There is a certain restaurant in Albufeira that over the past three years has become My Favourite Restaurant in the Whole Wide World. It’s called O Manel dos Frangos – which translates as ‘Manel and his Chickens’ – and it only has two dishes on the menu: piri piri chicken [try saying that out loud, it’s great!] and piri piri shrimp.

Now, as you can see if you click on the link, it doesn’t look like much. Kind of like a cafeteria-slash-diner, from the outside at least. On the inside it’s not big on atmosphere either – you’ve got yer basic fluorescent lighting, paper tablecloths, plastic plates [which for some reason are always placed upside down on the table] and cutlery wrapped in a napkin and stuck inside a little paper bag.

Now, what has earned this place many many gold stars in YT’s book is the delightful dichotomy between this utter lack of affectation and the absolute superiority of the service provided. [And as loyal readers will remember from this post, YT is a stickler for good service, having both dined in places ranging from the dingy to the sublime, and more importantly worked in places ranging from dives to high-class joints.] In other words, our YT considers herself a bit of an expert on How Service Should Be Rendered and to my great amazement, the waiters at O Manel [decked out as they are in their plain black pants and maroon polo shirts] have never, ever put a foot wrong.

Consider: When showing you to your seat, they always pull the chair out for the lady [our YT]. They then immediately ask you whether you would like piri piri chicken or piri piri shrimp, clearly assuming you know that this is the only thing they serve there, and whether you’d like chips [a.k.a French fries] and tomato salad to go with that [the answer is yes.] They’re friendly and charming yet have that fine professional distance that conveys both respect and a desire to put you at ease. And before they’ve even finished taking your order, a basket of Portuguese bread and a small bowl of olives has inevitably appeared on your table.

Assuming you’ve ordered wine, your waiter promptly appears with an ice bucket and the bottle in question. Plonking the ice bucket down next to the table, he then presents the bottle with label facing forward to the gentleman of the party. After a nod of the head, he deftly opens the bottle at the table, and with slight flourish pours a sip for a tasting. While the wine is being tasted, he holds the bottle in two hands, with the label facing towards the person who is doing the tasting [so very Savoy]. Assuming the wine is given the all clear, he then fills the glass of the lady, then the gentleman’s. And if any other liquids have been ordered [say like water], those are opened and poured into the appropriate glasses.

Right. You are now left on your own to relax and chat. However, if you should look up, you would notice that there is always at least one waiter invisibly hovering or glancing over at your table to see if anything is needed. And if any liquid in any glass goes below a certain level, the waiter has come and topped it up before you even noticed it was low.

Then comes the food. Though by means gourmet dining, it is always absolutely perfect. The chicken is hot-hot spicy, crispy and succulent and the French fries always straight from the deep fryer. And the tomato salad – mmm. And another of those small touches that make the service so special: no matter who brings your food or your drinks, they’ll never ask things like, ‘Who gets the chicken with the plain sauce??’ They already know.

When you’ve finished, and dessert’s done, and coffee served, they bring you the final touch: a traditional Portuguese almond liquor served in a small wine glass with a single ice cube – on the house. Here they may take a couple of minutes to chat – ask you where you’re from, whatever. All with the same friendly, smiling yet respectful demeanour. And when all is done and you’re ready to leave, purring with satisfaction, they’re one step ahead and are at the door, opening it for you and saying a gracious goodbye. [And if there’s a gentleman present, like our EPI, they’ll shake hands].

Of course all this goes to show how humble surroundings can be elevated to grand status through the many small touches that are so much more than the sum of their parts. So if you ever visit Albufeira, make sure you go to O Manel dos Frangos – and leave them a Big Fat Tip!

Overcast with light southerly winds. Sprinkling of rain. Temps currently 8°C and the sun came up at 03.07, goes down at 23.49.