No other dish served in Madeira defines the islands cooking closer than Espada Preta – the Black Scabbardfish. I went to Chalet Vicente to taste it the very first day I arrived in Madeira
The Black Scabbard is an ugly fish. It has a fierce set of fang-like teeth, a big head with enormous eyes and an elongated body (u to 1.1 metres in length) covered in black skin with an iridescent tint. It lives in the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Madeira at a depths of 180 to 1,700 metres and moves upwards only at night to feed. Enormous numbers are caught daily by Madeiran fisherman waiting in their little boats and end up as Espada Preta fry in restaurants. Madeirans have an insatiable hunger for it.
Chalet Vicente is an old Quinta and a family home in the centre of Funchal, now functioning as a restaurant specialising in traditional Madeiran and Portuguese cuisine. Its garden has vines, orchids and banana trees.
A table was ready for us facing the garden. The bar and cellar were behind us. Marinated black and green olives and traditional Madeiran garlic bread were on the table. A smiling young waiter poured Barbeito’s Five Year Old Dry Tinta Negra as our aperitif. A dry Madeira can have up to 29g/l of residual sugar and is not everybody’s idea of an aperitif. Tinta Negra – the only red varietal used in making Madeira, is a pleasant enough grape. Unlike the four white varietals, Madeira producers in the past have been rather reluctant to have Tinta Negra on the front label. The trend is now changing fast and rightly so.
Limpets came in a butter and garlic sauce and slices of lemon on the side. They were quite ‘rubbery’ but I liked them. We drank Blandy’s Five Year Old Dry Verdelho with it but I couldn’t help thinking how much better an Alvarinho or Loureiro based Vinho Verde from Anselmo Mendes or Soalheiro would be with these delightful chewy molluscs!
Plates of fried Scabbardfish (Espada) and roe were brought in. To my immense relief, chilled but unfortified dry Malvasia Fina was poured instead of another sweet and fortified Madeira. It paired the fish well. The thin strips of Espada had a soft consistency but were quite tasty. However, it left me wondering what all the fuss was about!
Grilled Tuna steaks followed. And then a delicious fried liver in a sweet Madeira sauce. A robust red from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Turiga Nacional was poured with barbecued pork and rice. A Five Year Old Sweet Malmsey from d’Oliveira accompanied a chocolaty dessert.
We ate too much and drank a lot but after all, it was our first day in Madeira!
My tour was arranged by:
Rita Galvão CEO / Diretora Executiva +351 912304517 www.discoveringmadeira.com www.winetoursmadeira.com