Tom Cannavan's   

Spanish Islands


For some years now the Spanish island of Majorca (Mallorca) has been quietly but steadily upping its game to offer more and more fine dining opportunities to globetrotting foodies. There's a whole world of modern travellers out there with an expectation of high-end wine, dining and hotels, and the disposable income to enjoy them. Majorca, which has always been Iberia's most sophisticated island destination, now attracts them in droves. Wallpaper magazine's guide to Palma de Majorca is crammed with page after page of chic addresses.

A little bit of the mainland's explosive and exciting dining scene (think El Buli, Arzak and El Celler de Can Roca) has transferred here, whilst the other islands in the Balearics and Canaries march to a different beat. Majorca now boasts five restaurants with a Michelin star - indeed one of them has two - but in truth there are dozens and dozens of opportunities on the island to enjoy refined, inventive and modern cuisine, though always rooted in the island's Catalan culture.

I spent a week getting to know the food scene, basing myself in the Port of Soller on the island's peaceful and dramatically beautiful northwest coast, but exploring fine dining options across the island, from the very grown-up and bustling capital, Palma, in the southwest, to the resort area of Pollença in the northeast.

I drank mostly local wines and found them to be of a surprisingly high standard. The Majorcan DOC of Binassalem produces white, rosé and red, and there are exciting producers pushing the boundaries with both local and international varieties. With the Majorcan cuisine, which often revolves around fish, seafood, Iberian pork and rice (Paella), the rosadas seemed, more often than not, to be the perfect match.

The northwest

Porto de Soller: Restaurant S'Atic, Hotel Los Geranios, Paseo de la Playa 15. Tel: +34 971 638 113
The lift of this small hotel will whisk you to the fourth floor and a cool, chic, modern space occupied by S'Atic, the independent restaurant run by Spanish-American couple(chef Oscar Garcia Torrenteis, whose training included a stint at Arzak, and Anna Byer from Chicago who runs front of house). There's a small outdoor terrace with spectacular views over Soller bay and its lighthouse. This is very refined, modern cuisine that balances traditional Catalan ingredients and flavours with a nod to molecular gastronomy. We chose the tasting menu at an absolute bargain €35 per person for six courses, preceded by an appetising cup of watermelon gazpacho. First course proper was a stunner: marinated Iberian pork that had been slow cooked to succulent, intensely flavoured perfection, served with a salty, savoury parmesan ice cream. Mallorcan prawns and vegetables came next, deep fried in light, crisp breadcrumb and served with dipping sauce flavoured with sesame oil and soy. The pasta on the next course, beef ravioli, was almost transparent, with ground, lightly spice beef and a carbonara sauce. The main course was sensational too: a fish Anna told us was called 'negrette' (though I can find no reference or translation for that) and which they had bought from a local boat that day - all 17 kilos of it. Now it was being served as a delectable, just opaque little tranches of firm, flaky flesh in a burnt butter sauce with a kick of lemon, and creamy cauliflower purée. The main course was Spring chicken in a rich red wine reduction, a conventional and tasty dish, enriched with mushroom and shallot. A glass of PX was perfect with a good, if unremarkable dessert: dark chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream. Along with a couple of glasses of CAVA, a bottle of slightly too oaky (for me) Chardonnay from the local Binigrau winery and coffees, there was change from €150 for a terrific meal and evening. Fantastic value this. (2009)

Soller/Deia: Restaurant Bens D'Aval, 07100 Soller. Tel: +34 971 63 23 81
Locating and getting to Bens D'Aval is a challenge, but believe me, it will be worth it. Take the Ma10 road between Soller and Deia that twists through the mountains, and around half way, look out for Bens D'Aval's sign. Follow their single-track road for four kilometres to get there. The restaurant sits high on a cliff with extraordinary panoramas from its broad terrace or elegant dining room, and chef Benet Vicens prepares exquisitely good food based on the island's ingredients. He is carrying on, but completely modernising, a tradition started by his father in 1971. We chose the seven-course tasting menu at a modest €59 for this quality of food: this meal was a highlight of my week in Majorca. The amuse bouche was a highly unusual squid ink cappuccino: a pitch black squid stew served in a little glass, topped with a half-inch thick salty and creamy topping and accompanied by a parmesan biscuit. The squid itself was delicious, but on the whole this is the one dish I wouldn't rush to eat again - a warm 'squid soup' in a glass is slightly too weird, even for an adventurous eater like me. But from then on this meal was faultlessly conceived and executed and was a tour de force of modern, ingredient-led cuisine. A lobster salad, rich in succulent white meat, was ringed by a tangy, sweet and sharp cherry tomato gazpacho, with little cuttlefish gnocchi and a scoop of wonderful parmesan sorbet that added a terrifically creamy yet deep flavour. Caramelised foie gras came next, the top brûlléed to a crisp candy, served with a wondrous spiced brioche that had the texture of a Nimbus cloud, as well as beautifully soft fresh figs. Course three was an exquisitely creamy and dense, perfectly roasted little fillet of John Dory, served simply on a tower of Majorcan vegetable mire-pois with a lobster sauce. Meat came next, in the shape of a succulent fillet of organic veal, with croquettes of onion confit and a waxy potato, rocket and dried tomato parmentier. This nicely paced meal concluded with an almond gateau served with a cinnamon and strawberry sorbet and tangy lemon cream before coffee and petit-fours: watermelon ice and chocolate cakes. We drank a couple of glasses of CAVA and a bottle of superb rosado from the island's Ribas winery, and the bill came in just under €200 for two. (2009)

Deia: Es Raco des Teix:, Calla Sa Vinya Vella 6. Tel: +34 971 63 95 01
Though there is much to commend about this well-established, Michelin-starred restaurant in the seriously exclusive mountain enclave of Deia, it was also the one disappointing experience of my gastronomic week. First the superlatives, which sadly are centred on just one dish and the absolutely breathtaking setting of this restaurant - dining on the terrace is essential. Sited at the base of the Teix mountain, a higgledy-piggledy patchwork of ancient houses, gardens and soaring dry-stone walls defy gravity as they climb the hillside above you. The terrace is a fabulous spot, and as we settled in with a glass of fine rosada CAVA from Raventos i Blanc and nibbled on little appetisers of quiche Lorraine, pumpkin curry soup
and smoked mackerel, it was a day full of promise. Indeed, my first course (right) was exquisite: foie gras parfait with sweet wine jelly, a clever and crunchy little raw salad of mange tout and physalis and a ballotine of foie and meaty quail breast. The textures and flavours of these varied components were wonderful. The arrival of this first course had been slow - we sat down just after 2:00pm and it appeared at 3:00, but as we'd had the view, the CAVA and the nibbles to entertain us, that was no great problem. However, as we   
watched the sun move across the mountain, 4:00 o'clock notched up with no sign of the next course. Even this view began to pale. Finally at 4:20 our next course finally appeared, without a word of apology or explanation. It was good - saddle of lamb crusted with herbs and breadcrumbs and served with confit fennel, a little tomato stew and herby mashed potato. But at €75 for two for this one course alone it should have been better. There was another sizeable delay before a forgettable peach tarte tatin with banana ice cream, and then coffee was served with petit fours - which arrived five minutes after we'd drained our cups. With a 50cl bottle of excellent Ribera del Duero from Lagaris and water, we paid the €220 bill at almost 6:30pm, thankful that we hadn't booked anywhere for dinner. Diea is full of millionaire's hideaways and boasts two of the island's most expensive and exclusive hotels. Maybe I was just unlucky on the day, but I'm afraid it was the one experience on this holiday island that felt a bit like an upmarket tourist trap. (2009).

Porto de Soller: Hotel Esplendido Bistro, Es Través 5. Tel: + 34 971 63 18 50
This boutique-style hotel has a wonderful position on the bay and the dining room, serving modern Spanish-European food, offers a funky, white-tiled indoor space with booths running down one wall opposite the open kitchen, or a terrace looking out to sea. The short menu and wine list are nicely put together and moderately priced. We drank a couple of excellent Bellinis made with fresh white peach (€7.50 each) and a bottle of the local Chardonnay-Prensal blend, Nounant, from the Binigrau estate which was simple but delicious. My starter of a carpaccio of zucchini with walnuts, bitter leaves and a tomato concasse was packed with flavour and slightly spicy, but really fresh and appetising. For my main course I chose turbot, served with sautéed orange and peppers. The fish came as one inch-wide tranche of white meat fillet, and a rather larger portion of what seemed like skate wing, but which might well have been from the turbot. Whilst pleasant enough in its very soft, almost gelatinous way, it wasn't quite the meaty turbot experience I'd been hoping for. The Bistro offers a nice dessert option of small dessert portions at just €3.50 each, or more substantial puds at around €7 - 9. I choose two small deserts - a very good crème brûllée and a less successful take on apple crumble; the topping was nutty and crunchy, but beneath it was too much like a baby-food apple sauce, without enough tang or texture. All in all, a good meal this with a few minor quibbles, but at €100 all in, including good coffees, worth a try - in fact we did, eating there again on a second occasion where tournedos steaks were excellent. (2009)

Porto de Soller: Restaurant Randemar, Es Través 16. Tel +34 971 63 45 78
The picturesque and fairly upmarket small resort of Porto de Soller has its fair share of touristy restaurants with their faded photographs of food trying to lure the unsuspecting (photographs of food is the numero uno danger sign when trying to decide on where to eat - it might as well be a poison symbol). This restaurant definitely sets a slightly more sophisticated tone with its white linen tablecloths and position inside a walled garden off of the beach-front road. A lunch here was pretty good and honest, with some olives, bread and aioli to start with, a half bottle of Albariño, two main courses and water and coffees coming in under €50. My lobster and crab-filled ravioli with a saffron sauce was well cooked and tasty, if small (four digestive biscuit-sized pastas) and my partner's goat's cheese salad was good, despite a slightly odd strawberry-flavoured dressing. Pleasantly far from the madding crowd, even if the food is good rather than great. (2009)

The southwest

Palma de Majorca: Simply Fosh, Carrer de la Missió 7A. Tel: +34 971 720 114
British chef Marc Fosh is one of the leading lights of the Majorcan culinary scene, his Michelin starred restaurant within Read's hotel reputedly one of the best on the island. Sadly it is only open in the evenings and at the time of my visit, was also closed Sundays and Mondays, meaning I could not fit it into my schedule. His recently opened bistro within the über-chic Convent de la Missió hotel in Palma's old town turned out to be a wonderful alternative however, and on my lunch time visit Fosh was behind the stoves and keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. There's an absolute stand-out bargain set lunch on offer each day, which changes every two weeks, for only €18.50. We decided to eat a la carte however, from a menu featuring around eight choices at each course. The wine list is presented nicely too, each page featuring a dozen or so wines all at the same price, starting with an €18.50 selection, and running up to around €40, with a small selection of special wines at the back (including Flor de Pingus and Vega-Sicilia's Valbuena for example). We chose a lovely, unoaked white that blended Chardonnay and Prensal from Mollet, from the page of €26.50 wines. Bread, warm from the oven, was served with local olive oil, sea salt and a lightly curried Sri Lankan salt. For my first course I chose cod, which had been roasted under a pesto crust and which was served ringed by little cubes of verjus jelly (verjus is a condiment made from unripe grapes) and bitter leaves, the waiter then poured in a jug of the most delicate white almond soup, to form an exquisite dish. I stuck with fish for my main course, this time hake, with a totally contrasting treatment: it was served with a rich, thick spoonable sauce of Mediterranean Quinoa and tomato, in a saffron and clam broth, with little
   heaps of still crunchy pak choy. This was a fabulously flavoursome dish. Dessert (left) was a subtle triumph too: chocolate and olive oil truffles (two small quenelles of impossibly rich flavour and texture), sprinkled with flor de sel which crackled across the palate, and cubes of raspberry and red pepper jelly. Sensational. The bill, with a couple of glasses of CAVA to start and coffees to finish, came in under €120. Fosh's brilliant concept of delivering high-end cooking served in stripped down form, at moderate prices in an informal setting, works wonderfully thanks to the faultless execution. What a nice way to set yourself up for a lazy afternoon strolling down the Ramblas or indulging in some of Palma's shopping or cultural opportunities. (2009).

Palma de Majorca, Portal Nous: Lollo Rosso, Puerto Portales 40, Calvia. Tel: +34 971 67 51 86
Towards the end of a week of gourmet dining, with a succession of seven-course tasting menus and Michelin stars under my belt, I found myself amongst the seriously rich and famous Portal Nous crowd one lunch-time, admiring the €10 million yachts, Ferraris and Bentleys, when a thunderstorm had me diving for cover and an early lunch. Thankfully perhaps, Majorca's most upmarket dining room, the two-starred Tristan, opens only in the evening, so we opted for a bit of light relief in the shape of this friendly and functional little pizzeria just a few doors down, and with the same views of the super-yachts from the terrace. The pizzas were tasty and fresh, the beer cold, and the spot perfect for an informal and relatively inexpensive lunch (€43 for two including coffees and water). A fine antidote to a week of gourmandising round the island. (2009).

Port d'Andraxt: Restaurant Roma, Avd. Almirante Alemany 25. Tel: +34 971 67 47 45
The picturesque harbour of Port d'Andraxt is lined with restaurants, most with terraces right on the sea front. I'd been tipped off that Roma was one of the better choices, and indeed on a slightly off-season lunchtime it was choc-a-bloc whilst others around it where almost empty. We bagged a fine table by the water's edge and enjoyed really good, simple food using excellent ingredients served by friendly and efficient staff. A carpaccio of salmon was served with a little frisee salad and a lemon and balsamic dressing and was fresh and appetising. People around me had some fine looking fish and seafood, including whole fish baked in a salt crust and the Paella which was extremely popular, but I opted for a simple dish of ravioli filled with sage, rocket and cheese, which was delicious, drizzled with olive oil and chunks of fresh tomato. Another carpaccio to finish - this time of pineapple with a scoop of coconut ice-cream - and the bill for two, including glasses of decent house wine, water and coffee, came to €75. A wonderful way to while away a couple of hours with the sights and sounds of the harbour as a backdrop. (2009)

The east

Sa Coma: Es Molí den Bou, Calle Liles. Tel: +34 971 56 96 63
Majorcan Chef Tomeu Caldentey has held his Michelin star since 2004, though his restaurant relocated here, to the hotel Protur Sa Coma Playa, only in May 2009. It's a slightly odd place - the hotel part of a whole purpose-built complex that takes a little navigating, but once inside it is a beautiful, chic and modern dining room that would grace the most fashionable quarters of London or New York, done in soft, oatmeal tones. Along with Bens D'Aval and Simply Fosh, this was undoubtedly the gastronomic peak of my visit to Majorca. It was also a bit of a bargain. Though we opted for one of the more expensive tasting menus at €58 per person, it is possible to have lunch here for €28 including wine. Indeed, I was delighted that I had decided to add a wine matching flight to our meal, as it included healthy servings of three very good wines, for just an extra €10 per person: an absolute steal. There were also so many little appetisers and pre- courses that it was hard to keep track. To start with little madeleines of olive and cinnamon, a chilled melon soup with mint and a mousse of foie gras with chocolate and crispy, deep fried niblets of corn - all of them delicious. First course proper was a cannelloni of duck and pork, served with mushrooms in a creamy sauce. This was a quite rustic but deeply lovely dish, the earthy flavours of the meat and soft pasta, a little bite to the mushrooms and a sweet edge to the butter-rich sauce. Roast hake with an orange and carrot cream and sweet orange reduction was brilliant, the fish cooked to flaking, alabaster perfection. For my main I chose Iberian pig with coconut and lime sauce, as opposed to the lamb alternative. I was very glad I did, the succulent, juicy meat served on a mound of very fine noodles that had soaked up the cooking juices, and topped with fresh, brilliant flavoured pea shoots. A complimentary cheese course was unusual and inventive,
a goat's cheese ice cream with candied fig and grapes and white truffle foam. Pre-dessert of vanilla ice cream with spices was delightful, before a tasty, textural dish of curd cheese with fresh strawberry sorbet, marinated strawberries and foam and crunchy almond biscuit (right). Throughout the course of the meal was served a fine Verdejo from Rueda, a rich Ribera del Duero (though we were offered a Mallorcan alternative too) and a delicate, sweet Moscatel from Valencia. This with a couple of glasses of excellent CAVA and coffee served with a fabulous array of petit fours including caramel cream, mint cream and various chocolate creations, came to €167. A stunning bargain for this quality, service and all-round experience. (2009).   

Port de Pollenca: Illa d'Or, Paseo Colón 265. Tel: +34 971 86 51 00
Looking for a lunch spot in this popular beach resort in the island's northeast corner, I forgot that someone had recommended a place called Iru, and instead headed away from the crowded cafes and bars of the main beach, round the pine walk, to one of the resort's posher hotels and its open-air terrace that sits right on the water's edge. A functional, tasty lunch here was made special by the setting and some pretty good, if middle-of-the-road food. My chicken and mushroom risotto was tasty enough and the rice well cooked, whilst the recommended almond cake with strawberry ice cream was a touch dry. With water, coffees and a half bottle of Torres' Viña Sol, a €50 bill was decent value. (2009)

The Michelin starred addresses

Tristan, Portals Nous. Tel: +34 971 67 55 47
Chef Gerhard Schwaiger (2 stars)

Es Moli den Bou, Sa Coma. Tel: +34 971 56 96 63
Chef Tomeu Caldentey Soler

Es Raco des Teix, Deià. Tel: +34 971 63 95 01
Chef Joseph Sauerschell

Plat d'Or at Arabella Golf Hotel, Son Vida. Tel: +34 971 787 100
Chef Rafael Sánchez

Bacchus at Read's Hotel, Santa Maria. Tel: +34 971 140 261
Chef Marc Fosh