In the dead of winter, when the wind and rain lashes at your face like so many serrated knives and you immediately ditch all tentative plans to become a running/kick-boxing/Yoga-loving beach body babe that your brandy-fuggled mind thought was a good idea on New Year’s Eve, your mind veers straight to holidays. Balmy summers, cold beers, and in our case – usually – a trip to Portugal’s Algarve coast, where the other half’s amazing cook Mother resides.
Failing this, we visit one of South London’s many good Portuguese restaurants and dream, idly. So, to A Torre – Crystal Palace‘s answer to your average Portuguese taverna – a cosy haven on Westow Street with sun yellow walls, terracotta tiles and rickety, white linened tables. Yes, they show the footy on a telly too, as is the law in all Portuguese restaurants.
The first thing we notice, and love, is the dinnerware – handmade, terracotta pottery and traditional serving dishes – including the Assador de Barro – an oval, ridged dish designed for flaming Chourico in. Yes, that does say flaming chourico. Nothing gets my appetite going like a spicy sausage on fire!
Following this spectacle, I enjoy some grilled king prawns – where I usually have them in garlic and lashings of olive oil, these are dressed with a flavourful tomato sauce, still garlicky, but more delicate.
Mario has the Espetada a Porto – a huge skewer of grilled beef cuts, marinaded in garlic, pepper salt and dripping it’s lovely juices over a plate of homemade potato chips and steamed veggies. The meat is good, the potatoes crispy- it’s not glamorous food, but it is packed with the taste of comfort food made by a cook who loves good home dishes.
I had the most tender octopus, poached in its juices with sliced potatoes – it’s tentacles crisped up in the oven. Soft, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth – a real reminder of evenings by the sea.
Whilst our wine was a bit too warm – the room was well heated, given the Arctic blasts outside, there was no fuss to cool it in a bucket. The owner was chatty, friendly, offered us a punchy firewater that made me cry – (from strength, as well as joy….).
If winter blues are getting you down and your next sunny break seems a long way off, take a 2 hour holiday to A Torre. You won’t regret it.
19, Westow Street – SE19 3RY