Earlier this year, the Sunday Times gave Palma the ultimate accolade by declaring it the best place in the world to live. With its fancy shops, peerless climate and slow-paced charm, Mallorca’s capital was described as a “pocket-sized city that has it all, on a beautiful island.”
No quibbles there. But what makes this sexy, picturesque city great for the long haul, also makes it great for a year-round foodie weekend.
Yes, weekend. Palma’s old town is a mere two-hour British Airways hop from the UK, 10 minutes from Mallorca airport and worlds away in elegant spirit, if not kilometres, from Shagaluf Magaluf.
This elegant spirit is on resplendent display at the city’s gourmet food market, San Juan. Originally the city’s slaughterhouse, it was unveiled this summer with 17 stalls showcasing both stalwarts like cocas, Spain’s thinner, flakier answer to pizza, and newcomers to local cuisine such as Indo-Hispanic fusion croquettes stuffed with curried Mallorcan mushrooms. Though Palma hopes the market, open 365 days a year, will become a gastronomic destination for tourists, so far its colourful Moorish floor tiles are largely trodden by locals. The elderly, behatted gents washing down oysters with Cava on a sunny November morning certainly looked very rooted in time and place.
Although he hails from Kent, chef Marc Fosh could fairly be described as rooted here, too. He came to the island 20 years ago and is now the owner of Palma’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Simply Fosh, which combines an urban cool interior – water trickles down the walls, and palm trees punch through the ceiling, of the dining room – with sublime Balearic bites. Of which my absolute favourite was probably the chilled almond and olive oil soup with marinated sardines and green-apple-sea-fennel jelly. “You aren’t really allowed to pick sea fennel in Mallorca, so shh,” smiled the waiter.
But foie gras, much loved here, with red cabbage-and-hibiscus jelly, spiced bread and steamed quince came a seriously close second. “Quince is the only fruit you have to cook before eating, and that makes it interesting” opined the waiter.
Until recently, Simply Fosh’s head chef was Marcel Ress. When I met him last month he had just emerged from the final round of Top Chef, Spain’s Masterchef for chefs. In fact, I suspect his decision to quit the top job at Palma’s gourmet hotspot is because he has actually won the competition; you heard it here first.
If I am right, I doubt Marcel will be leaving this fashionable city any time soon. There are only 60 haute cuisine chefs working in the four Balearics, but more than 12m tourists dine on their creations every year. Particularly on their piscine inventions. After Japan, Spain is the biggest consumer of fish in the world, and Mallorcans scoff more than anyone else in the kingdom.
At Pere Garau market, where tourists seldom venture, locally caught fish is on gleaming parade. “It’s1 o’clock and there is so much here,” I say to Marcel, pointing at the groaning rows of yellow fin mackerel, wild blue lobster, and crimson Soller prawns. “What happens to the fish that isn’t sold?”
“Why wouldn’t it get sold?” he replies. “Now, would you like to try a Soller prawn? The best way is raw, with a splash of Mallorcan olive oil and a sprinkling of locally harvested salt.”
Words Karen Glaser karen-glaser.com
British Airways flies to Palma from London City Airport throughout the year, from £55 each way, and with up to four flights a day during the winter, and up to two in summer. Karen stayed at The Boutique Hotel Calatrava and Hotel Can Cera. Winter season rates start from €180 per room per night (accommodation only) and Summer season rates start from €225 per room per night (accommodation only).
For more information visit visitpalma.com