When we decided to go on holiday in Palma, I said I wanted to have two things: GOOD tapas and FRESH seafood. And in this trip, I managed to do both with ease. Now remember, I’m not a food critic, so I’m not here to be nasty. I just love good food. And if the food’s not good, I won’t talk about it.
Finding good eats in a new place is all about having a good nose and a keen eye. The place doesn’t have to look fancy but the food on the plate should look proper. This might mean peeking in windows or on other people’s plates to see what’s coming out the kitchen.
This was my first trip to Palma and I stayed in a small modern hotel in Ciudad Jardin, a relaxed neighbourhood a few miles east of the main city. It was peaceful and laid back, 50 yards from the beach. You would never guess that this was the same island as the notorious Magaluf.
In the city of Palma, near the famous cathedral, there are many old streets. I found one that was packed full of tapas restaurants. After walking up and down the street, we settled on a small, dimly lit restaurant down a little set of stairs called La Cueva (The Cave). The first thing I noticed was a tiny open kitchen stocked with fresh ingredients, including Spanish ham, seafood and wine. It was great to see female chefs and I could tell this was a family run spot. At the end of the bar I caught sight of a freshly made stew, and after seeing a portion served to a table near us, I said “I gotta have that!”
As you can see in the picture, it was a lamb shank stew with potatoes that was roasted, a great twist that gave it more texture than just a stew cooked in a pot. We also ordered mixed Mallorquin seafood which came with mixed peppers and peas, garlic mushrooms, bread and classic patatas bravas. Everything was top notch, simple and full of rich flavours. The patatas bravas were extra crispy which complemented the oiliness of the garlic mushrooms. But it was the lamb stew that stole the show. It was homestyle cooking, warm and hearty, and the meat literally fell off the bone. I was so glad to have that bread to sop up all that gravy.
As luck would have it, directly across the street from our hotel was a Michelin starred seafood restaurant called Casa Fernando, which I spotted on our walk around the neighbourhood. I peeked in the window and saw a packed house with tables full of delights. So we booked a table for the next night. Upon entry, you instantly see the fresh fish counter which is where you order before even being seated, a new experience for me. You just point and pick. The price is set by weight and you choose from what they have in that day from the morning’s catch. We chose a medium lubina, cockles (berberechos) and octopus skewers (pulpo). For sides, we ordered mixed grilled vegetables, of which the highlights were wild mushrooms and artichokes. This was complimented by a basket of fresh bread and a nice sparkling white wine (Blanco Pescador).
I love seafood, and I’ve never had octopus this good in my life. The tentacles were thinly sliced and grilled with olive oil and smoked paprika. It was juicy and tender and melted in your mouth. It tasted like barbecued lamb of the sea. The waiter almost took the empty plate but smiled and left it when he saw we were eating the leftover sauce with the bread. The cockles were supremely fresh and were great to have with the bread and wine. The fish was simply grilled with sea salt and olive oil, cooked to perfection. The skin was crispy and flesh creamy. I can only sum up the food by saying it was amazing. Freshness and simplicity were the keys to success.
This is a proper old school restaurant, walls packed with memorabilia, antiques and pictures of the famous people who have dined there, including Michael Douglas, Julio Iglesias and Gerard Depardieu. The feel was warm and the service was friendly but not overbearing. You could tell that they appreciated how much we loved the food.