Gusto by Heinz Beck restaurant: Gorgeous grub at the Conrad Algarve
Updated: Jun 11
The burst of liquid is unexpected. A gush of golden flavour.
Salty. Warm. Cheesy. Homely.
It's pasta, but it's not. Certainly nothing like the quick pasta dinner you whip up of an easy Sunday evening. The doughy parcels are nothing more than the vehicles; the receptacles for the magic.
These little pockets of pecorino pleasure, Fagottelli Carbonara by name, are a signature Heinz Beck dish.
And unlike the other dishes put before us tonight at Gusto restaurant - each more visually enchanting than the last - this one looks comparatively rather ordinary. A small portion of golden pasta parcels, miserly almost, drizzled with chives.
But appearances can be deceiving - there is nothing remotely ordinary about the flavours of this dish. The cheesy-doughy combination is deeply satisfying, in a home-cooking-around-the-family-table kind of way, and the last bite is bittersweet as it leaves us wishing for more.
Gusto by Heinz Beck restaurant
We began our evening on the terrace...
A couple of days earlier the barman at the Conrad Algarve Hotel had served us their own-creation cucumber martini - a cocktail so delicious that we asked for it again, sipping companionably as we overlooked the hotel's infinity pool in the encroaching twilight.
Then, suitably mellowed, we wandered a few quick steps over to a warm welcome at the hotel's upscale on-site restaurant - Gusto.
This was not, in fact, to be our first experience of the culinary magic conjured up by celebrated chef Heinz Beck.
Near enough a decade ago we had had another memorable Michelin starred food experience at the Lanesborough Hotel, in what is surely one of London's most romantic restaurant settings. In its previous incarnation as Apsleys, and with Heinz Beck then at the helm, we had had a modern Italian meal to remember.
And so, excited to be back again for another opportunity to sample this chef's consummate cuisine, we sat down to our dinner at Gusto.
Tables at Gusto are large. Crisp white tablecloths. A candle and a couple of glasses. Minimal decoration to distract.
Great empty canvasses that are perfect for showcasing the Heinz Beck creations to follow.
And what creations they are.
We've met the Fagotelli, of course. Welcome - You can stay - We'll be lifelong friends!
But the food's hardly been unremarkable getting to this point, which is about halfway through the tasting menu. Every course has been artful presentation - colourful concoctions that are pretty as a picture.
There have been amuse-bouches - fried pastry elaborate as an autumn leaf, crunchy cups of savoury cream, and tacos lookalikes bursting with seaside flavour.
There has been, of course, the obligatory bread basket, with local Portuguese olive oil and a trio of salts.
We've had amberjack and almond, and it's as good as you would expect given the high standard of the fish along Portugal's Algarve coast.
Next up we have sole with shrimp and celery root, that is light and flaky. Followed by a lamb main course that is rich, smooth and deeply satisfying.
Wines appear seamlessly before each new dish, while plate after plate arrives, is savoured, and is effortlessly whisked away.
By this stage you'd think we'd be almost done - it's only a 5-course menu after all. But no, Gusto is not yet ready to let us go, and Heinz Beck has a few more delights up his sleeve.
A palate cleanser, lovely as a miniature amber vegetable garden, is followed by a pre-dessert - not too sweet - of raspberry roulade and sorbet cream.
Dessert arrives on a bowl like a bulbous meringue: a picturesque pile of delicately layered strawberries, hazelnuts and other bits that has me imagining the tweezers that must have gone into putting this together.
And finally, after an evening that has been a feast for the eyes as much as the taste buds, there are the petits-fours: As if to remind us of Gusto restaurant's coastal location, we're presented with mini-chocolates and sweets on a wave of ocean blue, like tasty bite-sized sea creatures.
Final Review of Gusto restaurant Heinz Beck
It is said that at Gusto Heinz Beck serves a similar menu as at his renowned 3-Michelin star restaurant in Rome. I've no idea whether this is the case, but it certainly is true that the single star awarded to Gusto hardly seems to do it justice.
The price of the fixed menu is also far from unreasonable for this elevated standard of cuisine.
So go to Gusto for the food - it is absolutely world class. And for the spectacle, because these dishes are dazzling.
Definitely go for the location - a slick address at the Conrad hotel, on Portugal's ruggedly sexy Algarve coast.
Yes, Gusto restaurant - one of the best restaurants in the Algarve - has it all, so go before Heinz Beck conjures up even more of those coveted stars.