The freebie gamba croquettes were worth a 10. | Andrew Valente

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In the old days many restaurants started the meal off with a little freebie that was part of the cuisine for which they were famous. Memorable freebies have included a batter-fried langostino, slivers of parmesan cheese or slices of hot-from-the-oven foccaccia drizzled with virgen extra olive oil.

But nowadays restaurant owners are cutting corners all along the street and the genuine freebie is a thing of the past — except at the high end of the market where prices are so sky-high you are getting charged for the freebie, anyway. But even their freebies are never little morsels that are worth a 10.

The excellent salt cod was also worth a 10
The excellent salt cod was also worth a 10.

That is not the case at Toque where owner Claude Monti has always served a little tit-bit that was a true freebie and more than memorable.

But on Tuesday of this week Claude went over the top and sent out a freebie that was a sheer delight and so very special it was worth a 10. I have never had a freebie that got the top rating.
This epicurean morsel was a gamba croquette made in an unusual way. Claude also had a gambas carpaccio on that day’s à la carte menu and with the heads and shells of these gambas, plus those from the gambas for the croquettes, Claude had made a rather rich concentrated bisque.
That was the basis of these croquettes, with the addition of milk to cut the highly concentrated shellfish taste, plus the addition of the triturated gambas, veggies and a roux made with flour, butter and the bisque.

The lovely country style pâté
The lovely country style pâté.

The result was a very smooth and extremely soft croquette paste that was somehow formed into croquettes, breadcrumbed and deep-fried to 10-rated perfection.

I always eat croquettes with my fingers (even epicurean ones like this) and as I took a small bite out of the crunchy breadcrumb coating, the shellfish aromas that went wafting up my nostrils were quite ambrosial.

The carrillera on a bed of parsnip purée
The carrillera on a bed of parsnip purée.

The technical tour de force of this dish was the ultra smooth and highly flavoured croquette paste. You need a great deal of experience to even think of trying to make croquettes with such a delicate paste.
You must also have the true cook's feeling of his debt towards his customers: he must always be willing to go out of his way to make a meal a memorable one from start to finish — from the freebie to the dessert. That's what Claude Monti does. And he does it very well.

It has been at least five years since my last visit to Toque and I noticed some marvellous changes: more than ever it is a classy elegant restaurant with excellent furnishings. The plain but well designed tables look expensive and they are — they are also well separated, which is always the case in the best dining rooms.

The banana mousse with crunchy Oreo and caramelised peanut sauce
The banana mousse with crunchy Oreo and caramelised peanut sauce.

When I went along to Toque on Tuesday I wasn’t aware that it was their 15th anniversary a few weeks ago. Fifteen years in the restaurant trade is a long time: it’s a statistical fact that 50 per cent of New York City’s new eateries don’t get to celebrate their first anniversary. So top marks to Claude and his team of four in the kitchen and those out front.

Claude was undecided on whether to celebrate the 15th birthday with a party or to put the money into more dining room improvements. I’m glad he decided on more improvements which will be finished this summer. I’m very fond of well designed restaurants…as well as freebie morsels that are worth a 10-rating.

FOOD

Toque’s Belgian dishes are worth trying as are their mussels, usually from Holland, although the French bouchot variety is used during the summer.

PRICE

We had two €17 menús del día, which came to €34 and a café espresso at €1.70, so the total cost was €35.70 with VAT.

THE VERDICT

Whether you are eating à la carte or the €17 menú del día, Toque is one of the island’s best buys: it is superb value for money. As far as I know, it is not mentioned in the Spanish version of the Michelin guide, which is an absolute disgrace: Toque deserves a Michelin star much more than a couple of places which have one.The Michelin guide is not much of a bible of good restaurant eating if it excludes Toque. But that doesn’t really matter: we can still eat there and have meals as memorable as any of the starred restaurants. I’d be very surprised if there’s a restaurant anywhere on the island that is doing gamba croquettes as memorable as Toque’s. Their magnificent 10-rated salt cod is also among the best I know of. The country-style pâté brought back memories of delightful holidays in France. The whole meal, in fact, was very much like those I remember in Paris, Lyon and other French cities of fine eating.

THE PLACE

Restaurante Toque, Calle Federico García Lorca 6, Palma. Tel:971-287068. Closed on Sundays and Mondays. The €17 menú del día changes weekly and is served only for lunch. Dinner is à la carte. The menú del día includes starter, mains and dessert, with water and bread, plus a glass of wine, a caña or a soft drink. Toque is usually very busy on any day of the week so it is always best to reserve a table, especially if you want to eat outside.