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Yeatman

Rua do Choupelo, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal

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The Yeatman is located in a hotel of the same name on a hillside in Porto. Admittedly this does not narrow things down much, since pretty much everything in Porto seems to be on a steep hillside, but this particular one has a great view over the city. There is an outside terrace, and this is definitely a place where you want to try and secure a window seat.

The dining room has widely spaced, large tables with impeccably ironed white linen tablecloths. There is no a la carte, just a choice of tasting menus of varying length at €100, €130 and €150 for four, six or eight courses respectively. However even with the notionally four-course menu that we ordered, a lengthy set of additional nibbles and impromptu courses appeared. The wine is extensive and almost entirely Portuguese, though there are a couple of pages at the back with coverage of other countries. Example labels were Joao Portugal Ramos Alvarhino 2015 at €26 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €16. Quinta da Romeira Uniqo Touiga Nacional 2010 at €46 compared to its retail price of €44, and Cuvée Frederich Emile 2004 at €80 for a wine that will set you back €62 in a shop. As can be seen, markups are almost absurdly reasonable by the standards of London or Paris. Prestige wines follow the same generous pattern, with Gaja Darmagi Langhe 2001 at €297 compared to its retail price of €250, and Penfolds Grange 1996 at €450 for a bottle with a current market price of €398.

The first appetiser was a riff on tuna. Cannelloni of brique pastry contained tuna tartare marinated in pepper sauce, along with a tuna sandwich with "wasabi", and a little veal with tonnato foam with sushi of tuna and caviar. The wasabi was not real grated root, and anyhow was so extremely subdued, but the flavour combinations worked nicely and the tuna was good quality (16/20).

This was followed by amberjack ceviche with a slightly spicy avocado sauce, purple onion, kumquat and coriander with lime foam. The acidity of the lime worked nicely with the amberjack, and the kumquat, a bruiser of an ingredient if ever there was one, was in mercifully small quantity so did not overwhelm the dish. This came with filo pastry with stewed veal, veal tartare and guacamole (16/20).

A further nibble was cockles with "Bloody Mary of razor clam", plus egg yolk taglierini, cuttlefish broth with scallop, cuttlefish roe and a creamy milk sauce. There was a lot going on here but the pasta had good texture, and the cockles avoided chewiness. However the overlay effect was very salty, even to my normally saline-friendly taste (15/20).

This was followed by steamed seaweed bread with cuttlefish, and cuttlefish roe with crunchy potato. This was harmless enough, though the taste of the roe was rather buried by the fried potato, which may not have been a bad thing depending on your view of roe (14/20). A final nibble was lupin bean (a yellow legume) purée with a medley of seafood: blue lobster, mussel, oyster, sea urchin, a molecular olive (why?) and a black beer foam. This was another dish with a lot of elements, but the seafood was good and the foam worked quite well (15/20).

The first formal course of the meal was cardinal prawn (aka carabineros) tartare with lime, Thai sauce and crunchy seaweed. This was the best dish so far, with excellent quality prawn with good natural sweetness, a nicely judged level of lime and a gentle kick of spice (17/20).

Roasted turbot came with bottarga and shrimps from the Algarve in a fish broth. The turbot was excellent and the broth had pleasingly deep flavour (17/20). Next was sea bass with meat stew and Portuguese cabbage. The bass was fine, as was the stew, but the cabbage on one of our plates had a very odd texture, with hard fibrous stalks that were quite tough to eat; oddly, on the other plate the pieces of cabbage were fine. If I ignore the cabbage oddity, then 15/20.

A dish that appeared next was aubergine baked with curry with lamb sauce and romesco (nut and red pepper sauce). I did not think this worked well at all. The dish was served cold (I assume this was intentional), and the aubergine was of uninspiring quality. I had just returned from Japan before eating this meal where I had some great aubergine, so perhaps I am being a bit too harsh here with the comparison. However I also just didn't think the spicing really worked. If chefs are going to announce on a menu that something is curried or spicy then they shouldn't be afraid to actually let those flavours come through. Often in fine dining places, as here, they seem worried that the customers will freak out over the tiniest hint of heat, and dial down the flavour so much that the spices are almost invisible (13/20 at best). 

Next was "pigeon foie gras" with vinaigrette, a sauce of pigeon and chicken juices, a cheese and celery purée and a sauce of butter and champagne. This was exceedingly rich, and was crying out for something green or something acidic to cut through the deep richness of the liver (13/20). The meal got back on track with a very nice dessert featuring pineapple from the Azores. There was pineapple ice cream, pineapple cream and also marshmallow, a refreshing and enjoyable way to conclude the meal (17/20). Finally there were some petit fours including a very good waffle and an oddly disappointing custard tart.

Service was excellent throughout, patient and attentive. The only negative was that, after a brisk start, the pace of the meal slowed down dramatically, and there were some lengthy gaps between courses. The bill came to €132 (£112) per person with some glasses of wine chosen by the sommelier. This is certainly a quite modest bill for a tasting menu with wine if you compare it to London. Overall, this was a slightly tricky meal to assess. The setting is lovely, the service charming, and the nibbles and fish dishes were consistently cooked. However the meal rather came off the rails with the aubergine and pigeon dishes.

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