The picaña steak was juicy and tender. | Andrew Valente

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It’s amazing the number of insignificant details that remain in the back of our mind even although they were of no real importance at the time. When I was 13 (which was a long time ago) a friend of my brother’s had a piece of advice that was of no real use when he mentioned it.

He was head of patents in London for Unilever, a global company that is still a household name. He told me the main job of a good boss was to make himself totally dispensable. He had to set up his department so that it ran on well-oiled wheels even when he wasn’t there. I thought of him last week when I went to Sa Goleta for their €13.20 menú del día.

As Sa Goleta (the word means schooner) is one of Palma’s busiest restaurants, I phoned at 9.15am to reserve a table. One of the owners, Leo or Josefina, usually picks up the phone, but that morning I got the answering machine. As I don’t like talking to machines I rang back later and a waitress took the call.

I was slightly surprised that neither Leo nor Josefina had answered the phone earlier, but it was nothing to worry about. When I was sitting in the restaurant at 3.15pm and looking at the menu, I suddenly realised that Leo, who is in charge of the dining room, wasn’t there. I asked a waitress about him and she replied that he was on holiday. And Josefina? She was also on holiday. All kinds of alarm bells started to ring. Josefina is Sa Goleta. Sa Goleta is Josefina. She’s in the kitchen on her own. She doesn’t have a deputy. The kitchen is not set up so that it will run on well-oiled wheels when she’s not there.

I thought it wouldn’t be fair to judge Sa Goleta when its captain wasn’t on the bridge and keeping the ship on course. That day I was eating with Marcos Madrigal, the head butcher at the supermarket of El Corte Inglés in Jaime III. When he arrived I explained the situation and wondered if we should eat elsewhere. But we eventually decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to eat at Sa Goleta to see how it worked when the bosses were away on holiday — in Mexico, no less, not along the street in Can Pastilla.

Marcos started with a cream of broccoli and courgette soup that was very much to his liking. The broccoli added flavour to the soup and the courgettes gave it texture. There was even more taste and texture in the form of little croutons.

Marcos had a picaña steak for his main course, a Brazilian cut that started to become popular in Spain about eight years ago, although this cut is also sold here but under the name of tapilla.

Marcos gave me a quick rundown on what the picaña is and which part of the cow it comes from. It is a huge muscle on the upper part of the leg that is broad at the top, tapering down to a point.

It’s the kind of cut that can be sliced into broad thin steaks, or cut into thick strips.
His was a thinnish steak with a rim of fat that kept it nicely moist, and he asked for it to be underdone. I tasted a small piece and it was beautifully tender and full of flavour.
Sa Goleta usually has six or seven desserts on offer and two or three are always homemade, the others being bought in but from reliable sources. Marcos had a classic homemade flan that was as splendid as it looks.

The classic homemade flan.

Deep-fried fish was worth a 10

Josefina Pérez is the sole cook (as well as soul cook) at Sa Goleta and because she was on holiday with husband Leo there was a big question mark over how the usually superb menú del día would be without her in the kitchen.

The fillet of gallo was worth a 10.The fillet of gallo was worth a 10. Photos: Andrew Valente

I was especially doubtful about a deep-fried fish fillet that was one of the main course choices. Most professionals are inclined to overcook fish because that’s how the vast majority of customers prefer it. That’s why when ordering fish I always ask the waiter to ask the cook if my order (for any kind of fish) could please be undercooked rather than overdone.

The young Uruguayan cook called Giovanni who was standing in for Josefina got the message, understood what I meant, and produced a beautifully deep-fried piece of fish.
The high temperature of the oil caused the skin on the underside of the fillet to buckle up and that produced a nice twisted-over look. But the main thing was that the flesh of the fish was moist and tasty which is exactly how I wanted it to be. And that was why I gave it a 10 rating.

I had started off with their meat and vegetables paella. This was another test for stand-in cook Giovanni because Josefina specialises in paellas and has about eight on the à la carte menu.

The meat and veg paella was a generous portion.The meat and veg paella was a generous portion.

The problem with menú del día paellas is that by the time the last couple of portions are served, the rice can be dry and overcooked. But that doesn’t happen at Sa Goleta because when paella is a menú del día choice it is so popular it gets used up before the rice has had time to become overcooked. That happened with Giovanni’s paella so the rice was still nicely al dente and the myriad of little pieces of pork had been previously fried until crisp on the outside and, therefore, bursting with taste.

My dessert was a delicious baked apple, a dish I seldom see on restaurant menus and one I always order when it’s available. I’ve never been able to understand why more restaurant cooks don’t do baked apples. Once they are in the oven they look after themselves — and they always turn out rather nice. It’s actually quite difficult to ruin a baked apple.

The baked apple was superb.The baked apple was superb.

This apple was baked with a red wine reduction that was seductively flavoured with cinnamon: a sprinkle of powder at the end, with strips of the stick used during the cooking time. A lovely end to any meal.

The verdict

I’ve been going to Sa Goleta since they first opened some 12 years ago and I have never known owners Leo and Josefina to go away on holiday and leave the restaurant in charge of others. But everything was perfectly under control with a Uruguayan cook called Giovanni in the kitchen and members of the family running the dining room. Leo and Josefina now know they can go on holiday more frequently and Sa Goleta will be in good hands. Their €13.20 menú del día is one of the best in Palma and no place I know of has a bigger choice of dishes: usually six or seven starters, mains and desserts. Josefina specialises in paella and there’s a choice of about a dozen. Her roast suckling pig, eaten soon after it comes out of the oven at 1pm, is the best I know of, but be sure to have it as soon as possible after 1.30pm. The roast suckling pig is available on the menú del día with a €4 supplement.

The place

Restaurante Sa Goleta, Avda Argentina 34, Palma, just before you get to the Sant Sebastià church, coming from the centre of Palma. Tel:971-450155. Closed on Mondays. This restaurant is one of the busiest in Palma and you should always book a table on any day of the week. They open only for lunch from 1pm.

The bill

We had no extras, so the €13.20 menú del día for two came to €26.40, a super price for such a good meal. A memorable main course choice is roast suckling pig which is at its best when ordered as soon as the restaurant opens at 1pm. If having the suckling pig on the menú del día there is a supplement of €4.