One of our most delightful dining experiences in a great while was an introduction to Guilherme Valinhas and Caroline Kerber, both professionally trained chefs, over dinner in Preamar, their Porto supper club. The duo met as colleagues in the kitchen of a high-end London restaurant. They quickly found that they share a love for cooking and culture, and for the way food brings people together in harmony. At the beginning of 2018, the husband-and-wife team decided to trade the hectic, sometimes combative, pace of London fine dining for the quietly humming Porto culinary scene. The result was a fine-dining supper club, a unique dining environment.
“where nothing is permanent but constantly renewed”
Intimate, creative, and convivial
“Every evening at Preamar is different,” Caroline told us, “and guests bring their own interests and personalities to our table.” “We stir the pot and serve the meal,” added Guilherme. “Our task is to see that the food is exceptional and that everyone has a good time.” Tom and I were delighted to learn that Caroline and Guilherme are very good at these things.
From canapes to after-dinner petit fours, every meal at Preamar is an exciting play on textures and flavors. Each dish has a back story and an intriguing ingredient or two. Flavor combinations abound. Ivonne Ribeiro of Garage Wines in Matosinhos curated the short wine list. The one we chose for our meal, with Guilherme’s advice—a Douro red from Quinta do Noval—complemented every dish on Preamar’s autumn menu.
The chefs explained the dishes, in Portuguese and English, as they plated and served each one, telling us as much as we wanted to know about the food we were about to eat. We all had a field day, learning how plates before us came to be on the menu, where the ingredients were sourced, and what was unique about preparation.
A meal to remember
Tom and I joined four other guests for our evening at Preamar: three vacationers from Brazil, and a Porto local who loves good food. After introductions, our evening began with conversation over port tonics and canapes. Hummus made with frozen, whipped tremoços (lupini beans) topped tiny rice crackers tinted with squid ink, dehydrated and crisp-fried. These light bites were appetizers in the true sense of the word: enough zing to enjoy with our cocktails but leaving us eager for more.
We took our seats for a vegetable starter of roasted sweet potatoes, toasted hazelnuts, and seared orange segments. The dish, lightly dressed with honey vinaigrette and a touch of chervil oil, was ethereal, the potatoes an ideal carrier for the delicate flavor combination. Microgreens added a burst of fresh-and-green to this and every dish that followed.
Next up, cauliflower took a bow. A single floret, lightly steamed and basted with chicken broth, perched on cauliflower puree. Decorated with a triangle of defatted chicken skin, the cauliflower provided a crunchy, creamy introduction to the evening’s fish and meat dishes.
First the fish. Blowtorch-seared mackerel shared a plate with a salad of paper-thin cucumber slices and a dollop of lemon yogurt. For an autumn meat dish, tangy alheira in pleated gyoza wrappers complemented richly flavored pork belly. The pork, from Alentejo by way of a butcher near Vila do Conde was slow-cooked, de-boned and blocked, and plated with focaccia crumbs that had been malted and toasted, all served with bitter greens and a swirl of celeriac cream.
As a pre-dessert, we cleansed our palates with jiggly cubes of elderflower cordial gelatin topped with teensy Granny Smith apple bits, apple gelato and sprigs of lemon zest. And then, after a series of tastes that had stimulated and satisfied but not overstuffed, came dessert. I am not a huge sweets fan, but I love panna cotta. Guilherme and Caroline took this declicate Italian standard up a notch from ordinary, flavoring their version with tonka bean and passion fruit, blissing me out in the process.
A stellar dining experience
Preamar is a great addition to the city’s fine-dining scene. Its family-style table is a showcase for Guilherme and Caroline’s culinary talents and a setting for gatherings with friends old and new.
What made the experience stand out for me was the informality of it all; the chefs welcomed us to hop up from our seats and ask about everything, and they participated in our dinner-table conversation without missing a beat at the stove. It was a marvelous eat-in-the-kitchen-with-a-chef moment, without the clamor and distraction of a restaurant, for the chefs, or for us!