An Englishman abroad in January 2017
Day 1: Saturday
I find the Jetparks carpark and arrive at the airport with plenty of time, so I enjoy a pint of JW Lees Atomic. The flight is uneventful and we arrive in Palma slightly ahead of schedule. The airport bus is waiting, but I’m dismayed to find it’s drizzling.
I know where I’m going this time, so I alight at Argentina (the bus stop obviously, not the country; that would be some bus ride) and it’s a short walk to Hostal Pons, but it’s raining quite heavily now, so I stop to put on a coat. It’s not cold by English standards, but when I arrive at the hostal, the owner, Sebastián, is complaining about the bitter weather.
I’m in the room next door to where I was last time, but this one is nicer – I even have a real wardrobe! I love this quirky hotel, but the walls must be very thin, because I can hear the Spanish woman next door constantly on the ‘phone. I can even hear the bloke on the other end when he manages to get the occasional word in.
It’s getting quite late so I go out for dinner. On the way, I notice that one of my favourite bars, Wineing, is on holiday until the 8th February. I decide to treat myself (it is Saturday night) and I finally choose La Paloma. Last time I was here, I had the best lamb I’ve ever eaten, so this time I start with bread and the most gorgeous alioli and then have fillet of cod cooked at a low temperature with saffron sauce, wild mushrooms and potato purée. It’s not cheap, but the décor and service are outstanding.
On the way back, I call in what was the Escape Bar, a busy ex-pats bar run by Croatians, but it’s now the Velvet Bar, with a Spanish lad behind the bar and a handful of locals drinking. It used to be all dark wood and now it’s brilliant white. They are very friendly and offer me a stool, so I stay and have a couple of glasses of wine. I tell them I want to see the almond blossom and they say, because of the awful weather, it won’t be here until March and I fear they may well be right. They suggest going up to Sollér, but that’s not almond country, it’s mainly citrus, so whilst it’s a beautiful part of the island, I dismiss the idea for the moment.
Day 2: Sunday
I am gutted. I walk around the corner to check out the menu at my favourite restaurant – Gaudeix – to find they are closed until the 1st March. That’s the problem; it’s lovely and quiet this time of year with comparatively few tourists, but for that very reason, a lot of places choose this time to take a break.
So, a leisurely walk to San Juan Gastronomic Market. It’s quite a distance, but it’s not a bad day and I stop for a coffee and ensaimada at Forn del Santo Cristo. They do home-made pastries and the most fabulous bread – pa moreno. I really want to buy some, but there’s no practical reason.
At San Juan, I start with Gulas al Ajillo con Huevo Codorni (a bread roll with baby eels and quail’s egg) and then have Camarones Fritas (whole tiny shrimp deep-fried in a light batter).
After a short breather and a cold beer, I have Croquetas de Bacalao con Salsa de Chile Chipotle (salt cod croquettes with chipotle chilli sauce, beautifully presented) and Huevos Rotos con Pimientos de Padrón (potatoes with fried eggs and green peppers).
I’ve read reviews that say it’s overpriced food for tourists and that the quality has gone downhill since it opened a couple of years ago. I have to disagree. Last time I visited, I was the only foreigner there and this time I’ve heard one English voice amongst the many locals. It’s a long way from the tourist route and it’s not really advertised, so you have to know it’s there. The prices are actually very reasonable and I can’t fault the quality.
A leisurely stroll back – it’s quite sunny now and, whilst it’s not warm, it’s pleasant. I decide to take a siesta, but I’m rudely awakened by the neighbour who, whilst shouting down the ‘phone, appears to be rearranging the furniture. I know for a fact, because I’ve stayed in that room, that there is not much scope nor reason for practising one’s interior design skills, but she is giving it a good shot. The thing about the Spanish is that they actually like making noise and are completely impervious to it.
Talking of noise, as I leave the hostal I can hear fireworks. I remember a stage being set up on the Born as I passed earlier, so I head in that direction. Sure enough, it turns out to be the Festival of Sant Sebastià, the patron saint of Palma. This is normally held on the 20th January, but has been delayed due to the appalling weather. There are numerous activities spread over three days, but the culmination, which I’m now lucky enough to witness is the Correfoc or fire-run. Accompanied by constant drumming from the stage, “demons” run amok throwing firecrackers and brandishing enormous sparklers, whilst others swing from scaffolding. A crocodile and dragon are wheeled out, covered in flaming torches. People are dancing everywhere amidst the fire, smoke and deafening noise and the almost primaeval atmosphere is amazing.
I walk around the festivities and along Las Ramblas to Passeig de Mallorca, pausing momentarily for a passing parade of drummers, in search of Ginbo. It’s a specialist gin bar which I’d heard about and meant to visit on my last trip. It’s down the far end and when I reach it, it doesn’t disappoint. – they have about sixty gins. I sit at the bar and eventually settle on a saffron gin with Fever Tree tonic, which is excellent – mind you, for €12 it should be! The waiter is a real cocktail expert, theatrically tossing items in the air and around his back and catching them perfectly. I return to the hostal, stopping off at the minimarket for a chilled can of Cruz Campo, to find the woman next door coughing loudly – she can’t help that, I suppose. But wait – now she’s singing! OMG, when will it end? When she starts shouting down the ‘phone, of course.
Day 3: Monday
I have a wander to Santa Catalina. The market is not as big as Mercat D’Olivar, but is interesting to look around. I stop at a stall for a coffee and read the day’s Majorca Daily Bulletin. It’s the original English language newspaper; it’s been going for fifty years and used to be pretty corny (its nickname was the Daily Bullshit!), but now it’s quite professional and has an informative website.
I leave the market and stroll around hoping to find a genuine local café and stop at Bar Pototeo. It’s basic, but very clean with a good atmosphere. There are only regulars inside and two middle-aged ladies are shouting to each other across my table. The blackboard advertises only the daily menu with three choices for each course, so it’s going to be fresh. There is just one waiter and a cook, who are both kept busy. A bottle of red wine comes to the table and I can drink as much as I like, though it would be rude to drink it all. I start with a Mallorcan speciality, Arroz Brut, literally “Dirty Rice”, a kind of soupy rice with meat and vegetables. My second course is Musola con Salsa Mallorquina, a type of dogfish often called smoothhound, with a tomato and vegetable sauce. For dessert, I go for Pudding, the Balearic version of Crema Catalana or Flan. I just can’t bring myself to take photographs here; in any case, this place is about taste and authenticity rather than presentation. So, for this delightful three-course meal including bread and alioli and red wine – €10.50 – less than I paid last night for a glass of gin!
I have a quick look at a streetmap to make sure I’m heading in the right direction and am surprised to find a hole in the middle. On closer inspection, it appears to be charred – how strange. I then see the burn hole in my pocket – my very own souvenir from San Sebastián. They have scant regard for Health & Safety here.
I return to the Born and decide to call in the Casal Solleric museum. I have the place to myself as I stroll around admiring the architecture and exhibits, then I ask a concierge if there are any toilets and he abruptly shows me the door, pointing to a sign which says, “Closed Mondays”. Perhaps they should have a sign on the other door, by which I entered. I cross to the Bar Bosch for a beer and a wee. The toilets are up two flights of stairs past the restaurant, “Mas Bosch”, and cost €1, but they are large and spotlessly clean.
I return for a siesta. There is glorious silence and I dare to hope that the Spanish woman has left, but I don’t want to tempt providence.
I normally go to Cellar Sa Premsa for lunch, but decide to go for dinner instead. They have quite a good selection of Mallorcan specialities and I start with snails and alioli, followed by lamb’s tongues with capers and finish with pudding – twice in a day, but you can’t have too much of a good thing. All this is accompanied by a very acceptable wine for €6.75. The waiter appears to be neglecting me, but all is forgiven when he freepours the Veterano in my carajillo about 70/30.
A great part of the character here is the ancient bullfighting posters adorning the walls and they are literally crumbling away. I wonder idly what they will do when they finally disappear and then I notice some new ones, but especially with no smoking, it will take some time to achieve the patina of the old ones. Perhaps they’ll chuck some coffee on them.
It’s only about 10.15 as I walk back and I have the streets virtually to myself. In summer, even on a Monday, they would be quite busy, but the Mallorcans tend not to eat and drink as late as they do on the mainland. A can of Alhambra from the minimarket; the Spanish woman has definitely gone and the new neighbour is very quiet.
Day 4: Tuesday
It’s a lovely day – blue skies and sunshine. I walk to Plaça d’España and take the train to Inca. As I feared, there is no almond blossom; just a load of dry twigs and a very occasional flower. I just hope that it is late due to the temperature and that the buds have not been killed off. There is still some evidence of the recent flooding. It was worse further north, around Sa Pobla, where much of the potato crop was devastated.
I have only driven through Inca before, so it’s nice to look around. It is famous for its ”Cellar” restaurants and I choose Ca’n Ripoll or Antiguo Cellar C’an Ripoll, to give it its full name. It claims to have been founded in 1768 and is full of character.
I start with Frito de Matanza, literally “the fry-up of slaughter”, not because you can feel your arteries hardening whilst you eat it, but because it’s traditionally made at the time of the annual pig-killing from all the little perishable bits of the pig which aren’t preserved to be eaten later. It’s very good and, though it’s only a half-portion, it’s very filling, so it’s with some trepidation that I wait for my next course. It’s lechona or suckling pig and it is quite delicious. Fortunately, it’s served with salad, so I manage to get through it.
So, I’ve well and truly pigged out. It’s a long time since I was foolish enough to believe that one had to pass through the threshold of pain to feel replete, but I’ve done it today. It matters not that I’ve gone slightly over-budget as, after that Pantagruelian feast, I shan’t be eating for the rest of the day.
It’s quite busy for a Tuesday, with a fairly eclectic clientele. The older people are speaking Mallorquin and the younger ones, Castilian.
I snooze on the train back to Palma and have a leisurely walk from the station, stopping for a cold beer at a roadside stall. Yes, here in the middle of the city is a small kiosk where you can perch on a stool and enjoy a drink. How civilized.
The cathedral looks beautiful in the sunshine and I walk over to gaze at the blue waters of the Mediterranean.
I can’t face a big night out, so I just pop into the Velvet Bar for a glass of wine and buy a can of Estrella Damm and some mineral water from the minimarket.
Day 5: Wednesday
I walk to Plaça d’España again and take the train to Sineu to visit the market. The weather forecast wasn’t too good, but it’s nice and sunny again. There are not as many stalls at the market as there are in summer, but there are fewer people, so it’s easier to stroll around. I eat a rustic pie, empanada, have a coffee and buy a nice wooden toy for the baby. The only disappointment is that there are no mules today, just one big ass donkey.
I’d had the idea of grazing around the market and having a late dinner back in Palma, but the idea of sitting outside Es Mirador in the glorious sunshine is just too tempting. The Menu del Dia is only €12.50 including a half-litre of wine. It’s a calculated risk eating at a place that attracts so many tourists – they were mainly German, with a couple of English – but it turns out to be a good choice. I start with Sopes de Matances (sopes is not to be confused with soup or, indeed with the Mexican dish of the same name. Mallorcan sopes begins as a kind of broth, but then bread is added to soak up the liquid; vegetables, usually cabbage are included and in this case, various small cuts of pork) and I wanted Callos (tripe) for my second course, but they have run out, so I go for Frit de Marisc (potatoes and peppers pan-fried with mixed seafood). If the quality is good, I’m more than happy to have peasant food plonked in front of me in a terra cotta bowl, but here, the presentation is top-notch and served on white china. Even the strawberries come delicately sliced in a glass dish. I finish with a coffee which is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. All this with a beautiful view and gently serenaded by guitar and drum music from the market.
Opposite is a house, also called Es Mirador, for sale. Though quite unassuming from the exterior, it boasts four bedrooms, three bathrooms, courtyard with well, garage and roof terrace. I quite fancy that.
In the words of the song, what a difference a day makes. Or, indeed, a few hours of sunshine. On the way back, a few almond trees have sprung into life. Not the vista of pink and white as far as the eye can see, but it’s a hopeful sign. One could even wax lyrical about the emergence of young life from a barren waste, but we don’t have time for that kind of nonsense.
Back in Palma, I enjoy a cold beer outside a little bar in Plaça Santa Eulalia and then wend my way back to the hostal.
I have a wander out in the evening and find myself on Passeig de Mallorca, so I decide to look for the beer bar which I’d noticed the other night. It’s called Barbas and is quite garish compared to its neighbours – it even features a “Happy Hour” – but they have their own beer, Barba Roja, of which I try a bottle and it’s good. They have a few other Mallorcan beers which I’ve never seen before and I decide to try a bottle of black IPA (something of a contradiction in terms), curiously named Saint Anthony and the Demons, brewed in Puigpunyent and I enjoy that as well.
There are quite a number of very stylish restaurants on this stretch of the road and a few up-market estate agents. You can’t get much for less than a million, but I do spot a bargain basement two-bed bijou town house for only 330,000. Unlike the rest of Spain, there is not much wrong with the Mallorcan economy.
Day 6: Thursday
I carefully pack my suitcase and am justly proud of how neat it looks (it isn’t really my forte) and then after a final check in the wardrobe and the drawers of the dressing table, I pick it up off the bed and hurl the contents around the room. I had neglected to zip up the lid.
I have virtually all day today, as I don’t fly until 8pm, but I don’t want to stray too far. I go to visit one of my favourite spots, Jardi del Bisbe, a small walled garden with a fishpond, just behind the cathedral. It’s nicer in summer when the bougainvilleas are in flower, but it’s still worth a visit.
I’ve always ignored the museum at the Almudaina or Royal Palace, as a tourist attraction, but in the interests of research, I decide to have a look around. It’s actually well worthwhile; it has many old paintings, tapestries and furnishings, and magnificent views.
You can take the man out of Yorkshire, but…….I don’t want to draw any more cash from the bank, so I head out of the tourist zone to look for a – let’s not use the “c” word – reasonably-priced Menu del Dia. I look around for a while without being tempted and then I decide to have a look at Bar Pototeo, where I had the really good meal the other day. When I see the menu, I have to go in and, once inside, it’s like Groundhog Day. I sit at the same table and there are the same people, sitting in the same places. Of course, it’s because it attracts stallholders from the market. If I worked nearby, I’d be in every day, though I don’t think I’d get much done in the afternoon!
I start with Canalones. People are often surprised to see pasta on Spanish menus, but historically, Catalonia and the Balearics had a thriving trade with Genoa. My second course is Callos con Garbanzos, tripe with chickpeas, and I finish with Pudding (again!) for pudding. As before, all the food is delicious, the service friendly and such good value for money.
After picking up my suitcase from the hostal and bidding goodbye to Sebastián, I walk the short distance to Passeig de Mallorca and get on the airport bus. I arrive unnecessarily early, but it’s better than being last-minute with the associated stress. Never mind; I can relax with a litre of Warsteiner whilst I wait. I’d booked what I thought was a window seat, but it turns out to be one of the very few rows which don’t actually have a window. The compensation is that I have the row to myself, so I can stretch out as we head for home and the English weather.
Carrer del Vi, 8, 07012 Palma
Calle Apuntadores, 16, 07012 Palma
Forn del Santo Cristo
Carrer de Sant Miquel, 47, 07002 Palma
Mercado de San Juan
Carrer de l’Emperadriu Eugènia, 6, 07010 Palma
Passeig de Mallorca, 14A, 07012 Palma
Carrer de Cotoner, Santa Catalina, Palma
Cellar Sa Premsa
Plaça del Bisbe Berenguer de Palou, 8, 07003 Palma
Carrer d’en Jaume Armengol, 4, 07300 Inca
Calle Es Mirador, 4, 07510 Sineu
Passeig de Mallorca, 26, 07012 Palma