An Englishman abroad in March 2016
After much unnecessary stress about the vagaries of public transport, I arrive in the departure lounge at 9am, a full two hours before take-off. So I chill out with a pint of Old Speckled Hen. No need to feel guilty though; most blokes are drinking pints of Guinness or lager. A number of middle-aged ladies are flirting with me, which is quite disconcerting. Were they young ladies, it would be fine – ageist and sexist in one!
The flight is uneventful; a hen party quite entertaining. I am good and save my money, but a nice Geordie couple next to me spend £40 on drinks. On ordering the last round, the stewardess says, “We’re landing in twenty minutes. Are you sure you’ll have time to drink it?” Geordies? Come on!
As I travel into Palma on the airport bus, I get that unmistakeable feeling. It’s not pleasure, anticipation or nostalgia, but something unique. Last time I was in Spain was Asturias and that was great, but there is something special about Sa Roqueta (“The little rock” in Mallorquin). Isla de la Calma – me encanta.
I find Hostal* Pons without much difficulty, though it turns out I have gone the long way round. Never mind, it’s a nice sunny day and plenty to see. A lovely old place, with a friendly greeting from the owners. The room is basic, but clean with a comfortable bed.
Just around the corner, I chance upon Gaudeix, a nice little restaurant with a small, sunny terrace. A friendly waiter informs me that as it is 5pm, a limited menu is available and brings me some excellent local wine, Dos Marias. I try the broken eggs with Ibérico ham – splendid. I chat with a Swedish couple who recommend the foie gras – best they’d ever eaten. It is sublime. I determine to return.
I mooch around for a while and call in Tast for a couple of tapas and a beer. This place has been around for a while and might be looking a bit jaded, but the food is as good as ever. Oxtail with puréed potato & truffle and pig’s trotter with egg.
Return to the hostal for a siesta – it turns out to be very conveniently situated. For dinner, I wander around La Lotja checking out menus. I am finally coerced by the maítre d’ into La Paloma and what a good choice. Slow roast shoulder of Mallorcan lamb with rosemary and fennel and puréed potatoes. Best lamb I’ve ever eaten. A waiter speaks to me in German, so out of politeness I reply in kind. We look at each other and realise it isn’t going anywhere. The maítre d’ shows me around the restaurant – a beautiful old building on three floors and full of character.
The hostal is all in darkness and it takes me several attempts to find my room. It’s a warren of artistically-decorated old rooms. A bit noisy during the night, but these places often are. Coughing from neighbours is not unusual, but the gurgling from the wash basin as somebody else lets out water is a bit of a surprise.
Hmmm. Turns out I’ve forgotten my shaver – just have to hope designer stubble is trendy in the Balearics at the moment.
*The hostal is a peculiarly Hispanic beast. They are generally smaller than a hotel and without all the facilities, so usually cheaper. They are frequently found on first floors, but are good quality accommodation and should not be confused with hostels.
Walk to Placa Espanya and the train to Marratxi. There is supposed to be a market in neighbouring Sa Cabaneta and I envisage an array of enticing produce including the famous local pottery. After a twenty minute walk, I encounter an imposing old church with directions to the Museum of Clay and local manufacturers of siurells (the clay figurine-whistles), but after walking around for a while, I can’t find anything. This is just a dormitory town with barking dogs. No market. Not even a bar. Nada de nada. I walk back to Marratxi for a coffee and then get the train back to Palma. At least the short train journey is pleasant.
Things start to look up in the fish market in Mercat d’Olivar. I struggle a little ordering oysters (there’s so many varieties to choose from), but after a couple of glasses of wine, I’m jabbering away like a local. Then percebes – gooseneck barnacles. In truth, not the most exciting thing I’ve ever eaten, but at least I can tick that box.
Celler sa Premsa for lunch – one of my favourite haunts. Not always the greatest food, but at €12.75 including wine, you can’t grumble and it’s a delightful place with black and white waiters scurrying around. Sopes followed by huevos estrellados and a new variation on crema catalana or flan – pudding mallorquin. Probably my favourite.
So, two versions of broken eggs. At Gaudeix, thinly sliced potatoes lightly fried – exquisite – at Sa Premsa, egg and chips with a slice of fried sobrasada!
Beer in the sunshine at Bar Bosch, then I try to find my favourite secret bar near Parc de Mar. Not there. A door and closed window near where I think it used to be. Perhaps it was too secret.
It’s still sunny, so a shame to go back. I stop off in Escape Bar. Can’t understand why the waitress wants to speak English, but she turns out to be from Croatia!
It occurs to me that most people go on holiday to sunbathe or visit theme parks, the more cultured to see the sights; I go largely to eat and drink.
Later, I strike out for Portitxol, but the fifteen minute walk must be Oldham time or from much further on, so I sack it and go back. A nice walk anyway and the illuminated cathedral is absolutely stunning. I return to Apuntadors and call in Wineing. This is a concept bar about which I had read, where a range of wines are dispensed by machine – a taste, half a glass or a glass – and the purchases accumulated on a card. I didn’t know whether it was a brilliant idea or something a bit tacky. Turns out to be a brilliant idea and the manageress is very friendly and efficient. There is a large selection of local wines; my favourite is Aia from Miguel Olivar. I impress a couple of English ladies with my knowledge of wine. I manage to force down a couple of really good tapas. Mini goat’s cheese with bacon and wraps of pulled pork cheek.
Coffee and ensaimada at the bar on the corner of Apuntadors and then walk down the front to have a look at the fleamarket. No sign of it. I think some of these markets are just put on in summer for the tourists.
I decide to walk on to Portitxol. It’s a gorgeous day and there is a beautiful view of the Bay of Palma. Not actually much there apart from a lot of boats and a row of fancy restaurants, but there is a real beach, so I can actually say I’ve been to the seaside! I call in Es Molina for a Cruz Campo and some olives.
A leisurely stroll back to Gaudeix for lunch. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Baby squid stuffed with whole king prawn, garnished with squid ink; tataki of mallorcan pork on a base of ginger jam topped with fried juliennes of aubergine; cod topped with piped cream cheese on a bed of soft fried onions and buttifarra; lamb in a rich sauce surrounded by crumbs of sobrasada. Only fly in the ointment, the waitress drops a glass of red wine and it splatters all over my linen jacket.
It’s only a normal Saturday, yet the locals are dressed up to the nines or at least casually stylish. The Germans look like Germans and the Brits look like s**t.
Creased with indigestion last night, so I call in a Farmacia for some Rennies. €6!
In the evening I can’t face a long walk and loads to eat, so I pop down the road to the garish but comfortable Bar Coto in Plaza Drassana. It’s very friendly and the waiter even gives me a glass of wine on the house after forgetting my order. I choose pa amb oli with ham and cheese, but when it arrives, the cheese is actually melted on the top. Not what I expected, but quite nice.
I’ve realised that the “type” that my son-in-law ascertained that I have (I didn’t even know) is epitomised by the chica mallorquina and tonight there is a table full of them. OMG, in love so many times!
The waiter drops a plate and it shatters (what is it with these?) and I so nearly shout, “Ai, mierda!”. Good in a way, but dangerous in another.
My €15 spend means I stay within budget so I go to the Mini Market across the road and get a litre of red wine, bottle of water and a mug for €4! High class tramp or what?
It’s a bit of a dismal morning and must have rained during the night, but it’s fresh and not cold. I have chocolate and ensaimada in the middle of the Born. What a way to start the day.
Quite a long walk to San Juan Gastronomic Market. When I know I should be near, I ask a local sitting on a bench, but he has never heard of it and then I realise that it’s right in front of me! It’s in a little complex with a small cinema. Apparently, it was originally the local slaughterhouse. I didn’t know what to expect when reading about it – I feared it may be overpriced artisan food on sale to tourists. But no, it’s a massive food hall with the stalls around the side serving food to take and eat at the central tables. Really well organised and spotlessly clean. No English or German translations of the menus here; in fact I think I’m the only foreigner. It’s a really well kept secret, but nonetheless, by 2pm it’s packed.
I start with Frit, the local dish of liver and fennel. Then I have to try a Tortilla Mallorquina, an omelette with sobrasada. The baby squid stuffed with paté and wild mushrooms looks good, but doesn’t quite work for me. Yet another variation on broken eggs. Patetitas from Sa Pobla, thinly sliced and soft, but with two unbroken eggs on top. I choose the most unusual accompaniment which is gambas and asparagus which, perhaps surprisingly, goes really well. All this is washed down with cold beer and some nice local wine. There is so much stuff here I want to try, but can’t physically eat any more.
So, a stroll back to Placa Espanya and the bus to Son Moix (now officially the Ibérostar Stadium), home of Real Mallorca. Today they are playing Mirandés and I am astounded to find the ticket is only €2. Not the best game of football I have ever seen, but it has its moments. Finishes 1-1, which is probably a fair result.
The bus back is absolutely crammed. It’s amazing how many people they manage to fit in. I wander back via Placa Cort in an attempt to catch one of the Palm Sunday processions which were supposedly planned, but there is no sign of anything.
Bus to Montuiri from Placa Espanya and some picturesque scenery. I naively think that the bus will stop in the market place, but no, it stops on the main carretera and I have a twenty minute uphill walk. The market is quite small, but busy with locals. I buy a nice belt. I pop in to a local’s bar for a coffee, which comes with a little glass of orange juice and some cake. The waiter drops a glass – this seems to be almost a ritual here.
I call in to Ca’n Xorri on the corner of the marketplace opposite the church for a beer. There is quite a large terrace at the rear with nice views out over the Pla. I decide to have a pa amb oli to put me on till lunch. It could have put me on to the middle of the week! Half a loaf of bread, half a pound of ham and half a pound of cheese with olives and pickles. Absolutely marvellous and only €10 for this and two beers. I am just reflecting how nice it is to be out here off the beaten track with no tourists when they arrive……dozens of German cyclists. They are everywhere, with their bikes blocking all the doorways. Exit, stage right.
Back in Palma, I see in a shop window, some Mallorcan beer with the somewhat bizarre name of “Beer Lovers”. I check out the website and find that it is available in the Escape Bar just down the road. I try a couple of bottles and it is very good, but I am slightly alarmed to find they are €4.50 each. This would not normally be a problem and indeed quite reasonable by UK comparisons, but I have only brought limited funds for my last night out. Consequently, I have to budget carefully. I choose La Bodega for rabbit with onions “like grandma used to make”. Indeed it is; not that my grandma used to make it (well, not to my knowledge, but it’s possible, they were country folk), but it’s good honest peasant food at its best. The restaurant is small and homely with friendly staff. Nothing special, but Faustino for house wine is a nice touch and I finish with a generous shot of hierbas, the archetypical Mallorcan digestif.
After the tip, I have three 50 cent coins left!
On the way back I chance upon an Easter procession and follow it around for a while. With the cloaks and conical hats, the beating drums and the candles, it is very atmospheric. The spell is broken by shouts of “Bye bye, bye bye”. It’s the owners of the hostal who shake hands warmly and bid me farewell.
As it’s a 6am start, I get a taxi to the airport and arrive in plenty of time. The plane isn’t full, so I get a row to myself and stretch out. That’s one of the advantages of early flights.
So, pretty much the only things I didn’t mange to get are a gin-tonic and some Easter pies. Everything else ticked and more.
Adios, Palma. Hasta la próxima.
Carrer del Vi, 8, 07012 Palma
Carrer de Can Sales, 2, 07012 Palma
Calle Apuntadores, 16, 07012 Palma
Celler Sa Premsa
Plaça del Bisbe Berenguer de Palou, 8, 07003 Palma
Calle Apuntadores, 24, 07012 Palma
Plaça de la Drassana, 12, 07012 Palma
San Juan Gastronomic Market
Carrer de l’Emperadriu Eugènia, 6, 07010 Palma
Carrer Major, 2, 07230 Montuïri
Carrer dels Apuntadors, 3A, 07012 Palma