The paella was delish and worth a 10. | Andrew Valente

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When I wrote about Can Nofre at the beginning of the month, I mentioned it was one of the Seven Magnificents — a name I gave to Palma’s seven best restaurants of the 60s and early 70s.

My favourite of those seven was a place called Café Balear, in Calle Nuredduna just off the Avenidas, on what is now the site of the Banca March head office.

The lomo with fried potatoes
The lomo with fried potatoes.

One of the nice things about Café Balear was that the waiters took good care of the regulars — and as I ate there for lunch every Monday (and at other times, as well) I was very much a well known face.
Then, as now, paella was a popular dish on the menú del día — and then, as now, it was a plate of paella taken from a huge one specially prepared for a large group.

If you ordered the paella soon after it came off the cooker at Café Balear, you received a very nice portion that was piping hot, moist and tasty. But on the last few servings the rice had cooled down and was on its way to being somewhat overcooked.

The floured and deep-fried polidos were also a 10
The floured and deep-fried polidos were also a 10.

When Café Balear regulars asked for a menú del día paella it arrived immediately if the paella was a fresh one. But if it had been off the cooker for some time the waiter suggested waiting for five minutes because a new one was coming up.

So we always waited. Sometimes it wasn’t for five minutes…or even 10…and was more like 15. But it didn’t matter. We knew we were going to be eating freshly made paella and that meant paella at its best.

The white beans with clams and potatoes
The white beans with clams and potatoes.

Sometimes I go to the review restaurant with a friend who picks me up at the office at around 2pm, so we make a booking for 2.30. That’s what we did for our visit to Es Muntant and when we were giving our order it was almost 3pm.

Paella was one of the starter options and I went for it, knowing that at 3pm it would be well past its best but would almost certainly still be nicely edible. As soon as the rice was on the table I knew just by looking at it that I had hit the jackpot: this plate of rice had come from a paella pan that had just been taken off the cooker.

The homemade cheesecake
The homemade cheesecake.

This was a more ambitious paella than those usually served as a menú del día starter. It had a piece of crab, two large mussels, clams, a lovely piece of well browned chicken leg plus other smaller pieces of chicken, and the usual paella veggies.

But this was 3pm and we were about to dip into a menú del día paella that had just come off the cooker. That was quite amazing and something I have never come across before.

The rice was tongue-burning hot, it was beautifully al dente and it was scrummily juicy and bursting with taste. The pieces of chicken were also done à point ands so was the shellfish — so often both are cooked to the nth degree.

The paella was delish and worth a 10
The paella was delish and worth a 10.

This was a 10-out-of-10 paella and that doesn’t happen very often when it is part of a menú del día.
When the waiter came to clear the starter dishes, I mentioned the paella was a huge success and that I was lucky in getting one that had just come off the cooker so late in the day.

But he explained it wasn’t a question of luck. Instead of doing a gigantic paella, as most places do, they make several smaller ones during the lunch service. That means there is always a smaller paella on the cooker right up until the last one at 3pm.

This menú del día paella was even better than those at the old Café Balear. And that’s saying something.

Food

Es Muntant is one of the places to go for genuine Mallorcan and Spanish cooking at good prices.

Price

The menú del día costs €13.50, so for two of us that came to €27. But we also had a half litre bottle of lemonade (gaseosa) so the total cost was €29 with VAT. The price includes a bottle of wine (red in our case) and a bottle of still water.

Verdict

Es Muntant is one of the many fine restaurants scattered all over the island where you can be sure of getting good Mallorcan-Spanish cooking at most reasonable prices. The setting is a Mallorcan country house with a terrace for outdoor eating and an interior dining room. It sounds huge, but it’s not, so be sure to reserve a table. My menú del día paella, which had just come off the cooker before being served at 3pm, was as good (and even better) than many of the à la carte paellas served at other Palma restaurants. It had nicely cooked pieces of chicken, clams, a piece of crab, two mussels and the usual paella veggies. The rice was tongue-burning hot, al dente, slightly moist and bursting with the traditional paella taste. No wonder I awarded it an immediate 10. There was another 10 for a dish of polidos, a small Mallorcan fish of the whiting family that is floured and deep-fried. You can eat polidos with a knife and fork, but Mediterraneans prefer to pick them up with the fingers and nibble off the very white flesh. A dish of white beans with potatoes and clams was also most successful.

Place

Restaurante Es Muntant, Carretera de Esporles 233, Establiments. Tel:971-768535. This place has been under the same family ownership for 35 years so they have a long list of well satisfied customers — and that means they usually play to full houses on any day of the week. You should always reserve a table.