A bout two years ago one of the veritable shocks in Palma’s restaurant scene was that El Gallego, one of the island’s moist charismatic places, had closed down.
This Galician restaurant, which Juan Temprano opened in 1980, was one of Palma’s most successful eateries and it played to full houses every day of the week.
How could this family-run place possibly be closing? There was a very simple answer: head cook Mauricio Temprano was absolutely fatigued by the heavy workload such a busy place produces…El Gallego had died of an excess of success.
That was the bad news. The good news was that El Gallego hadn’t really died. Mauricio was looking for a small place he could run with someone to help in the kitchen and another person to attend a few tables.
Last month the new El Gallego opened: it’s a small bistro-like place with a short menu and several Galician specialities. It’s exactly what Mauricio wanted.
I went along last week intending to choose four of the most economical fish dishes — Galicia is famous for its seafood.
When I got there with a journalist friend, Juan was at the bar having a drink with some of the regulars. He retired some years ago but looks in to chat with old friends.
As I wanted two dishes for the main picture that would looked reasonably good together, I ordered raolas de jonquillo and rabas de calamar.
That word raolas is Mallorquín and dictionaries give it as croquette, but it is usually more of an oval-shaped fritter. At El Gallego they were like little tortillas filled with jonquillo, a tiny fish called transparent goby in English.
When cooked they are like minute elvers and they are superb. These were a splendid version of raolas de jonquillo and were worth a 10.
Rabas are short strips of thick squid that are floured and deep-fried. It sounds easy enough but as so often happens when members of the squid family are cooked, the texture can be a bit tough. These rabas were beautifully soft from start to finish.
We had decided to order mussels, sardines and possibly calamarines, but in the end there was no need to because Juan kept bringing over small tapa-like dishes for us to try…which included mussels, sardines and little squid called calamarines de cercol.
The sardines were Galician (which are much bigger than those in the Mediterranean) and were very fresh and full of flavour, but they had been fried for a speck too long and could have been juicier.
Calamarines de cercol are caught in nets which means the skins are damaged and have to be scraped off before sale. The best calamares have skins and are dearer.
Although calamarines de cercol have no skin, they taste just as good those with. Ours were perfectly done on a hot plate, were butter-soft tender and extremely tasty. That was another 10.
The mussels were steamed flawlessly in the water that was clinging to the shells. There wasn’t a drop of albariño wine in the saucepan, nor a leaf of parsley, nor a snippet of garlic — and that made for sheer perfection and another 10.
Superb Galician desserts
Galicia is a cornucopia of epicurean delights, of just about everything that is good to eat. Galicians have it all on their doorsteps and there’s very little they have to import.
So much of what is truly excellent about Spanish cooking comes from Galicia — it is a veritable gigantic Aladdin’s cave replete with gastronomic gems.
Galician food is so varied that a selection, no matter how vast, would still leave so much untried — at least until the next meal.
The sea off the Galician coast is teeming with fish and shellfish, from the humble sardine to the most expensive shellfish such as oysters and vieiras — the scallop, sometimes called the great scallop or pilgrim scallop.
Galicia also produces some of the best beef in Europe — ternera de rubia gallega and ternera gallega, both of which come from cattle that thrive on the lush pasturelands.
Another important part of Galician cuisine is the empanada, a pie which can have fillings of tenderloin of pork, gammon, sardines, tuna, eels, baby squid, scallops, clams, salt cod, cockles, mussels or other seafood.
Dessert empanadas are also a speciality. They can be made from cabello de ángel (a thick pumpkin jam), apples, oranges, figs, strawberries and other fresh fruits.
The dessert most associated with Galicia is the filloa, a pancake that can be served plain with a sprinkling of sugar or orange juice. They can also be stuffed with cream or drenched in honey.
Galicians love their pancakes so much that they include them at the start of the meal — as savoury first courses stuffed with shellfish, ham, fresh pork or vegetables.
At El Gallego we had two desserts that are also very much part of the area’s pastry scene: canutillos with a thinnish custard and the famous tarta de Santiago.
Canutillos are similar to the Italian cannoli — pastry tubes with a thick custard filling. The canutillos at El Gallego were narrow and very crisp tubes and with a thinnish custard.
The pastry tubes were incredibly crunchy and rich but the runny filling didn’t work — simply because it was too thin and ran out over one’s fingers.
The tarta de Santiago (St James the Greater, the patron saint of Galicia), is an almond tart made with eggs, almonds, sugar, lemon rind and powdered cinnamon.
The tart served at El Gallego is made on the premises and was easily the finest and most elegant version I have ever eaten. It received an immediate 10.
I have never eaten in a Galician restaurant in Majorca that was anything less than very good. Some of them, such as El Gallego, are absolutely excellent and shouldn’t be missed. Of the five dishes we tried, four were worth a 10. That is about the top-mark average this restaurant has scored since I started the review in 1992.
The menu is on the small side and they usually have another four or five dishes on the blackboard. Fish and shellfish dishes at El Gallego are always very fresh and they are simply cooked — which is how good fish should be done. Our little squid a la plancha, the mussels steamed in the water clinging to the shells and the little tortillas of transparent goby were sheer perfection and each was awarded a 10.
Galician cooks also do some very good desserts and pastries and there was another 10 for their famous tarta de Santiago that is done mainly with eggs, ground almonds and sugar.
Restaurante El Gallego, Calle Joaquin Botia 9, Palma. This street is opposite the main entrance of the Instituto in Vía Portugal. Tel: 971-312059. Closed on Mondays.
The dining room is small, they have an army of regulars and the place fills up easily. It’s best to make a reservation.
Raolas de jonquillo, 10.50€
Rabas de calamar, 10.50€
Tarta de Santiago, 4.50€
Caña de crema, 4€
One caña, 2€
Mineral water, 2€
Bread and alioli, 2€
Total cost with VAT: 35.50€