This article was also published in the Financial Times.
With its serried ranks of tables, heavy wooden chairs and a kitchen dominated by a large metal grill that produces excellent steaks, the interior of La Taskita de Eduardo looks very similar to many restaurants across mainland Spain.
It is, however, located over 1,400 kilometres south of the Spanish mainland in the small town of Garachico on the northern coast of Tenerife and is the creation of Eduardo González Méndez, who describes himself as a 'proud Canarian'.
Having studied in Bilbao, Méndez came to appreciate the quality of the meat from Galicia, north-west Spain, and so he returned home to open this restaurant that specialises in serving top-quality meat – generously cut steaks from aged beef correctly seasoned once grilled – meat that is not easily raised on this rugged volcanic island.
It may seem incongruous at a time when so much emphasis is placed on locally sourced ingredients for Méndez to follow this long and rather tortuous path. But he is actually only carrying on a practice that once made Garachico such an important entrepôt for the fruits and vegetables we now enjoy cooking and eating.
In the early 17th century, Garichico was the busiest port on the island, the epicentre of the then nascent intercontinental trade between Latin America and Europe. The lookout from which the boats were first spotted has now been converted into a comfortable bedroom in a tower in the well-run Hotel San Roque opposite La Taskita.
Our reasons for visiting the northern part of Tenerife rather than the south, whose sandier beaches attract the crowds, were varied: winter sunshine; an opportunity to taste the island's unusual wines that have excited sommeliers in numerous restaurants in London and New York; and for me personally the opportunity to eat in as many good fish restaurants by the sea as possible. What I had not expected was to be so impressed by the quality of Méndez's steaks and by the island's potatoes.
Nor did I expect to be asked by one of the friends who came with us, shortly after Méndez had admonished our table for not doing complete justice to the three steaks that we four had ordered between us, this tricky professional question: How much importance, she wanted to know, do I give to the setting, as opposed to its food, wine and hospitality, when I am reviewing a restaurant, and which particular restaurant location had left the strongest impression on me over the past year?
Happily, I did not have to even reach for my notebook. Three days before we had taken the hotel's instructions and followed the coast road to Buenevista del Norte on Tenerife's north-west tip. Walking past banana trees and down towards the Atlantic we came to El Burgado, a restaurant that was to provide a first in my long fish-eating career.
This involved sitting under a 'cover' that was in fact no more than a series of colourful fishing nets artfully suspended rather as for the setting of a ballet over tall, wooden poles, which meant that from our table outside the restaurant the views of Nature were magnificent and uninterrupted – of sheer, verdant mountains ahead, the foaming Atlantic to our right and of huge breakers rolling on to the rocky beach below.
Lunch involved one particularly good first course: thick slices of octopus spiced with paprika on thin slices of warm potato; one excellent bottle of the local Viñatigo 2013 Listan Blanco white; and one outstanding main course for us all to share, a whole grilled fish known locally as sama. This is a species of red sea bream that had been cooked with distinction. First grilled on the outside, it had then been split open and each half grilled briefly again so that it was initially much easier to pick off the flesh from the bones and then to enjoy the charred slivers of garlic that had been laced inside the fish. Our bill was 110 euros for four with, in this instance, the food and the wine as memorable as the location.
This meal also provided my first acquaintance with Tenerife's potatoes, of which there are over 40 different varieties thanks to historical imports direct from South America. A subsequent meal in the home of an excellent domestic cook got me hooked on a particular variety known as yema de huevo. These are small, no bigger than golf balls, and the inside, as the name suggests, is not white but the far more appetising colour of egg yolks. Delicious, particularly when broken and dipped into anything from a bowl of aioli, the local mojo sauces (red for paprika and green for coriander), or the juices from a recently grilled cherne, a firm and flavourful local, white fish.
A tip off from a friend in Madrid led to lunch at Terrazas del Sauzal in El Sauzal, close to Santa Cruz, an hour's drive from the airport in the south, where the location is also the equal of the food. Initially, the view was similar to that south of LA, with tall palms, whitewashed houses and the blue ocean below. But the appearance of El Teide, the snow-topped volcano in the distance (the photo above is from the Terrazas website), brought us back to Tenerife. As did the food: a warm prawn salad, a tuna tartare with pungent avocado; and a fillet of cherne with gofio, mashed corn, but, regrettably, without yemas de huevo.
La Taskita de Eduardo C/Esteban de Ponte 35, 38450 Garachico;
tel +34 922 830 162. Closed Tuesday.
Restaurant El Burgado Playa La Arena, 38640 Buenavista del Norte;
tel +34 922 12 78 31. Open 7 days.
Hotel San Roque C/Esteban de Ponte 32; tel +34 922 13 34 35.
Terrazas del Sauzal Pasaje Sierva de Dios 9, 38360 El Sauzal; tel +34 922 57 14 91. Closed Tuesday.