Pork cheeks.


Some years ago a young head cook at a reputable Palma restaurant admitted to me that the extremely good pork cheeks he served were bought in ready-cooked and in vacuum packs — but he put the finishing touches by adding a delicious port-based sauce.

Soon after that I started to come across other pork cheeks of a similar kind — very nice but from some industrial estate and ready for serving. That was when I stopped ordering pork cheeks…until last week when it was one of the mains on the Hotel Naisa €15 menú del día.

As soon as the dish was on the table I could see this was going to be a very special version of pork cheeks. What made this one totally different from any other I have seen is that it came on the bone.

Yes, the cheek meat was cooked on part of the jawbone. I have never come across a pork cheek like that, even at the butcher’s. As I took a couple of pictures I was smiling contentedly to myself because I could see a nice piece of the bone sticking out from under the meat. The main part of the cheek was on the upper side and underneath the bone there was a thin layer of meat.

Pork cheeks, when cooked slowly and for the correct length of time, are always beautifully tender and tasty. But never has one been as succulent as this. And that wasn’t surprising — the piece of jawbone made an enormous contribution to the success of this dish.

That adage about the ‘nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat’ isn’t some old wife’s tale: it is scientifically correct. Bones have lots of taste and when meat is cooked with the bone in place it absorbs some of that flavour — therefore the meat nearest to the bone is the tastiest. There’s another advantage involved: the bone also absorbs heat and passes it on to the meat, a lovely steady heat that slowly breaks down the tough tissues of the cheeks.

On my way to the office next day I stopped off at the hotel to have a quick word with the cook. He does the cheeks in a large saucepan wide enough to take a dozen in a single layer — so they can cook at a nice even pace.

I also learned the cheeks will be on the menu during the week August 24-29. Give them a call on the 24th to make sure there hasn’t been a change in the schedule, then book a table — and the pork cheeks. This is one dish you don’t want to miss. And then there are the desserts — see report next door.

The verdict

It’s always most satisfying when you come across a 10-rated dish — and all the more so when it is part of a €15 menú del día. That’s when you’re getting really great value or money. The dish of pork cheeks worked on all levels. Seeing it on the bone was a surprise — and a pleasant one because you know it’s going to be tastier than usual. But that in itself is not enough: the kitchen still has to get its cooking times spot on. The slow cooking was perfect and the pork cheek’s collagen was very much in place, so it cut beautifully. This pork cheek gets a 10-rating for sheer succulence and there’s a gold medal for the person who decided to cook them on the bone. I think the dish as a whole would be even better if served with creamy mashed potatoes or a mound of french fries. But even so, I’ll be returning on the week of August 24 for another portion.

The place

Restaurante Naisa, Calle Simó Ballester 6, Palma (next to the National Police headquarters). Tel:971-211746. The €15 menú del día is served from Monday to Saturday and changes every week. This restaurant is very popular and you should always book a table — preferably a couple of days in advance.

The bill

The €15 price includes starter (we had pasta salad with feta and a beef carpaccio, mains (grilled salmon and pork cheeks) plus dessert (pudding and a chocolate coulant) and two cañas. We had no extras, so the total cost was €30 with VAT. Great value or money.

Delicious desserts

Ost of the menús del día I have tried at restaurants in Palma have been superb value for money — it has to be like that because there’s an awful lot of restaurants in town and most of them want a slice of the menú del día cake five times a week.

But it has to work both ways — the meal that’s a bargain for the diners must also produce a profit margin that balances out the books at the end of the month. Sometimes the deal the diners are getting is so good I wonder how the restaurant can possibly be making a decent profit.

Some of them try to cut overheads by doing starters that don’t cost a great deal and are simple to make and serve. Others cut down on the cost of desserts and hope that will make a bit of profit at the end of the month.

But others don’t cut any corners, either at the start of the meal or at the end, and at these places diners are getting true bargains.

I know of three restaurants where the desserts are so splendid they are of à la carte standard both in quality and quantity. Two of them are the Peruvian Munay (Tel:677-321718) with a €15 menu and La Bodeguita del Centro (Tel:971-495259) where the menu costs €15.90.

The third one is Naisa where they go to a great deal of trouble to produce a dessert that brings the meal to a truly triumphant finale. You can see it all in the picture of their chocolate coulant.

The coulant comes with two sliced strawberries, two wedges of kiwi, slivers of nuts, a blob of whipped cream and a long drizzle of caramel sauce. And see that thin slice of lemon? It was as crunchy as a potato crisp. Such care and attention to detail are rare in the dessert of a €15 menú del día.

I can easily pass on puddings but most diners want a memorable sweet ending to a meal. I’m sure they appreciate Naisa’s desserts.