portuguese food this year.
Do you have any culinary plans for next year?
Not just yet. I’m really looking for a new chef to work with me and take over in the kitchen, but I’ve not been lucky yet. I want to find a Portuguese chef. There are lots of Portuguese people living and working in the area, particularly in Pembury, but I haven’t found a chef yet. I may bring one over from Portugal.
What will you tell them about life in Tunbridge Wells? What are the pros and cons?
There aren’t really any bad points – apart from there being so many restaurants. That’s one of the difficult things, but the town is growing. I do miss the sunshine of Portugal, that’s one of the things that England doesn’t have. But the summers haven’t been too bad, we do get a bit of sun. After 17 years, you get used to the British weather. Now, two weeks on holiday in Portugal is enough for us. Any longer than that and we get too hot!
155-157 Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2RF, 01892 544144, www.restaurantmadeira.co.uk