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Posted by David Eley on 09-04-2009
If seeing is believing, Portuguese star chef Rui Paula really can walk on water; as evidenced by the extraordinary image adorning the dust-jacket of his first ever gourmet cookbook: ‘Douro Cuisine'. Rui's iconic, ultra modern restaurant, appropriately named ‘D.O.C.', sits on aqueous stilts just metres above the mighty River Douro's surface. It is two years since D.O.C. opened and Paula has created a huge success in northern Portugal's Douro valley. This upscale canteen for celebrity winemakers and international gastronomes is filled with warm enthusiasm and a unique brand of joie de vivre served by Rui and his gregarious brother Pedro, whose own commercial acumen and personality complement the quality of cuisine.
The setting is ‘typical' majestic Douro: situated in the tiny hamlet of Folgosa, midway between Régua and Pinhão, with breathtaking riverside views and surrounded by towering terraced vines. In the kitchen, Rui Paula has taken traditional Portuguese staples and transformed them: with imagination, wisdom and flair. Streamlining the wholesome and good, into modern, elegant and refined; in the process he has breathed life into the local community while gradually creating an epicentre of excellence for those who love to eat and drink.
Beneath beautiful cobalt skies and amid this topographical tapestry of vineyards, there is now a distinct touch of the Riviera; D.O.C. provides a 'dock' or floating pontoon for luxury speedboats and many passing river-craft moor alongside the restaurant when stopping off for a relaxed lunch atop the sun drenched steel and wood promenade.
Portuguese cuisine is beginning to gain international headlines and there is no doubt entrepreneurial chefs like Rui Paula are making a substantial contribution by changing tired perceptions and stimulating awareness of all that is good beyond Iberia. Rui Paula is punching above his geographical weight, and in so doing, brings the culinary mountain to Mohammed. The Douro valley may be off the beaten tourist track, but given the number of satisfied diners departing D.O.C. every week, the Douro is starting to build a serious international reputation for fine dining in addition to great Port and table wines.
Note: refreshingly, Rui Paula's beautifully illustrated and award winning book ‘Douro Cuisine' is available in English, affording a superb opportunity to discover unfamiliar dishes from a stunning corner of arguably our most spectacular European vineyards.