The wooden statue in the garden represents the “Vivant,” a character of no particular gender or nationality who “inhabits” the restaurant located halfway down Almancil’s Rua do Comércio. “The story behind "Vivant" is someone who has lived throughout the world during his life and decided to settle in the Algarve after being held down by the pandemic,” Francisco Nobre, the restaurant’s owner, told The Portugal News. “You enter and see the living room, the fireplace, then we have the library, you pass through the other room and it’s the winehouse, then you have the bar and then the bed suite, so this is the house of our character.”
The building itself is historical, built-in 1884 as a public school and then converted into a restaurant in the mid-late 20th century. In the garden stand two olive trees that have stood there for over a hundred years. “This is a very historical, bohemian, but at the same time very comforting place to be, that’s what we want the experience to be for our customers,” Nobre described.
“Since we got this place, we changed everything outside, it was a garden with grass and we’ve made this wood deck, the bar, everything you see outside is new.” Inside, very little has changed. Besides the new bathroom and kitchen, the rooms retain their cosy, historical feel.
“It’s been a long process,” he explained. “It’s taken a year, it was only supposed to take 6 months.” Difficulties with finding the ideal contractor and delays during construction held the restaurant’s opening date back, but Francisco considers this a boon: “I think we’re opening at the right moment,” referring to the annual tripling of the Algarve’s population over the summer. They won’t be packing up and leaving afterwards though, as he plans to keep the restaurant open all year, as the main target client base are the permanent residents who call the local area home. “I always spent my summers in Vilamoura, and Almancil being close by is the natural area from Vilamoura to go for dinner. You’re here in the middle of the perfect triangle of the Algarve, between Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura, I found this place in the centre and there’s lots of residents here, that’s the kind of customers we’re looking for.”
Francisco Nobre owns two more restaurants in Lisbon, “Sem Vergonha” and “Descarado.” The former serves traditional Portuguese food in the city centre, while the other sits on the docks and offers seafood with live entertainment. “This is more cosmopolitan than the other two,” he said, comparing those restaurants to Vivant, “The other two are more classic, more for the Portuguese clients, while this one is more for the tourists, more international.”
The restaurant has a number of social options on their menu, designed to share between members at the table. “I believe after Covid people want to share; they want to be in groups, so we have that kind of approach to our menu.”
“I’m in a difficult position to recommend,” Nobre struggled to recommend any specific dish to customers, “I’ve tasted everything and it’s difficult to say. I’ve tasted the tartars and they’re beautiful, the chef made them in ways that I want people to come and taste themselves,” he explained, highlighting the food’s quality and how he couldn’t do it justice in words. “Come and taste for yourselves because I think there are very interesting approaches our chef, Diogo Simões, took traditional Portuguese products, the way he turned them around is amazing.”
Francisco believes the food is also enhanced by the atmosphere that inhabits the restaurant. “I’m very anxious that people come and have the wow feeling when they enter our door because I think that’s the first feeling you have when you come into the terrace. I think when you get the wow feeling when you see it, it reinforces the wow feeling when you taste the menu. We want you to say ‘wow’ when you come and when say ‘woah’ when you come out.”
Francisco now manages three restaurants, soon to be six as another two will open soon in Lisbon and another one at Praia do Ancão, near Quinta do Lago. As he opens more, the people he works with become ever more important. “One very important thing is I have a partner with me, Diogo, he’s the key person in this project. Then we invest a lot in local management, so the managers for the restaurant are very important people, they are the key to this operation, they are of our trust and people that we know are very competent. We have to have good management teams and implement good control and good management tools in order to identify and analyse everything in short notice so we can act when needed.”
The best part of this restaurant? You can sleep in it. When questioned about it, Fernando revealed you can indeed stay here. “It’s been very looked into for the Instagrams and all that.”
Nobre concluded by describing the experience that’s been designed for the customer: “We want to make the experience very familiar, very welcoming, not pretentious or fancy, just a cool, calm, relaxed atmosphere. We have entertainment every night from Tuesday to Saturday. We have live music and a DJ, people say you have to have a good vibe to enjoy, so: To have a good, relaxed environment, and great food, this is our motto.”
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.