April 21 2011
I looked at the teacup with some dismay. It contained a sachet of dried-up daisies; beside it was a jug of hot water. I was in Tasca de Blanquerna, a particularly fine tapas bar and restaurant in Palma, Mallorca, and I thought I had ordered a sherry. But then I realised that manzanilla is also the Spanish word for camomile.
My mistake quickly rectified, I turned my attention to the menu. Tasca is one of two restaurants owned by Marc Fosh, an Englishman who has been one of Mallorca’s brightest culinary stars for more than a decade. At Tasca, he takes classic Spanish tapas and turns them into things of beauty.
Take the normally inedible Russian salad, for example: a sullen mishmash of old potato, salad cream, hard-boiled egg and overcooked vegetables. Fosh’s version features a perky, olive oil-rich potato salad; blanched, al dente vegetables; a perfectly-cooked quail’s egg; and some wafers of excellent tuna. Other superb dishes included sticky, slow-cooked ox cheeks with kalamata olives, and a lovely raspberry “soup” with white chocolate and yogurt. Even the Mallorquins like it.
Fosh’s smarter restaurant is called Simply Fosh, in the intensely minimalist Hotel Convent de la Missió. The food was sublime: a perfect duck terrine, studded with apricots, a little tangle of caballo de’angel (spaghetti squash) on the side, then a meaty chunk of a grouper with some delicate little chard-like greens, tiny broad beans and a buttery white bean sauce. Pudding was a chocolate ganache with mandarin sorbet (citrus fruits are the great winter crop on the island), a lacy, nutty tuile, and salted caramel. The wine list is superb – especially its Mallorcan bins – service is charming, and quite why Michelin haven’t awarded it a star baffles me. Perhaps they object to the absence of tablecloths.
Fernando Pérez Arellano’s Zaranda restaurant, in the stunningly refurbished Sa Torre Hilton, 20 minutes’ drive from Palma, has plenty of tablecloths and a Michelin star. The courtyard is the place to sit in summer, embraced by the coolness of the hotel’s ancient stone walls.
Dinner started with a manzanilla (mercifully free of dried daisies) from San Leon, and some lovely canapés, particularly a little caul-fat-wrapped faggot of venison and some sweet, vibrant red prawns from Port de Sóller. Pig’s trotter with mongetes del ganxet (creamy Catalan white beans) demonstrated chef Arellano’s stellar technique, while a board of splendid cheeses and homemade membrillo (quince paste) showed a dedication to doing simple things well.
Famously, “the water in Majorca don’t taste like what it oughta” but – as Fosh and Pérez Arellano happily prove – the food tastes better than ever. Stick to Mallorcan wine, not water. And watch out for the manzanilla.