Food, wine, travel, music
My trip to Mallorca in September 2019 was rich in historical reminders of what Spain has endured and enjoyed. The shorter, travel focused version of this more lengthy article, appeared in the Sunday Times at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/feasting-on-a-foodie-corker-in-mallorca-gpv85qzgv#.
‘To be universal you have to be local’, said the painter Joan Miró whose adopted island of Mallorca has taken this as its food mantra. Spain is not a rich country, and Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, depends on tourism, many of its 1.2 million inhabitants annually serving up to 19 million visitors. They must be doing something right. Food is one of its strengths.
Mallorca has had its troubles, a gateway to mainland Spain, it was a target for invasion. The Phoenicians governed it from Carthage, North Africa, and brought with them the chickpea and introduced salt as a means of preserving fish. The Greeks brought vines, olive and almond trees, the Romans, amongst others, introduced peaches and apricots, the Arabs citrus fruit. The Catalans brought flavours including paprika, and have had the greatest influence on the cuisine.
Mallorquins appreciate their rich history’s legacy, going back to hard times. In ‘The Food of Spain’, legendary food writer Claudia Roden writes of how thousands of Jewish slaves arrived when the Roman emperor Titus banished them from Jerusalem. ‘Conversos’ was the name given to them when in 1492 King Ferdinand 11 and Queen Isabella 1 of Castille decreed that Jews could stay in Spain as long as they converted to Roman Catholicism. Known in Mallorca as xuetes from xua meaning bacon, they ate pork in view of everyone to convince them of their dedication to conversion. Every bit of pig was used (and still is), with labourers on the Iberian mainland given chorizos as payment by their landlords. Chorizo is sniffed at in Mallorca in favour of their own blood sausages – Botifarron and the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) Sobrassada which is spread on bread like paté.
Jewish traditions live on in delicious combinations of chicken, almonds and pinenuts, almond cake and the ubiquitous ensaimada (though many others lay claim to them). This deliciously light alternative to the croissant is IGP protected. A wafer thin sheet of pastry is curled into a flat spiral and was traditionally made with pork fat (later the freed Jews made them with butter, today they are made with either). Churros, the long fluted crimped, deep fried dough strips have their origins in North Africa.
Mallorquin cooking has stood its ground against stylised aberrations. Based on its profusion of sun anointed fruit and vegetables and an innate sense of good animal husbandry, basics are kept that way. Local pork has the taste of small farms, chicken has muscle (who knew?) and beef is full flavoured. Fish is usually local – large coastal shrimps and langoustines are everywhere.
Chefs often list dishes on their menus as their grandmothers’, celebrating the best of inexpensive cuts of meat and using every morsel of leftovers. Spain had it tough during their civil war 1936-1939, and when Franco’s military dictatorship followed, terrible hardship prevailed. Local producers were discouraged in favour of mass produced, industrial, cheap food. Finally, with Franco out of the way, the autonomous communities established in 1978 gave a boost to regional differences, and Spanish cooking once again became interesting, burgeoning into exciting creativity with home grown produce at its core. And barely a foam in sight, though Spanish super chef Ferran Adria has a lot to answer for! Vegetarian and vegan dishes are available. Organic is cited, particularly in wines. Full flavours, interesting textures and a relaxed attitude are expected by mainland Spanish tourists who have high standards. They don’t want their food messed with. It’s an emotional cuisine, and when set on a beautiful island where chefs want to live and work, happy is an emotion served hot.
Traditions are revered and we still find creamy, cold ajo soup celebrating local garlic and almonds, served in a glass or as an addition to morsels in a bowl. Paella is all the more special when made with local rice, often from the rice wetlands near Sa Pobla, in the north of the island. Chicken, blood sausage, seafood are added to flavour the rice. Sometimes all together.
Bowls of olives and oil for dipping with local crunchy salt and fresh bread, and salted local almonds are offered with drinks. Ice-cream (delicious when made with local olive oil) and fruit sorbets, cheesecake and fruit pies appear on the most basic of menus.
Lamb and goat are widely available, often roasted simply with herbs, with offcuts put into pastries and patés. But pork is biggest of all. You will see tiny pigs on butchers’ displays, curled up for buying whole. On menus suckling pig is popular, and if you spot the label ‘porcella mallorquina’ it will have to have been born and bred on the island. Also called lechona, it is usually roasted, sometimes in a pizza style oven with just a knob of butter, sometimes with a splash of wine and scattering of herbs as a Christmas dish. In summer it’s roasted and served with thickly sliced and roasted herby potatoes.
Tapas are ubiquitous, and many are still traditional. A little something on bread – a scraping of fresh tomato, Iberico dried ham from the mainland, a skinny anchovy, a blob of alioli (also served as a dipping amuse bouche), a smear of sobrassado. Deep fried squid and vegetables are served in heaps. Coca de trampó is Mallorquin flatbread topped with roasted red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes and fresh parsley. Panades (empanadas on the mainland), the substantial shortcrust type pastries are made with lard and stuffed with meat and/or vegetables and are available for breakfast too.
There is an Asian influence in many hotels which have decent restaurants doing their best to offer menu choices to regular customers to keep them in-house with culinary fusions and several price offerings. Imaginative Mallorquin chefs have travelled the world, returning for the great weather and genuine appreciation of their home produce. It’s easy to recognise their culinary journey. Scandi tapas have smoked or raw salmon on top of dark breads, eastern tapas are finished with soy emulsions, Italian’s have wild mushrooms and pistachio mayo. Whatever the topping, the accompaniment can be traditional sherry from the mainland, often dry, nutty and salty, or popular local rosado, or whites and reds made in the north.
Clandestí Taller Gastronòmic
It’s odd to say that one of the most genuinely Mallorcan meals we had during our 12 day stay in Mallorca was the most inventive. “Taller means workshop”, says owner Pau Navarro from Mallorca.
“Not calling it a restaurant keeps us more free. We don’t want to be rich, we want to be free. We want to leave ourselves open to change.” The other half of ‘we’ is his wife Ariadna Salvador from Valencia who shares his love of food, wine, music, tattoos and the way of life they have created with their year old LLuc (a Mallorquin name meaning magical forest). They make a dynamic, creative pair. The most prestigious name on Pau’s lengthy, international CV is the three star Michelin restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona. Having eaten there last year, I can see the bounce from its whacky presentation. Ariadna is also an experienced chef and they work well together, communication with customers another shared skill. Pau did an international wine course while working in restaurants, and enjoys pairing wines with their menu – an optional choice that includes sake and sherry.
Customers sit at a counter to watch Pau, Ariadna and commis chefs sprinkle, slice and sear, blob and beat, dancing around each other in a focused yet smiley, balletic pas de quatre.
They are inspired by music, and the food inspires the music choice. Clandesti means secret, and the menu is a secret too – your email confirmation will ask about allergies, dislikes. A hint about what’s coming may be discerned from the different music tracks that start to play with each course. Or you can look at the change of colour of the counter made of translucent krion with different dishes– blue for fish, red for meat, pink with red jelly. This contrasts with the striking, surreal monochrome mural which surrounds the counter into the main kitchen.
“If it doesn’t amuse us, we won’t be happy”, says Pau. We set off on a journey, part of their ride, ready to be entertained.
They play with seasonal ingredients. Wild chickpeas have one month’s season near Sa Pobla in the north of the island, a town Pau recommends for creative food. Herbs include fennel in many forms, wild yellow mustard flowers which are like ‘marijuana mallorquin’ and particularly good in tartare sauce for a wild taste. Toasted Marijuana seeds taste like sunflower seeds, the leaf a cross between Thai basil and mint. Wild celery is intense and used to make infusions. “During their two month season, we love using black artichokes with olive oil, salt and pepper as a garnish for fish,” adds Ariadna.
Our ten courses include a frozen juice blend of salad greens topped with dried tuna heart and ajo blanco soup poured around it. Manzanilla sherry accompanies. A good start. Belief is already suspended.
Red mullet (salmoneta) is torched and served with fish stock finished with cauliflower. A branch of sea grape seaweed provides delicious decoration, slightly fatty, jelly-like in texture, with the long lasting saltiness of caviar.
Dirty Squid is uncleaned baby squid, tasty and matched with Magic Dirt’s ‘Dirty Jeans’. The senses are on full alert.
Frogs come from France (there are frogs in Mallorca but it’s illegal to cook them in restaurants). Pau cooks them whole 5-10 minutes in beurre noisette, the legs splayed, finishing them with garlic and parsley. They swim in a sauce of lemon, Korean colourless soya and flambéed absinthe (theatrical). Flecks of wholegrain mustard look like frog spawn. Amusing and delicious. ‘Comerannas’ by Seguridad Social accompanies (lyrics about frogs being eaten raw in the forest by Ana who loses her senses they are so delicious). ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’ which follows seems mild by comparison.
Pigeon, hare and goat cooked in red wine are served with figs – a superbly rich, tender, traditional combination. Music is the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’. We are soothed.
Pink lips are made from moulded, jellied passionfruit and we get no spoon. We have to kiss and slurp, accompanied by ‘Besame Mucho’ and Smash Mouth’s ‘I Can’t Get Enough of You Baby’. An eclectic selection of music, especially when our Banana Split made from fried bananas comes with Harry Belafonte’s ‘Dayo’. You can’t but laugh. Fellow diners join us.
Local cheeses are optional and delicious.
For all the creativity we enjoy, each food is recognisable and densely flavoursome, nothing hidden under foams or showers of irrelevant, powdered charcoal. When I ask Pau what’s the best thing that could be said about his cooking, he laughs. “A friend got it right when he said, ‘Fuck off, this is just your grandmother’s cooking!’”
The 26 places at the counter has plenty of room for the menu experience. With added tables, this can stretch to 50 for parties. They will put together cookery classes on request.
Open all year Weds 20.30, Thursday- Saturday sittings at 13.30 and 20.30. Sunday 13.30. Booking essential.
Tel: 0034 663909053. firstname.lastname@example.org. Carrer de Guillem Massot, 45.
More in Palma
Five nights in Palma are easily filled. The city’s crescent balloons inland from the coast with welcome sea breezes keeping it fresh. A boardwalk is endless. Standing with your back to the sea provides a view of the impressive Gothic landmark, the Santa Maria cathedral, referred to locally as La Seu. https://www.click-mallorca.com/en/excursions/palma-cathedral-ticket/
Beside it the converted Arab fortress Almudaina has Moorish-style arches which remain to soften the later Gothic conversions. The gardens below are not fancy, but spacious, and there are shaded seats for a rest. Tours can be booked: https://www.seemallorca.com/houses/palace-de-l-almudaina-palma-centre-and-marina-664109.
The 14th century Bellver Castle on a hill west of the centre of Palma, is a circular building which once housed royalty. Over its long history of invasion and revolts, today it houses the city’s history museum.
Santa Catalina market in Palma is open every day except Sunday for local vegetables, meat and fish which can be cooked for you on the spot. A few bars too for drinks, coffee and snacks. There are plenty of fashion shops in Palma throughout the city. Take time to browse.
It’s easy to pay a lot for accommodation in Palma. Opting for no frills (or breakfast) was a good choice here. The basics are perfect – silent air conditioning, no noise from the adjacent lift, no street noises, good blackout curtains, large bed and roomy shower area, and located centrally not far from Plaça de Espana (often listed as Plaza Espana). A former textile factory, it still has style. It’s easier to find on foot by Googling Plaça de Raimundo Clar which is at its other entrance, than Carrer de la Ferreria, the address given.
From €110 per double room per night, we paid €148/night for a basic room in September. Filsuites.com.
You don’t have to go far from Fil Suites for good food. Most of it is just across the square.
La Vieja de Jonay Hernandez
Very good, interesting tapas and more substantial food on Raimundo Square is a lively spot without outdoor tables. Jonay Hernandez is the Canary Islands born, energetic chef. http://www.lavieja.net/
Raimundo Burgers and Fries, also on Raimundo Square, does delicious meaty and meat-free burgers. Raimundoburger.com.
There are interesting design shops nearby, including Particular at 1, Calle Estacada.
Es Rebost de Cort
The owner is French and a jazz lover and painter, so there’s great music, and eclectic, cluttered and interesting décor. The food is refreshingly basic – a mixed selection of tapas for two (€14.50) had bowls of deep fried squid, stewed vegetables, olives, bread with olive oil. A cheap night out.
+34 666 84 64 39 Calle Llums 3.
For a walk along the often overcrowded El Arenal beach (for me for old times’ sake) a good choice of restaurant from many on line is this one. Part of the Iberostar Hotel Llaut Palace luxurious five star hotel, the terrace which overlooks the bay is superb. At sunset Chef Gunnar Blischke’s Asian fusion-style dishes and glasses of local rosado wine are a world away from the noisy boardwalk. The address says Palma, but it really is a few blocks inland from the breach at El Arenal.
Good deals of €713 for a three night minimum stay full board for two people may account for the full tables. https://www.iberostar.com/en/hotels/majorca/iberostar-llaut-palma/
Pollença old town (pueblo)
A week in Pollença town will satisfy the food lover and is much more interesting than the more densely populated port (and many other towns on the island). Huge competition for tourist and local euros ensures good value and quality. Many of them are around the main square Plaça Major which has a murmuring assurance that you are in the right spot, and where occasional suppertime jazz and local outdoor music sessions are held.
La Mercería Plaça Major, 12.
Describing itself as Italian and Mediterranean, with emphasis on Mallorquin, the mix of fresh and local works well. Superb pasta with seafood, risotto with wild local mushrooms, perfectly cooked entrecote steak with shoestring fries, baked cheesecake. Excellent, easy service.
La Sastreria Carrer d’Antoni Maura, 20.
Good Mallorcan food with Japanese options for a light change of style. Delicious whole fish. A few paces away from the square. Can’t go wrong here.
Onze Carrer d’Antoni Maura, 11
A restaurant with a wine shop attached where you can order the best local wines with €9 corkage added when dining. Good blend of contemporary food styles. A coeliac friend was well catered for. Entrance and tables also on the square.
Cellar El Moli Carrer del Pare Vives, 72
Away from the square, this is family owned, with old fashioned décor – exposed beams and tiling – and relaxed service. Good Mallorcan food, tops for paella and slow cooked goat and lamb.
Ill Giardino Plaça Major, 11,
Long standing favourite Italian with light dishes all day including penne arrabiata, fresh salads, with more substantial dishes in the evening.
Bars and coffee
La Mar Dolça Carrer de Sant Domingo, 27
Best coffee in town brewed by a proper barrista interested in the provenance and flavour profiles of his beans. Delicious breakfast and pastries with Argentinian influences, including delicious small pies. Near the main bus stop, taxi rank and Pollença museum in the Dominican cloisters (worth a visit).
Local institution next to the church. Very popular. Good ensaimadas. Breakfast to dinner, indoor and out.
La Bierria Monkey Bar Carrer del Temple, 7.
This is where mainly locals and some tourists mingle. Run by cool, young guys. Sit in, or out and listen to the cicadas nestling in the stone wall.
Oh! Vermut Carrer de Colom, 3
Relaxed tapas and drinks. Ca’n Butxaca for delicious ice-cream is four doors away.
Sunday is market day until around 1.30pm. Local veg/fruit/cheese/ham/olive oil/sweets are good quality and interesting, though spices are cheaper and better in local supermarkets. Coachloads arrive around 11am in high season, but are usually gone by lunchtime.
To do in Pollença
Often has art/photo exhibitions in the museum.
365 steps with a view. On the way down by road, you can stop at each Station of the Cross.
Interesting 3k walk to the top to a church/café/rooms to stay. The latter part has small boulders. Not for flip flops.
Pollença town accommodation
There are plenty of hotels and Airb/bs on the island. Six of us rented Mansion Fabregues, a beautifully renovated, spacious town house with spacious bedrooms, top grade kitchen and bathroom facilities, and a cool courtyard, about 200m from Pollenca’s main square:
https://www.balearic-villas.com › property › mallorca › mansion-fabregues
The port is far less interesting for food, but the sea has its draw, especially for families. There are plenty of houses to rent and stylish hotels on the promenade. Cooling breezes provide some welcome relief from heat at the height of summer.
Cappuccino café: On the front with all the other cafes and bars, part of an international chain, this is good for lunch and snacks. Across the bay is the fort/lighthouse owned by hedge funder Sir James Lupton where the Night Manager was filmed.
LLenaire Hotel: An hour’s walk (12 minutes by taxi) from Pollença pueblo in the hills towards the port has a cool, breezy terrace with a pre-dinner gin offer. A converted manor house, it has eleven bedrooms and an outdoor pool. Minimum stay 4 nights. Approx €400 double room per night.
Illa d’Or hotel: Lovely terrace for snacks and drinks. Double rooms from €102.
On the west coast, an old wooden train chugs comfortingly from Palma snaking around bends, through the tunnels of the Sierra de Alfàbia mountain range, over bridges and viaducts. Sitting on wooden benches with open windows, the start of the journey through the uninteresting outskirts of the city is longer than expected, but heading into the hills and through the citrus farms, you get what you bought into. Watch for mandarins and clementines in November, lemons from November, grapefruit December-March, juicy Canoneta oranges January-March. Cakes originating in North Africa feature them, sometimes caramelised. Lemons and oranges, pickled in local salt, are used in savoury dishes. You get off the train in Soller and can stay there or take a 15 minute tram journey to the port. The port is small and charming, on the bay with a backdrop of the Tramuntana mountains. There are hotels to stay in which look attractive. We had lunch in Fergus hotel, one of many on the boardwalk. The rooms looked good. https://reservations.fergushotels.com/fergus_style_sollerbeach
Soller town has a nice shape to it, with attractive narrow streets. Can Prunera Museum of Modernism has a good collection, including examples of Joan Miro, Matisse, Magritte, and many others who were either born or have some connection to the island, and work by abstract painter Juli Ramis who was born in Soller in 1909 (he died in 1990). Not too unwieldy, there is time to linger and appreciate. A shaded, cooling garden has sculptures.
The main square, Plaça Constitució, features the Baroque style Sant Bartomeu church. There are many cafés which serve fresh orange and grapefruit juice from the local groves. There is an orange fair in June.
A tip for booking the train: Go early to the station opposite Plaça d’Espana and buy return tickets for a specific time, and include the tram journey. Even in September, we would not have got back on the train without a booking – there are barriers for ticket checking.
For chef Pau Navarro in Taller Clandesti, the centre of good Mallorquin cooking is Sa Pobla between Inca and Alcúdia towards the north of the island. The small town is less touristy than many regions, and with its own microclimate produces exceptional pork, potatoes, rice and wild chickpeas. In this town you will find the much lauded eel, spiced typically with cinnamon and black pepper and served with local pasta. Several restaurants and bars including Bar Toni Cotxer, Carrer Major, 4 and Bar Casa Miss Plaça de la Constitució, 3, have dishes made with pork liver, and banderillas (skewered pickled treats).
With nearly 2,000 hectares under vine – about 1% of the island’s farming land – you will find vines in small parcels, benefiting from cooling breezes which counteract the effects of global warming. Most of the wine is drunk on the island.
There are two Designations of Origin (D.O.) – Binissalem-Mallorca and Pla i Llevant. However, wines outside these areas can be as impressive.
Indigenous island grapes include the most vigorous Callet, along with Manto Negro, Prensal/Premsal, Gorgollasa, Fogoneu & Giro Ros/Blanc. International varieties are often blended with them and include Viognier (a white grape often added to red wines), Moscatel. Macabeo, Parellada, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Monastrell (aka Mourvedre/Mataró).
Can Vidalet organic wines are made a few kilometres from Pollença town towards Alcúdia where visitors are welcome for tastings. German owned, gin is also made there. They produce the best wine we tasted on the trip – Can Vidalet So de Xiprer (sound of cypress trees). This is made from one plot comprising Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, matured in oak for 15 months, followed by 15 months bottle ageing. Multi-layered, beautifully balanced, it was our benchmark of the trip. From Onze wine shop in Pollença pueblo.
Young and aged whites made from grape varieties Prensal, Giro Ros, Moscatel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, a rosado (blanc de negres) are found in many local restaurants, and reds made from local Callet and Gorgollassa, and Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties deliver lightly fruity, well balanced accompaniments to local foods. Booking in advance is best: +34 971 531 719 email@example.com.
Vinyes Mortitx (Flaires) vineyard can be found 400m above sea level, up the Tramuntano mountains. A small holding of 19 hectares of vines grows white Malvasia, Muscat, Chardonnay, Riesling and Giro Ros, with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, and local Gorgollassa and Callet for the reds. Booking in advance is essential: Tel: +34 971 53 38 89 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Island liqueurs are ‘Licor de Hierbas’, an aniseed flavoured, local grappa, which is a strong after dinner drink which can be dry, half-dry or sweet. It will often be served complimentary after dinner.
Palo de Mallorca is an IGT protected sweet and sour blend of caramel and the bark of the Quina plant (quinine comes from it) and gentiana which is often served as an aperitif.
There are good orange and almond liqueurs too and a fruit-based rum influenced by Cuba and Puerto Rico called Amazona often added to coffee. There are a few gin and vodka distilleries and an increasing number of craft breweries.
Fresh Orange and lemon juices made from local fruit are superb.
There’s more to Mallorca than sand and sea. Having spent 10 days there, a month now seems like a good idea.
Pics of Taller Clandesti: Tarek Serraj and Roz Crowley
Other pics: Roz Crowley