In the old days, one of my favourite restaurants was Le Bistrot in Calle Caro. It was more than just a restaurant: it was a little French enclave in the centre of Palma, the most Parisian eaterie the city has ever had.
As you walked through the door you immediately felt you were at the Latin Quarter’s Chez Georges or La Grille in Les Halles, two of the most typical bistros in Paris. The dishes at Le Bistrot were classic French, there were French newspapers hanging up on wooden frames, in the semi-open kitchen you could see a fine array of French copper pots and frying-pans hanging from metal rails, the woman who ran it was straight out of a Toulouse-Lautrec poster of La Golue and half of the customers were French. At just about every table occupied by French people two of them ordered ‘bifteck frites’ — the Parisian bistro classic of a beefsteak and fries. It was a thick steak and a lovely mound of fries — and nothing else.
Although I have eaten ‘bifteck frites’ in Paris when I was younger, in those days I never ordered steak at restaurants: I bought entrecôtes (never fillets) at a good butcher and did them at home. But I eventually realised restaurant steaks are extra special because they are done on hot-plates at very high temperatures. That ensures a beautifully seared exterior with a deliciously pink inside. Since then I have had no qualms about ordering steaks in restaurants. Last week I had a sudden yen for a ‘bifteck frites’ but it had to be in the centre of Palma. And it had to be the classic Parisian version: no bits of lettuce or any of the bitter salad greens such as rocket or lamb’s lettuce. And most certainly no cherry tomatoes, much as I adore them. Before leaving the office last Saturday I took a mental trip round Palma trying to spot the place where I could get an authentic ‘bifteck frites’. I quickly saw I would be well served at Block House, the best place in the centre of Palma for top quality grilled meat. Their steaks usually come with bits and bobs on the side but the waitress immediately understood what I was looking for — and I got my unadorned ‘bifteck frites’. It was a rib-eye Mastercut that was very thick, as all good steaks should be, and very nicely done: a crust of dried-out juices and with a moist pink interior, and ‘frites’ that were crisp and oil-free. For about 20 minutes I was back in the Latin Quarter even although the view from the window was the Paseo Mallorca.
Block House was a huge hit in Palma from day one and it is never less than extremely busy — for lunch and dinner. It’s the only place in Palma I know of that does grilled lamb as pink as the French like it — that is, very underdone. The ‘bifteck frites’ (although Block House doesn’t give it that name) was as memorable a dish as I expected: absolutely bursting with taste because of the caramelised juices on the outside and with a pink hue that indicated it would be perfectly moist. The ‘frites’ were totally oil-free and they supply a heavy French-style knife with a well honed edge.
Block House, Paseo Mallorca 16, Palma. Tel:971-434170. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Block House can easily fill up, so book if you want to eat outside or near one of the windows.
I’ve had bills that came to less than today’s ‘bifteck frites’ but seldom have I had such a spartan one-dish meal — if you can use spartan to describe the rib-eye Mastercut with a mound of fries. The steak was priced at €25 and it was worth it, partly because it sent me on a nice trip down memory lane. The caña cost €3.70, somewhat high even for an up-market place like Block House.
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