SquareMeal Review of Volta do Mar
A small, independent Portuguese restaurant might not be what you’re expecting to find in the tourist heart of Covent Garden, firmly sandwiched between a Bella Italia and a Côte Brasserie. But as Volta do Mar proves, Portugal has always been a nation of intrepid explorers.
Much of Volta do Mar’s menu is influenced by Portugal’s seafaring history. We started close to home with a salty sardine pâté mixed in with soft butter and spread over sourdough toast – an elevated interpretation of the little foil packets of paste from holiday picnics – before moving on to every restaurant’s current favourite plat du jour: carabineros prawns, as red as a traffic light.
Here the mess of the head and tail are done away with (although the kitchen will serve them to you if you enjoy slurping the intense pulp from the shells) and the sweet, succulent body is grilled and served with lemon, olive oil and crunchy pieces of jamon in lieu of seasoning. If you’re not put off by the price, you could quite easily eat an entire plate of these and be satisfied.
Serves from further afield yielded a fruity, warmly spiced Iberico pork vindalho and a coriander-rich green rice from Mozambique delivered to the table by a somewhat haphazard front-of-house team. Sweets were a revelation, with a pudim casa turning up looking very much like a crème caramel but doused in sticky Madeira and bitter olive oil with fresh orange slices crowning it – a palate cleanser with an indulgent texture and sweet finish.
Drinks are proudly Portuguese and sourced with an exacting eye for quality as well as value; you can enjoy a juicy Douro Tinto from £6 a glass and no bottle breaks into three-figure territory.
While much of the menu’s globe-trotting terminology might need explaining, the skill of Volta do Mar’s kitchen ensures that some of the world’s most-loved flavours are not lost in translation.
About Volta do Mar
Dreamt up by Salt Yard co-founder Simon Mullins and his wife Isabel Almeida Da Silva, Volta do Mar, which roughly translates as ‘return from the sea’, was inspired by the couple’s love of Portuguese cuisine.
Taking up residence in the beautiful double-fronted Georgian townhouse that used to house Strada Covent Garden, Volta do Mar has been designed to reflect the vibrant atmosphere of Portugal, with plenty of curiosities and artworks on display throughout the bright, wood-panelled dining room split across two floors.
Volta do Mar is under the direction of chef George Tannock (The Dorchester, The Fat Duck, Sexy Fish), who works closely with Simon and Isabel to serve up a frequently changing menu of classic sharing and large plates that celebrate the richness of Portuguese cuisine.
Diners can expect everything from classic staples, such as smoked ham hock feijoada, and Macanese arroz marisco served tableside from a traditional Portuguese cooking pot, to dishes inspired by ingredients symbolic of the country’s trading past, including chillies from Angola and Mozambique used to make the restaurant’s signature piri piri.
The restaurant’s wine list has been carefully assembled to showcase Portuguese wines, from the vineyards of the mainland to those of the volcanic Azores. Most are available by the glass or carafe, and for those who don’t fancy wine, port or Madeira, an exotic spirits list offers plenty of alternatives.
Volta do Mar also caters for diners seeking breakfast, a light lunch or pre-theatre meal thanks to its provision of fresh, hand-baked bread and pastries, and selection of charcuterie and cheese sourced exclusively from one of Portugal’s oldest and most respected family-run businesses.
Operating as a traditional Portuguese pastelaria as well as a restaurant means that commuters or those working or shopping nearby can drop in for a bola de berlim – a type of Portuguese doughnut – alongside a classic Portuguese espresso.