Eating in Mallorca

Es Pas de sa Palla

Three very different restaurants reviewed. One of the most unusual, Es Pas de sa Palla, is pictured above.

The charms of the Balearic island of Mallorca are many and varied and seem increasingly appealing to a growing number of visitors from overseas. Palma airport has to be one of Europe’s busiest and it now receives flights directly from Newark in New York State and soon also directly from Miami. Certainly, there were plenty of Americans in the Sant Francesc hotel where we stayed in the capital Palma.

Whether the food and drink on offer are currently principal attractions is hard to say. But next week Jancis will report on the huge growth in wine quality, and the variety of indigenous grape varieties, and I have already written about the many charms of Brut restaurant in Llubí, where a spectacular dinner for five cost me €716. Here, though, are three very different restaurants on this enticing island where the average cost of a good meal with wine seems to be around €50.

Eddie Hart
Eddie Hart behind the counter, where he's happiest, at El Camino

Our first stop in Palma was the Gibson Bar on the corner of the Plaça del Mercat, a favourite with Eddie Hart (pictured above behind the bar of his El Camino tapas bar), who has lived on the island since 2017 after leaving London and his successful partnership with his elder brother Sam at Quo Vadis and several Barrafina tapas counters.

‘I began drinking a little too much and I wasn’t really enjoying the business side of things’, he confessed as he ordered us all gin and tonics, ‘so I came home to where my mother was born. I opened El Camino in 2019 but a great deal has changed with COVID. I replaced my partner but more fundamentally we decided to ditch the non-booking policy that we opened with so that now we take bookings. Also we have put in several tables capable of seating larger groups of four and six at the far end of the counter.’

Eddie has also changed since the Eddie I remember from London. The same smile, the same warm welcome and the same sense of bonhomie but today with a slightly wider girth. Plus, of course, today he is happily married to the portrait artist Antonia Barclay, who by now was sitting next to him.

From the Gibson Bar it is just a short walk to El Camino, where Eddie ‘settled us in’, as he put it, at a couple of seats before offering Jancis what seemed to be a taste of virtually every wine on his list. I, meanwhile, took in the scene.

El Camino counter
The busy bar at El Camino in one of Palma de Mallorca's back streets

It was shortly before 8 pm and the restaurant was packed with a collection of international guests: a family of four from Scandinavia; a couple of Americans next to me, who were replaced by a couple of Germans; and several groups of English further along. The interior is very similar to that of Barrafina in London. The beer service at the front; the display of virtually every ingredient, including queen scallops and Dover sole on ice; the hot section a little further down, where the grill chefs cook steaks, lamb chops and Iberico pork. And most importantly, as at Cal Pep in Barcelona, which originally inspired the Hart brothers, everyone works cheek by jowl, with the chefs/waiters barely having room to cook, turn and serve.

I was in the mood for Spanish/Mallorcan food and so I ordered a dish of almonds; another of Doña Tomasa anchovies (from the famous Santander shop); a dish of coquinos (clams); a serving of sobrasada, the raw cured pork that is a very local speciality on sourdough; a plain Spanish omelette; and, as instructed by my wife, a dish of pluma Iberico, the classic Spanish pork. All arrived in good order and allowing plenty of time for her to taste and for me to look around. The food was excellent. The highlights were the clams, sweet, and in a clear sauce of lots of chopped garlic, finished with white wine; the exceptionally fine salted almonds; and of course the anchovies on a bed of sweet tomatoes and oil, a combination that proved beguiling and short-lived.

anchovies at El Camino
Doña Tomasa anchovies at El Camino

We ended on a Spanish note too, with an order for a crema catalana, this rich Catalan version of a crème brûlée unusually on offer on a Mallorcan menu, and two spoons. The bill was €99.50. As we left it was to a see sight that would have warmed the heart of any member of the Hart family – the seats around the bar were virtually empty but there was a crowd waiting outside the front door to fill them. This Mallorcan version of a Barcelona tapas bar, somewhat refined by a sensitive management over time in London, is every bit as good as its forebears.

The other restaurant we discovered in Palma could not have been more different, but was equally charming. On a boiling-hot Saturday morning we walked past a few customers sitting outside on the slightly elevated terrace of Cafe Es Pes de sa Palla in the square of the same name and decided to book for a late 3 pm lunch.

We walked inside to a truly Mallorcan scene. Down one side of the room was a table of 20 comprising three generations enjoying a celebratory lunch (see main image above), there were several tables of families eating with their children, and one table with an elderly woman and a younger man who both hid their motorcycle helmets under the table. Although we were clearly the only tourists in this airy, attractively cool room, the staff all seemed extremely happy to greet us.

We were shown to a table where, as at El Camino, the menu doubles as a place mat with ours promptly exchanged for an English version. We confronted a comprehensive choice with appetisers, main courses, rice and noodle specialities, special dishes, and desserts and ice cream. In bold were two boxes: the first stated that water was free while next to it it proclaimed ‘our goal is to be a zero-waste kitchen using 100% of all of our products’.

Es Pas menu
Minimum waste, maximum welcome

Added to this the prices quoted seemed low: gazpacho €6; half a roast chicken €9; rice with broth, fish and prawns was the most expensive dish at €21. We ordered a black cuttlefish paella, and a No 2 special of fried skate (a favourite fish of mine) roasted peppers and potatoes as well as a couple of glasses of wine.

black rice and cuttlefish
Paella with squid ink and cuttlefish

Then, we sat back and just took it all in. Everybody seemed extremely happy, the guests and the staff who could not have been more caring or helpful. It was only after we left, having paid the bill of €47 that included one serving each of exceptionally good hazelnut and vanilla ice cream, that we learnt of a potential explanation. This restaurant and three others (Bar de l’Escola in Palma, Cafe Palmanova in Calvia and Cafe Esment Inca in Inca), are run by Esment, a foundation that works and trains young people with learning difficulties. It provides apprenticeships, jobs, accommodation and support for their families and apparently much more. The vegetables are home-grown on the Esment farm near Son Ferriol, while the bread, pastries and cakes come from their own bakery.

One of the biggest challenges for any visitor in high season is actually securing a reservation. As the restaurateur at The Red Fort in Puerto Soller, where we enjoyed as good a curry as anywhere, explained to us, ‘our season here lasts eight weeks when we have to make money for a year’. Of all the places I have recommended, none is quite as difficult to get into as Es Guix.

Es Guix is located high up in the mountains of Tramuntana, two kilometres below the monastery of Lluc. Its location, and the many hairpin bends that lead up to it, make it an attraction for cyclists and walkers alike, as well as for us in a car. And because this restaurant is open only at lunch (closed on Tuesdays) and on Saturday evenings, it is extremely popular. Sitting by the entrance we heard numerous parties trying to blag a table despite the rope across the entrance and the sign that said they were full! It is many tortuous miles to the next restaurant…

Es Geux and its pool
Es Guix's terraces and its famous natural pool

Es Guix boasts two further attractions. The first is its spring-fed swimming pool around which non-swimmers can sit and enjoy a cool beer. The second is that this restaurant has been in the same family since it opened in 1970 offering what it describes as typical Mallorcan food and hospitality.

This became manifest in their first courses of anchovies and boquerones and a main course of braised kid. The speed with which they agreed to box up all that we could not eat of our generous rice dish was impressive, and there was more than enough for lunch for two the following day. But Pepe, the current owner, excelled himself after we had pointed out to our waiter that the first bottle of red wine we had ordered was affected by TCA. In exemplary fashion, Pepe did not argue; he took away our first bottle and immediately replaced it with another similar but even better one. Impressive. As was the drive, there and back, the views, the food and wine, and, as I am reliably informed, even the swimming. 

Very, very soon, I believe, the island’s food, wine and hospitality on offer will represent three additional reasons for visiting Mallorca. 

El Camino Carrer de Can 4, 07001 Palma, Mallorca

Cafe Es Pes de sa Palla Plaça Pes de sa Palla 3, 07002 Palma, Mallorca

Es Guix Carrer Baix, 1 Escorca, Mallorca; tel: +34 971 51 70 92