Vintage posters from the 1920’s for Reid’s Palace in Madeira advertise “No rain. No dust. Excursions by hammock.” The hammock excursions and guarantees about the weather may have gone by the wayside but Reid’s is still going strong after 120 years. After all, it is one of those legendary hotels of the world and still retains some of the glamour of its hey days when steamer boats pulled in full of elegantly attired passengers ready for dinner dances by the sea.
|The view from the balcony of my room at Reid’s Palace|
A hotel can’t live on its past though, so Reid’s has reinvented itself as something of a foodie destination and invited me along with some other journalists to experience its new approach. While Reid’s is best known for its legendary afternoon tea served on its balcony with panoramic views of Funchal, it is the hotel’s championing of local and organic ingredients that is really impressive.
|The famous afternoon tea at Reid’s Palace|
The emphasis on Madeiran produce starts with the welcome gift in each guest’s room of a decanter of Madeira alongside a traditional Madeiran cheese cake and bolo de mer a honey cake made of sugar cane molasses. Guests having lunch by the pool can try out the bolo do caco, a home made bread made with local sweet potato and served with a garlic butter.
|The ocean pool at Reid’s palace|
A buffet barbecue (€69) by the swimming pool to watch the Atlantic firework festival featured both luxe and local ingredients. The buffet was decidedly retro complete with a swan ice sculpture and huge platters of smoked salmon and shellfish. As well as typical buffet fare also featured Madeiran produce such as chicken marinated with Boal wine to give it a great tangy, slightly spicy flavour and espetada which are cubes of meat skewered on laurel sticks and then barbecued. Unfortunately the beef used for the espetada was chewy and bland.
|Mussels at the pool side buffet|
There were no such problems at Reid’s Villa Cipriani restaurant. The menu was Italian but local produce also featured in dishes such as espada or black scabbard fish (€25.50), a type of firm, white fish that can only be found in the deep waters around Japan and Madeira. I loved Cipriani’s tender slow cooked rabbit sprinkled with marjoram and balsamic vinegar (€29).
|Scallops with fennel at Les Faunes|
It was dinner at Reid’s Les Faunes restaurant which was the highlight of our meals at the hotel. Juicy saucer sized scallops (€24) were served on a salad of fennel giving a lovely fresh, aniseed flavour to the scallops. Fennel is known as funcho in Portuguese and grows in such abundance that Madeira’s capital Funchal was named for it. Plump and fat local mussels featured in a hearty bouillabaisse (€31.50) alongside prawns and chunks of sea bream. It delivered texture and rich flavour in equally satisfying amounts. My dessert of apple ensconced in puff pastry was poached in a Madeira reduction and teamed with bolo de mel ice-cream (€13.50). It was assured cooking.
|Prawns on avocado tartare (€24) at Les Faunes|
Madeira is of course most well know for Madeira itself and most of our meals at Reid’s finished with a glass of the fortified wine, a favourite being the 1985 Blandy’s Malmsy with its oh so smooth finish. However we also enjoyed the Madeirini cocktail, a variation of the dry Martini where the dry vermouth was replaced with dry Madeira wine to pack a potent punch. Less lethal was the Funchal tonic, a refreshing twist on a gin and tonic perfumed with fresh fennel juice.
|The hotel offers lots of Madeiran wine – not just fortified wine|
When not imbibing some of the new Madeiran wines such as the nutty and smooth Quinto do Moledo made from verdhelo, we were having the wine rubbed all over our bodies. Specifically, Reid’s has launched a signature spa treatment of a massage with Madeira wine grape seed oil. While I usually prefer to drink wine than have it slathered over me I have to admit my skin was rather glowing after the treatment.
|My room at Reid’s Palace – featuring a traditional Madeiran lace bed spread|
Gourmet Travel Tips
- Easyjet flies direct to Funchal from London. Flights start at £60 return. Reid’s Palace is a 20 min cab ride from Funchal airport.
- In Funchal the Mercado dos Lavradores (farmers market) is a must visit with its amazing fruit, vegetables and seafood. More to come on the market in a later post.
- I also caught the cable car up to the Monte Palace Gardens (€10) and then careered down the streets in a wicker toboggan (€25 for two people).
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Reid’s Palace
Details: Reid’s Palace, Estrada Monumental 139, 9000-098 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal (Ph +351 291 71 71 71)
Damage: Budget breaking. I stayed at Reid’s Palace as a guest of the hotel but room rates start from €280 a night for bed and breakfast.