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Posts from the ‘Food’ Category

Ginger cakes for the onset of Autumn

Ginger Cake with dark chocolate and paprika or white chocolate and orange blossom icing

I haven’t baked for ages. Not even since I had my London kitchen revolutionarily overhauled with wonderful new Victorian green ceramic tiles which offset spectacularly against my Ferrari red accessories and frankly make cooking a joy. But two things prompted me to bake this week: First the weather, which has taken a decisive turn towards autumn; a time of cosy nights in and the comforting perfume of baking enriching the home experience. Secondly, and by no means unconnectedly, is the final collapse of all beach body hopes. At least for this year. Now, in the run up to Christmas, a little binge is surely justifiable?

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So yearning for the smell of baking, and of seasonal spices, I set about making some ginger cupcakes, which also turned into a ginger cake because of excess mixture. I creamed together 200g of salted butter and 400g of soft brown sugar. To this I added 375g of self-raising flour, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 of nutmeg and another of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To help it all mix into a fluid and creamy batter, I added 8 fl oz of black treacle dissolved in another 8 fl oz of boiling water, and also folded in two egg yolks and the whisked up whites likewise.

Batter done, I made about 18 cupcakes and a small round sponge cake, so clearly you could decrease all of the quantities above if you’re after a smaller batch. I then split my butter cream (which I made quite recklessly without measuring – but essentially it was about 1 third butter to 2 thirds icing sugar with a dash or two of water) into two batches. In one I mixed melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika) and to the other melted white chocolate with a few drops of orange blossom essence picked up from the heavily scented streets of the Marrakech souks.

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The result is frankly too much delicious indulgence, even for me. The dark chocolate icing combines magnificently with the soft ginger sponge to create a cake befitting of all the spice-enhanced warmth of the season. The white chocolate brings a promise of the summer again, and a heavy dose of buttery chocolatey happiness to get us through the cold days soon to come.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The Sicily Series | Part IX – Momentous Modica: the Churches and the Chocolate

Modica, the momentous mountainous town lying somewhere in the craggy landscape between Ragusa and Noto, was the last visit of our multiple Baroque exposure during just a few days in the south of Sicily. Who knew that there could be such a concentration of putti and angels, of curling stone foliage and grandiose capitals, all to be found in comparatively tiny towns heavily overshadowed by these architectural masterpieces. But just as Noto had been notable for its golden yellow consistency, Ragusa for its hillside spectacle, and Ortygia for its elegance on water, Modica impressed us with the sheer magnificence of its churches, and for the unique quality of its famous chocolate.

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Modica, like Ragusa, is a town clustered around several steep hillsides before filling, in a dense mass of stone coloured houses and richly decorated public buildings, the lower town below. It is so tightly packed into and around the natural valley carved into steeply sloping hillsides that Modica is almost like shanty towns of South America, only much richer in its decoration. For amongst this swathe of little stone houses are two spectacular churches which just take the breath away. The first, the Chiesa di San Pietro, is framed by a series of fully lifelike, wonderfully detailed statues which line the grand staircase leading to its vast iron doors and another ridiculously over the top facade comprising an opulent broken pediment and rusticated pilasters. But if this church was to win the prize for its excesses of sculpture, the church of San Giorgio would carry away the award for theatre. For sat atop of sweeping soaring multi layered staircase, this masterpiece of the baroque is like the hotly anticipated starlet descending onto the stage from on high, a veritable wedding cake sitting abreast a multi-tiered display stand from which she demands the respect and astonishment of all who come before her.

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But Modica is not just a place which is inspiring for the eyes. The tastebuds will get a good tickle too. For Modica has another defining feature too: its chocolate which, usefully in this climate, never melts. Reticent to indulge too heavily (this was the end of the holiday after all, and the pasta carb-count was already at an all time high), we were nevertheless dragged into the chocolate dream that Modica presents so well by a very charming shop keeper from whom we had bought a parking voucher in his Pasticceria Frisby on the Via Vittorio Veneto (n.38). Generous to the full, he not only allowed us to taste the uniquely granular chocolate, but took us out to his kitchen and showed us how to make it too. Comprised essentially from bitter dark chocolate heavily sweetened with a coarse sugar which is not allowed to melt (hence the grainy texture) and various dried ingredients to make different flavour variations, the resulting chocolate paste is essentially banged into shape in a series of traditional moulds before being set in the refrigerator, traditionally wrapped and sold.

Learning the trade: Chocolate making in Pasticceria Frisby

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In that chocolate shop, we had our share of banging the chocolate, of tasting the various stages (pure bitter chocolate not to be recommended) and generally enjoying the utmost hospitality of this wonderful shopkeeper and his wife. Of course we left their store with far too much chocolate at frankly stupidly cheap prices. But above all things we left with a warmth in our heart founded on the great kindliness shown by those two chocolatiers. We arrived to Sicily thinking it would be a hard land full of mafiosi and moody islanders. We left touched by the hospitality we had been shown, and determined to return to this island of plenty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Tuscan Towns #3 – Casale Marittimo

Driving along on the slower (and far more beautiful) inner coastal road from Castagneto towards Livorno, you may notice on the hills beyond the acres of vineyards a perfectly formed little town perched up at a height. Small as a toy town but quaint in every respect, there is very little in Casale to place it on the tourist map, but with its cute little central square and an endearing piccolo church I defy it not to please any visitor to the max. But for us Casale was not about the uniquely formed sloping streets or the picture-perfect micro-shops. It was about the views, and one very special lunch spent appreciating them.

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At the Osteria L’impronta, we enjoyed one of those lunches that will linger a long, long time in the memory. With the most incredible private terrace all to ourselves, a soundtrack of jazz, sun rays bouncing off the table’s edge and an endless supply of wine produced on the very land whose spectacular appearance we spent our whole meal admiring, it was like a lunch from a legendary time of utopia. The kind of occasion writers conjure up and artists swoon over. And then there was food – a mix of perfectly al dente pasta, crusty bread with deep golden olive oil, and unctuously rich cinghiale (wild boar) from the surrounding landscape. All combined to make this lunch the culinary high point of our holiday, and a true homage to this legendary region of Tuscany.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Wholemeal lemon and rosemary cake

I was sitting just next to my little blooming lemon tree, breathing in the subtle perfume of its abundant blossom one morning before work when I saw the recipe for a lemon polenta loaf cake go up onto the blog of my phenomenally talented (and heavily pregnant!) blogger friend Lady Aga. It was undoubtedly the heady combination of lemon blossom and her tantalising looking photos which immediately inspired in me the certain knowledge that I was going to make this cake at the first opportunity. And last weekend, lemon, rosemary and olive oil at the ready, I did! Sadly for Lady Aga’s wonderful recipe, and perhaps also for my resulting cake, I was a little too keen on the uptake. Midway through, I realised I lacked polenta and a loaf shaped tin. It quickly became clear that I might have to disembark from the Lady Aga road slightly.

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So recipe a little altered, and a round cake tin employed for the purpose, I opted instead for  wholemeal not-so-loafish cake using the integral flour which we have in stock in an attempt to be healthy. I also blended a load of his trusty breakfast porridge oats as Lady Aga suggests, and with the rosemary growing fresh on our terrace, it worked a treat. I won’t recite the recipe here seeing as Lady Aga has it penned so well, but whether you decide to go with my wholemeal approach or the undoubtedly better polenta recipe, this cake is surely exquisite.

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Fresh out of the oven, its sugary lemon juice drizzle still a little sticky, we eagerly devoured a slice or two of this delicious cake in the creamy afternoon (terrace photos happily intermingled with model-shots of cake above). Accompanied by a steaming earl grey, the lemon and rosemary flavour couldn’t have made for a better British-Mallorquín afternoon tea, and as for the wholemeal flour, while I worry that it may have made the cake slightly drier than the polenta version, the result is a cake which made every appearance of a morally highbrow, persuasively healthy teatime treat. Thank you Lady Aga!

Mallorquín Spring Lamb, enjoyed two ways

It may be premature to announce that Spring has arrived on the island of Mallorca, but having been blessed by almost continuous blue skies pretty much since the summer, it’s sometimes hard to say what season we are in. The only thing I know is that since the new year dawned, and we returned from the chilly climes of Vienna, it has surely felt like Spring is here. And with the arrival of Spring comes a cast of the usual protagonists – blossoming trees, warmer wafts of perfumed air, and the innocent bleating of fluffy little lambs.

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We came face to face with those beautiful little animals on a recent walk through Mallorca’s Tramontana mountains. Heading along one of the island’s worst-surfaced zig-zagging rollercoaster of a roads up one of Mallorca’s highest mountains to the vast valley nestling in the mighty shadow of the ruined Alaró Castle, we had a lunch date at the iconic Es Verger restaurant.

Recently made famous, to UK audiences at least, by its short starring role in one of chef Rick Stein’s televised adventures through the Mediterranean, Es Verger is an unbelievably quaint traipse back through time to the truly bucolic routes of peasant Mallorca, where everything on the limited menu borrows from the immediate rugged environment, and is cooked by a charming old lady using recipes passed down throughout the centuries. The star dish is Mallorquín lamb, the very same animal which only metres from the secluded restaurant you could see bleeding innocently in the rays of a newly sprung-sunshine (see attached photos above for heart-warming snapshots).

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But any guilt which we could quite easily have felt for seeing these sweet animals and then eating the same was quickly dispelled by the sheer exquisite deliciousness of this incredible dish. Cooked in beer and infused by the juices of a variety of vegetables roasted over long hours in a smokey log fire, the meat both melted over the tongue, and was deliciously caramelised at the edges. Never have I enjoyed meat so much, nor indeed a meal. Pure, simple, and finished off by a cremadillo – a flaming mix of local hierbas liquor, rum, coffee and all sorts of other liquid indulgences.

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Needing to walk off the alcohol and indulge a little more in the staggering scenery which surrounded us, we headed after lunch to the ruined castle of Alaró, an incredible historical site sat atop the mountain which, while looking deceptively close, required a good hour’s uphill climb along one of Mallorca’s craggier paths. But with views from the top spreading across the bay of Palma on one side and across to Puig Mayor, the island’s highest mountain on the other, we were awfully glad for the scenery, that amazing lunch and the Spring in our step it had given us.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Enjoying the Viennese Coffee House

Along with the waltz, the Danube, Klimt and the Wein Schnitzel, Vienna can count its famous coffee houses amongst those icons which have come to characterise the city. Dating as far back as the 17th century, and reaching their popular height in the 19th century, the cafes have long been the focus of Viennese society, as a place to read the paper, take a strudel, dig into a plate of sausages and of course enjoy a coffee. And of the latter, a fair number of Viennese specialities have developed alongside the historical cafes, including the Brauner (coffee with milk), the Melange (blended coffee and hot milk), the Kurz (extra strong), Obers (with cream), Kapuziner (double mokka with a hood of cream) and the Schwarzer (black) to name but a few.

Of the many cafes which have come and gone over the centuries, a renowned few have retained their standing as icons of the city, including the Central, the Ministerium, the Museum, the Frauenhuber, the Raimund, the Eiles, the Schwarzenberg and the Zartl. All are unique, but share common trends: a cosy interior with comfortable booths and little armchairs; smoky ageing mirrors, brass lamps and dark wooden furniture; and of course the all important display case in which the famous Viennese cakes are given the attention they deserve.

The famous Cafe Central, and the impressive cafe in the Kunsthistoriches museum

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And whichever of the iconic cafes you choose to venture into, the formal etiquette tends to remain the same. Each coffee is served on a small silver tray with an accompanying glass of water. The waiters will most likely be tuxedoed, and it is generally anticipated that you will linger in the cosy surroundings with a paper or a book, long after the last dregs of coffee have been enjoyed.

With ferociously cold temperatures keeping us from the streets, my partner and I were often to be found in a coffee house in Vienna, lured by the cosy interiors and the traditional elegance which each exuded. We never quite made it to the famous Cafe Central, since the queues which seemed to perpetually form outside somewhat defeated the object of venturing to escape the cold. But we did make it into the Cafe Museum and, our favourite of all, the Cafe Eiles.

Enjoying the Eiles

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With its eclectic mix of clientele, from the students of the local university to the lawyers and civil servants of the government buildings nearby, we immediately felt completely at home in the Eiles (having personal experience of both sides of the client mix). Its little curved sofa-booths, old fashioned brass lamps and a cream and brown interior felt perfectly traditional, and after several visits we soon got to know that it was the very best place to sample the famous Wein schnitzel, and a range of cakes to match.Best of all, with the accompanying mood of permitted languor, it felt like the best place in which to rest after the mass of museums on offer in the city, to people watch, to warm up, and of course enjoy the coffee.

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Photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Soller lemon posset with gold-covered raspberries and a ginger crunch

It’s been a long time since I shared a recipe on The Daily Norm, but the recent occasion of a dinner party with special friends Alejandro and Maria in our new Mallorquin home meant that it was time to take out my pots, pans and finest dinnerware and to show my Spanish friends what the English do best. And with that in mind, and after a locally-inspired starter of Mallorcan tumbet on puff pastry, and a main of pistachio-stuffed chicken with caramelised oranges, I decided to give the final course an English twist, with a theme characterised by the delicacy of afternoon tea, all brought together in a bone china tea cup.

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The dessert was a lemon posset, certainly an English favourite, although given the Mallorquin twist thanks to the abundance of citrus fruit grown on the island (I used lemons from the lush mountain valleys of Soller).  It’s awfully simple to make – in a small saucepan you simply bring 300ml double cream and 75g of caster sugar slowly to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, and allowing the cream to bubble for 3 minutes, while stirring, once it has come to the boil. This mix should then be removed from the heat, and the juice of 1-2 lemons added (adapted to your taste – sweet and tangy is best) while continuing to stir. At this point the mix should thicken slightly and can be poured into containers of your choice and refrigerated over night.

I gave this indulgent creamy dessert a much needed crunch with some crushed spiced ginger biscuits, and topped this with a few golden covered raspberries. Refined English elegance for a sultry Spanish summer’s evening.

Miro’s Chocolateria: the C’an Joan de S’Aigo

If it was good enough for Joan Miro, then it is certainly good enough for me… For the C’an Joan de S’Aigo is a café with a venerable history and a list of clientele past and present so long that it can probably count all of Mallorca’s most famous residents among its number, including the great artist Miro himself. Nestled within the maze of nostalgic alleyways which make up the oldest core of Palma’s centre, the C’an Joan de S’Aigo was founded in 1700 and as such is Palma’s oldest eatery. Founded when the cafe’s namesake had the idea of bringing down ice from the Tramuntana mountains and serving it richly flavoured in the earliest form of ice cream, the C’an Joan de S’Aigo is today equally famous for its rich pickings of local pastries and steaming hot chocolate.

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Despite the age of this quaint faded café, the locals of Palma have never allowed it to go out of fashion: When we sampled the café after our dip in the sea last weekend, it came after several failed attempts to visit previously – for each time we have been along, the place has heaved with locals who head to the café at the traditional merienda hour to sample ice cream piled high from small glasses and creamy indulgent hot chocolate. But it was worth the wait. Sat amongst the traditional interiors packed with blue and white ceramics, colourful glass chandeliers, copper kettles, filigree vases and wooden thrones, we feasted greedily on a sampling of the cafe’s local pastries, all of which tasted all the better when coated with a velvety layer of that legendary hot chocolate.

For Dominik, a sweet bun made, surprisingly, of potatoes (coca de patata) was a light and fluffy counter to the liquid silk of chocolate steaming in a cup before him. For me, a richer, creamier ensaïmada – the local specialist pastry which you can find all over town and which tourists buy in their plenty in what resemble giant hat boxes. Made in Mallorca even before the C’an Joan de S’Aigo was founded, the ensaïmada is made from dough which has been repeatedly folded with pork fat – much like puff pastry – and then either served sprinkled with sugar, or filled with other such goodies. And my filling of cold custard oozed and melted as it dipped into the hot chocolate with as much unctuous delight as melted butter on a warm crumpet. 

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Thoroughly disgusted by our self-indulgence, but rather rewarded by our dip into local culture, we swiftly decided that a visit to C’an Joan de S’Aigo must become a weekly tradition. How else can one become integrated into Mallorquin society?

The C’an Joan de S’Aigo café can be found hidden away just off from the church of Santa Eulalia on the Carrer Can Sanc 10. It’s open daily 8am-9pm except Tuesdays.

Tahini Marbella: Dedication to the Sea

As the name of the town suggests, the sea is the heart and soul around which the whole of Marbella is Southern Spain revolves. Its calm cerulean waters sensuously stroke and steadily sculpt the length of long sandy beaches which attract thousands of visitors to the town every year; its sparkling steady waves reflect lovingly on the gleaming white sides of the super-chic yachts which habitually pack Marbella’s various marinas; and it provides the wealth of super-fresh, mouth wateringly delicious seafood which is at the apex of Marbella’s breadth of superb gastronomic offerings.

And of course few would disagree that the best way to sample that seafood is barely cooked and fresh out of the waters, served simply and elegantly so that its full flavours and textures can shine through. Consequently, it would be hard to find a cuisine better able to capitalise upon this fresh Mediterranean cuisine than sushi, but until now, few restaurants in Marbella have managed to create sushi which offers a fitting tribute to the wealth and quality of Marbella’s seafood offerings. Until now.

Marbella Tahini

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Following hot on the heals of the unrivalled success of Grupo Cappuccino’s first Marbella Cappuccino Grand Cafe in 2011, set within the lush surroundings of pine tree covered gardens at the foot of the Gran Melia Don Pepe hotel, the group have now opened their first Tahini restaurant, a mere stone’s throw from Cappuccino, in the same Eden of pine trees, palms and unbeatable Mediterranean views. Situated just above Cappuccino, Tahini is the younger sister of the sensational Mallorca restaurant of the same name. Nestled just off the harbour side of the fashionable Puerto Portals, the Mallorca Tahini is like a secret garden paradise. My first visit there in May 2013 opened my eyes so wide as I took in the magical wonder of its low lit restaurant and picture-perfect candlelit garden, and tantalised my mouth so thoroughly with the exquisite freshness of its cuisine, that it has remained utterly unrivalled by all subsequent sushi experiences both in Spain and around the world.

The interior

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But happily, Tahini’s success is now being replicated a second time, with the same stunning quality of sushi being offered to diners in Marbella in so spectacular a setting that each of their senses will be tickled and enticed with equal measure. Outside on the terrace, polished minimalist tables reflect the abundance of palm trees which hang proudly over the marble-lined paseo maritimo just outside the restaurant, while every seat provides that perfect sea view overlooking the Straights of Gibraltar to Africa. Inside the restaurant, a cosy elegance suffuses the atmosphere, as diners eat alongside walls loaded with Mediterranean pottery of every shape and size, while a glass cube at the heart of the restaurant offers an unrivalled view of the Tahini chefs, plying their trade and ensuring that every detail of this note-perfect menu is taken care of. And don’t miss the corridor out to the toilets at the back of the restaurant: lined with crates and boxes filled with what looks like ice and every variety of fresh fish, it is in fact a clever recreation of a market scene, with glass ice and ceramic fish, emphasising that only the best and freshest of ingredients will be used by the chefs at Tahini. And was it my imagination or could I hear the bustle of a market subtly sounding in the background as I walked through this make-believe fish market?

The Tahini “market”

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But beyond this incredible setting, Tahini’s success comes down to that food – cuisine which is not only apt dedication to the sea from where it came, but a brilliantly sophisticated take on the sushi concept, with fish so fresh that it melts on the tongue, and food so beautifully presented that, like me, you will probably spend more time taking photographs than enjoying the flavours as they dissolve so lovingly into every corner of your mouth.

A true dedication to the sea

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Tahini’s new family member more than lives up to the standards set down by its Mallorca sister, and is a glittering new jewel standing proudly in Marbella’s ample gastronomic crown. For more information, see the Tahini website.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Es Baluard: A fine way to enjoy lunch

While Northern Europe starts to edge ever so slowly towards the onset of Autumn, with leaves starting to litter the streets, and the mornings and evenings already getting darker, down in the fine sheltered waters of the Mediterranean, it’s still very much the height of summer, and in fact for some places, the temperatures in September are even exceeding what was enjoyed in July and August. Mallorca, prime island of the Balearics, is chief amongst those places enjoying an extended summer, and when I ventured out there only a week ago, the temperatures were roasting. They were so hot in fact that our many plans to stroll around the thriving Metropolis of the island’s capital, Palma, and its wide expansive port were quickly ditched in favour of the cooler options. And as cool goes, it doesn’t get much better than Es Baluard.

Es Baluard is in fact a superb contemporary art museum set within the Sant Pere bastion, part of the Renaissance wall that surrounded the city of Palma until the beginning of the 20th Century. Perhaps because of its outer stone casing, or perhaps because of the chic concrete and glass renovation masterfully fitted within these old ramparts ten years ago, Es Baluard is certainly a chillier hangout, with comfortable inside temperatures which leave you decisively less flustered, leaving you with energy to browse the excellent permanent collection which includes only the Spanish greats, such as Miro and Picasso. 

Es Baluard and its surroundings

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But when the sun is hot, but you still want to benefit from the ultimate in views of Palma’s extensive waterfront, from Bellver Castle across to the city’s magnificent cathedral, you need to head to the super chic café-restaurant attached to the Southern-most wall of the Es Baluard complex. With a broad terrace criss-crossed with shade from a line of well-appointed shade sales, you can choose to lounge out adjacent to those winning views in comfy basket chairs, a cocktail or a cup of tea in hand. Meanwhile, next in line, a cluster of simple wooden dining tables mark the more formal dining spot, with perfectly polished wine glasses glinting in the sun, and contemporary white seating reflecting the style and period of art residing in the building next door. Finally behind these tables, there’s a separate dining area, all encased in a glass cube containing further tables and a little sofa runner packed with cushions showcasing the best in handmade Mallorcan fabrics.

Es Baluard’s well-appointed terrace restaurant

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It’s not my intention in this photo essay to talk to you about the food, but rather the extol the virtues of the location and design of this great Mallorcan eatery. However, rest assured that the food is every bit as good as the restaurant’s design, and their trendy lounge soundtrack a perfect accompaniment as you chill besides the seaside. Thinking that I have now extolled those virtues enough, I think it’s time to sign off and let you enjoy the photos. Until next time.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.