Should one feel sorry for the flat dwellers by the Lidl roundabout in Loulé? After all, they have had a choice of parking spaces for many years. Until now. The opening of a new
mega-sized restaurant has brought in car drivers by the hundreds. On the positive side, however, they are only a few steps away from the most amazing meal.
Those who know Loulé well will remember the circular car showroom (four-wheel drives with hefty price tags) that once sat on the road out of town towards what is now the industrial estate (no fast road then, no roundabouts, just a bumpy country-side route down to the traffic lights at Quatro Estradas. And they certainly will have shopped in the store that took over the premises, all things Chinese and some great bargains to be found.
Well, that same Chinese family, the Wan Guis, upped sticks and moved closer to town by a few hundred metres to the even larger building owned by Anibal Madeira (that was where you went for everything kitchen, bathroom and tiling related), while hanging on to – what shall we call it – the round house.
They had a plan you see, a long-held dream of a super-sized restaurant that would serve the masses with a mouth-watering selection of the best in Far-eastern and fusion food.
Fast-forward a couple of years and that dream has become a reality, with a whacking great 900sqm eaterie that seats 300 people, is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, has 18 members of staff, and a never-ending flow of fresh dishes from the 100sqm kitchens.
Let’s talk about building the dream first – before we get into the food and start tums rumbling at the thought.
With the help of architect Susana Guerreiro from Quarteira, hoards of builders both Chinese and European, and shopfitters who understand the need for comfort and good looks, what was a vast space filled with metal shelving, plastic containers, and rails of clothing, has been reborn as a gleaming, glossy, brilliantly-designed restaurant, skilfully divided into areas so you never feel you are sitting in the foodie equivalent of Grand Central Station. The whole environment is crisp and contemporary, quite unlike the usual shopping centre buffet bars. The lighting is stunning, and differs with each seating area, but it is over the impressive food tables, laden with delectable dishes, that it really does an amazing job.
Okay, now let’s talk food. Lunch is €8.95 a head, dinner is €11.95. Kids from four to eight years old, are charged at €5.95, no matter how grown-up their appetite. And believe you me, with the choice of dishes on offer, the task is making the decision before you simply don’t have the room for more.
Specialities at Wok in Loulé each have their own area. Chicken cooked a dozen different ways, from the classically sauced to the crispy-skinned; seafood in all its splendour – sizzling prawns with spicy tomatoes, or deep-fried and batter-coated for extra crunch, clams and mussels, crab and calamari.
There are beef dishes, some worked with delicately-shredded vegetables, others sautéed with herbs and spices, still more bathed in traditional sauces. There are lamb dishes, shiny little sausages, mini kebabs and pork cooked any number of ways. And there’s duck, all pink at the centre, and ready to be wrapped in paper-thin pancakes with all the trimmings.
Noodles? You want noodles? Here it is not an either/or of plain or Singapore, but thin ones, thick ones, simple ones, mild ones, hot ones, ones with vegetables or meat, or a mixture of the two; and an entire table of rice dishes. Talking about rice, sushi lovers are in for a treat, too, with a great selection of tempting little maki and uramaki rolls centered with spicy tuna or salmon, avocado and cucumber with slivers of crispy raw vegetables. Next is the counter of ready-to-be-cooked food: you take your plate, take your pick, and take yourself to the main counter where, with a twirl of the chopsticks, a chef will pop everything onto his gleaming hot plate, bring it to a sizzle, and hand it back to you.
Soups. Yes. Salads. Yes. Al dente vegetables. Yes, yes, yes. And puddings galore, from cubes of wibbly-wobbly jelly to lychees in syrup, baked apples, cakes and mousses, fresh fruit and rice pudding.
For €6.95 you can take it all away – or at least what you can cram into the box they’ll give you. And leftovers at the end of the night? So far, in the couple of weeks since Wok in Loule has been open, there’s been very little there when the doors close at 11pm. And what there is, goes to the staff as their own takeaway!
Worried about parking? A full house of diners could easily account for 100 cars. But with a choice of 18 carefully-priced, value-for-money wines and five different beers, you may be better off taking a taxi there and back anyway. And that might just leave a bit of parking space for the flat dwellers nearby.
Reservations recommended: 289 416 150
Visit Wok in Loulé Facebook page here.