Vila Nova de Gaia, on the busy south side of the Douro at Porto, seems an unlikely place in which to make and store wines. Nor would you expect to find here what is being billed as Portugal’s finest hotel and restaurant.
Owned by the Taylor-Fladgate Port group, which owns the Croft, Fonseca and Taylor brands, The Yeatman had a “soft opening” in September 2010 before its official launch in January 2011. I was one of the “friends” invited to stay (at my own cost, I should mention) during the “soft” period when the finishing touches to the hotel were being made – which is to say that there was a lot of building work still going on.
The €32 million budget was funded mainly by Taylor’s, with €7 million from the Portuguese government (no wonder they’ve gone bust), though the final cost was €40 million. The hotel sits high above the Port lodges and rabelos (boats) that lie along the riverfront. Taylor’s has built 82 bedrooms (all sponsored by a “Wine Partner”); 11 event rooms; a wine shop; a 20,000-bottle capacity cellar, overseen by Beatriz Machado; and The Caudalie Vinothérapie® Spa, where those who have overindulged can purge themselves. I was given a 50-minute massage here with the lovely Sonia, who considered me to be “stressful” (I think that she meant “stressed”) and “toxic” (in the best sense). Too much work and wine has apparently shortened my life.
The Yeatman’s chef Ricardo Costa was formerly at the Relais & Châteaux Casa da Calçada hotel in Amarante, 40 miles north-east of Porto, where he obtained a Michelin Star. Taylor-Fladgate’s MD Adrian Bridge persuaded him to come to Porto, perhaps by showing him the magnificent view from the Yeatman’s dining room (and most of the guest rooms) of the river and the Ponte de Dom Luis.
I ate from the five-course “Express Menu” with some additional amuses bouches. The aperitif drink was Murganheira Grande Reserva Bruto Assemblage 1995, a sparkling wine from Beiras in north Portugal. Largely made from Malvasia Fina, with the red grapes Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz also in the blend, it smelled “skinny” – of grape skins, that is – with little of the yeastiness found in Champagne and some other sparkling wines. The hotel exists to promote Portuguese wines, especially Port, but a wide range of classics from other countries is available from the 1,500-wines list. The Murganheira was pleasant, as was the Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I was told has low acidity of only half a percent.
The first amuses bouches were foie gras with caramelised apple; scallop salad with Avruga caviar; and steak tartare. They were delicious and decadent. The dishes kept coming – they must have known that I’d been to the Spa that afternoon. The flatbread was scrumptious.
Beef carpaccio topped with a cheese balloon on a tunatto sauce – a Portuguese version of vitello tonnato – with rucola (rocket) leaves and white asparagus was the first starter. The cheese balloon was achieved brilliantly but it looked better than it tasted – it was rather rubbery in texture and flavour. The beef was tasty but a bit chewy.
Having downed the Murganheira, I was offered a white wine from Bucelas – Companhia das Quintas’s Santa Catherina Reserva 2007, made from the obscure but well-regarded Arinto grape. It had a creamy, almost yoghurt-like nose, with pear flavours and snappy acidity. It was very good with the shrimp in a (superb) celery sauce. The few chunks of celery that were floating in the dish really weren't necessary.