A few weeks ago, I published my foodie’s guide to restaurants in Funchal – the capital of Madeira. The article got so long (I was more than a little enthusiastic about Madeira after six weeks!) that I decided to save my restaurant recommendations for the rest of the island for a separate post. This article will be a lot shorter, because we only left Funchal at weekends when we could rent a car. It’s very difficult to get around the rest of the island without a car, so I’d highly recommend hiring one if you plan to visit any of the restaurants on this list.
O Lagar, Câmara De Lobos
Câmara De Lobos is the next town along the coast to the west of Funchal, which is known as the birthplace of Poncha – the lethal but delicious local citrusy rum drink. Restaurant O Lagar is not down in the bay itself, but up a fairly steep hill – you can walk it, but if you have mobility issues you’re going to want to take a taxi. It’s a huge restaurant that specialises in traditional Madeiran food including the famous espetada – essentially a long skewer of grilled meat. We tried the chicken and beef skewers, both of which were perfectly seasoned and prepared. The chicken went wonderfully with their spicy piri-piri sauce, while the beef came three different ways. After dinner, we were treated to some Madeiran folk dancing, complete with costumes featuring the traditional hats with stalks on. A little kitsch but I love that kind of thing!
Restaurant & Grill Muralha Terrace, Ribeira Brava
A little further up the coast from Câmara De Lobos, you’ll hit the small town of Ribeira Brava – which just happens to be home to the restaurant with the best octopus rice on the island (IMHO). Restaurant & Grill Muralha Terrace specialises in fish and seafood, and we could not get enough of their grilled octopus with sauce-laden, seafood-rich rice that comes in a cauldron on the side. Excellent with a glass of Portuguese white wine.
Essência do Atlântico, Calheta
Continuing up the coast, you’ll pass Ponta Do Sol (sadly we didn’t get a chance to eat there, but I’ve heard Maré Alta is good) before reaching Calheta. Along the marina are half a dozen or so restaurants, where you can sit outside and watch the boats coming and going. We picked Essência do Atlântico, and were particularly impressed by their tuna steak with peppers. A lot of tuna is overcooked in Madeira (we eventually came to the conclusion that it was a deliberate choice rather than a mistake) but this one was perfect: pink in the middle and served with a paprika-heavy sauce and gently fried peppers. Their terrace is also an ideal combo of sunshine and shade, depending on the temperature.
Sea View Restaurante, Porto Moniz
On the north-westerly tip of Madeira, you’ll reach Porto Moniz – known for its stunning natural pools in which you can swim without being battered by the Atlantic waves. While you’re there, head to Sea View Restaurante to taste some of the local seafood – done a little differently than elsewhere on the island. My fish soup was tasty and good value, while my friend’s tuna came with a range of interesting grilled veggies, from avocado to sweet potato. Lunch or dinner also comes with a view of the waves crashing right outside the window.
A Pipa, Porto Da Cruz
Meanwhile on the northwest coast of Madeira, you’ll hit the seaside village of Porto da Cruz, where Snackbar A Pipa is widely reputed to be the best restaurant in town. And I can’t argue with that! Inside and out, it looks more like an Alpine wooden chalet than a seaside restaurant, but the food is very much Madeiran. I tried the grilled bacalhau (salt cod), which was excellent and came slathered in butter with new potatoes on the side (in more butter). But had I seen the menu ahead of time, I’d have pre-ordered the fragateira: a hearty fish stew that everyone else seemed to be eating but that we couldn’t because it required a reservation 24 hours in advance. Alas!
Abrigo do Pastor, Camacha
All the other restaurants on this list so far are on the coast, which isn’t too surprising since it can’t be that easy building (and then stocking) restaurants up Madeira’s mountains, which are generally only accessible via very steep and winding roads. Plus, Madeira’s climate is such that it’s usually a lot cooler in the mountains than it is by the sea, so we usually drove down to somewhere warmer after our hikes (we had a dog with us so often couldn’t sit inside). However, Abrigo do Pastor was an exception to this rule: a fantastic restaurant that we went to twice, as it’s well located as a pitstop after hiking at Vereda do Areeiro or Ribeiro Frio. The first time we went, we tried the beef espetada, which looked suitably cave-man-esque and tasted incredible. But by far my favourite dish (possibly on the entire island) was the “cozido a portugese”: a veritable feast of 8 different types of meat, plus various veggies, all cooked in a master stock – only available on Sundays. Not one for the vegetarians but absolutely amazing. Abrigo do Pasto was hands-down my favourite restaurant outside of Funchal.