Planted on top of a hill with a spectacular view over the surrounding pine canopy during the day (and with the sparkly lights of civilisation dancing like fairy lights in the evening) it blends perfectly into its landscape, and I have the feeling that it will soon seem like it’s been growing there forever.
Tribulum brings together the complementary skills of Head chef Jonnie Pratt and expert Sommelier Justin O’Hanlon. Chef Jonnie is passionate about providing a creative and imaginative spin on Portuguese cuisine and classic dishes, and Justin knows the perfect wine to accompany each of them. A powerful combination.
They were set to open back in March, but of course Covid 19 came along changing everybody’s plans. They quickly adapted though, realising that there would be a demand for high quality home deliveries and started ‘No contact catering’. Now though they have finally opened and as Chef Jonnie joked, a lot of their customers they have been catering for over the last few months have described Tribulum as ‘their favourite restaurant that they’ve never been to’. Now though, finally, they can go.
And so can we. As I turned off the road between Almancil and Quinta do Lago (just after where the ‘Escola de São Lourenço’ used to be) I noticed that on their sign for Tribulum it said ‘home of’ and then there’s a drawing in green of a zebra. I could hardly contain my excitement and we were barely through the beautiful bougainvillea surrounded doorway and into the bar/lounge area, before I was inquiring where the zebras were? Justin, who gave us a warm welcome, was amused by this and let me down gently, letting me know that the ‘Green Zebra’ is set to be the outside cocktail bar area where people will be able to enjoy a drink outside without having to come back in for refills. This sounds great, but I do think a herd of zebra grazing outside would be a fantastic feature, and I humbly submit it into the suggestion box.
Of course, I expect my submission will get lost as they would probably prove a menace eating everything around, and since Tribulum are passionate about their offerings being both homemade and homegrown (and they already grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables and Chef Jonnie plans to expand further and start a market garden) they probably wouldn’t be too impressed if a stripy dressed felon made off with their cauliflower.
We were invited to have a drink in the lounge area while we waited for our table to be ready. The lounge area seems the appropriate thing to call it, as along with a cozy candle lit atmosphere, it has two bright white sofas in the middle. As I sat down this made me feel comfortable from the beginning as I’m a big fan of any place with a sofa, let alone two. It’s peculiar how you can feel that you are both in a high end restaurant and, at the same time, a house party (albeit a rather elegant one - think ‘The Great Gatsby’). This is something Justin says was deliberate - they want their customers to feel at home and relaxed, but at the same time not compromising on the quality that a fine dining experience should entail.
I learned a few words on my visit, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know what a Sommelier was (sorry Justin), and perhaps a little less ashamed to say that I didn’t know what a ‘Tribulum’ is. I mean, do you? Before I went there I wouldn’t have known one if it was staring me in the face. Which it actually was. Pride of place on the wall in the middle of the lounge area was a large piece of wood with small pieces of iron sprinkled on it. This ancient piece of farming machinery was used to separate grains.
They managed to source this beautiful 300 year old contraption just a few months ago, and Jonnie and Justin feel like this is the perfect object to represent what they are trying to achieve with their restaurant - which is to separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure that it’s only things of the finest quality that are put on your plate, or poured into your wine glass.
And I have to say they are really achieving this as after our drinks we were shown to our seats in the dining area. We were immediately given a basket of some delicious homemade bread along with some fine olive oil for dunking, and an interesting selection of spreads of different colours. They will tell you what they are, as they told me. I tried to remember but all I can tell you now is that - the pink one is my favourite.
I was allowed to bring a guest with me who, after a casual glance at the menu, decided he would like the mushrooms to start. It was therefore quite hilarious I thought when the waitress promptly returned with what appeared to be a large white ‘Galão’, he said ‘No, we’re not quite ready for our coffees yet”. It turned out he had missed a crucial word on the menu and he had ordered the ‘wild mushroom ‘cappuccino’ with porcini powder, truffle oil’. In effect this was mushroom soup in a coffee cup.
But, as he told me later, it was SO much more than that. It was delicious and soon disappeared, and he didn’t even get a frothy mushroom moustache.
For main course they have choice of steaks, crispy pork belly with black pudding, salmon and sea-bream options and they also have both vegetarian and vegan dishes (clearly marked on the menu, and if you ask they will even show you an ‘allergens menu’, which helpfully lets you know what’s in what). Once you’ve ordered your food this is where Justin’s powers really come into play and he will happily suggest many different local, national and international wines to compliment your meal as well as letting you know the fascinating history behind them. I don’t drink myself and the expert mixologist at the bar had already, much to my delight, taken up the challenge of mixing me a virgin orange, passion fruit and elder flower cocktail. So I was quite happily sipping that.
Luckily though, my guest knew a thing or two about wines and happily sampled several for me. He later assured me that they were of the highest quality and did indeed go very well with the food.
The selection of desserts were to die for. I immediately knew that I wanted the plum and ginger crumble with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. My guest had the lavender crème brûlée, along with a fortified wine to match.
This place is clearly about perfectly balanced combinations. So, if you are looking to be truly wined and dined, in a stunning setting with delicious innovative food that’s complemented by glorious wine, but all the while be able to just relax and feel like you are at home enjoying some time with your friends - then put on your finest and fanciest pyjamas and go and try it out yourself.