Our evening at Bala Roja restaurant at Es Princep Hotel in Palma didn’t start too well. We arrived in time for a pre-prandial in the hotel’s smart Gremium cocktail bar (which has a separate entrance from the street, so you don’t have to walk through the hotel itself). It was then that I found that I’d forgotten to bring my essential reading glasses. How was I going to be able to read the menu and, more importantly, write notes about what we were eating? My handwriting is bad enough with reading glasses…
The Boss read the drinks menu to me and gamely offered to write my dictated notes over dinner. We both chose non-alcoholic cocktails. I believe that the test of a good barman or mixologist is their ability to create an alcohol-free cocktail that has great flavour and interest. I chose Red Love (again, I’d had it before): it was red and I loved it. A tick in the box for Gremium.
What’s in a name?
Bala Roja restaurant takes its name from a time in Mallorca’s history when visitors arriving by sea didn’t come in mega cruise ships or luxurious yachts. Furnace-heated iron cannonballs were fired from the Baluard del Princep (the part of Palma’s old city wall in front of the hotel) towards invading wooden warships, to set them alight. Even if the flaming balls – balas rojas – were off target, they would have been quite the deterrent.
A warm – rather than fiery – welcome awaits today from Bala Roja’s efficient restaurant manager David. I last saw him working at the excellent-value Sa Fábrica in Inca. I was even more pleased to see him when he pulled a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat: on hearing about my reading-glasses predicament, he disappeared and returned minutes later clutching two pairs of the type of reading specs sold at pharmacies – one of which was perfect for me. I could read the menu and write my own notes! The Boss looked relieved. I’m sure I wasn’t the first – and won’t be the last – to forget their specs.
Bala Roja’s connections to the past don’t stop at the restaurant’s name. Part of the floor is glass – revealing a discovery from Palma’s medieval period, made during Es Princep Hotel’s construction. This district of Palma’s old town was once the home of the local tanners’ guild and, under the toughened-glass areas of the restaurant floor, you see some of the old stone vats – used in the processing of leather hides. A talking point, for sure. If you prefer a solid stone floor beneath your feet (and table), then be sure to mention this if you book a table here.
My recommendation is that you steel yourself for the glass floor and turn left once you’ve entered the restaurant. If there’s a choice of tables, this is the more intimate end. Here, the richly hued wooden ceiling is lower, and stunning black-and-white food images – by award-winning photographic artist Nando Esteva – grace the white-painted walls. The best bit about a table at this end of Bala Roja though is being near the area where some of the appetizer preparation and plating is done. Once you’re seated, you’ll forget that the floor beneath you is glass and be too busy looking at each dish as it arrives, or watching a professional at work.
Living up to its name’s strapline, ‘Gourmet Artistry’, Bala Roja is a relative newcomer to Palma’s gastro scene, having opened only in May this year. We sat down at 20:30h and the restaurant quickly filled (apart from one table). My impression was that several of the diners were locals. New seasonal menus had just replaced the opening ones and we were fortunate to be trying the new dishes.
The chef leading the brigade is Felipe Moreno, but the culinary concept here is by the renowned Andreu Genestra. His eponymous restaurant in Capdepera has one Michelin star; he also has the bistro Senzill (in the same Capdepera premises) and, in Palma, Aromata restaurant.
Bala Roja offers two tasting menus: Menu Es Princep (56€) and the longer Menu Bala Roja at 74€. We opted for the smaller menu (but shall try the longer one on our next visit. Oh yes, reader, there will be future visits). I’ve included photos of just two of the dishes we had; if I included them all there’d be no surprises for you if you go!
Our dinner began with three small appetizers: gilda with pickled cauliflower and monkfish liver; mini cornet of foie ice cream on top of rhubarb, and a tiny-but-tasty king crab sandwich. This was followed by a cocktail (drink) concocted at the table: spinach, lemon, and grape juices, with a shiso leaf and two drops of curry-infused extra virgin olive oil. It tasted healthy and freshened the palate.
The next dish was another (larger) tasty appetizer of green-tomato gazpacho with Mallorcan burrata. Poached-pepper rice with red shrimp followed and we agreed that we would have enjoyed a large plateful of this, although some people may prefer shrimp cooked a few seconds longer.
Perfectly cooked succulent John Dory was next, which came with a delicious saffron hummus. Our final savoury course was black pork presa (shoulder-muscle meat) with raw-almond cream.
Our only tiny gripe was the bread: they served us a quarter of a llonguet (the traditional Mallorcan coffee-bean-shaped bread roll), with further quarters subsequently offered. The thick-crusts of these rolls made them quite difficult to eat and they definitely needed the olive oil from Caimari to help the process. They’re more usually served as bocadillos (filled rolls) in bars and cafes, and personally I prefer them in this way. Andreu Genestra was in the restaurant so I asked him why he’d chosen this type of bread. He said that he wanted to use a local bread and – in Palma – the llonguet is king. I remembered then that true locals are affectionately dubbed ‘llonguets‘.
As well as the type of wine list that The Boss likes to peruse – making appreciative noises as he reads – Bala Roja offers an optional wine pairing for each tasting menu (Es Princep, 30€; Menu Bala Roja 40€).
We took the option and were in the hands of sommelier Josep. He is charming (and very easy on the eye too!), but his wine knowledge and choices were what most impressed us. My memorable pairing was with the dessert: Mallorcan Bodega Ribas Sioneta rosé (Manto Negro and Moscatel) could have been made for the apricot cake, white chocolate, and almond. I thought it was a blissful note on which to end – but there were still petits fours to come!
The wine list includes ecological and biodynamic wines predominantly from Mallorca and the Spanish peninsula, but with some examples from France, Italy, Germany, and even one from Greece. Look out for the Genestral label: these delicious and well-priced wines are made for Andreu Genestra by Felanitx winemaker Luis Armero and Joan Arboix, the sommelier of the Michelin-starred Andreu Genestra restaurant.
Es Princep Hotel has five stars, so professional service is expected – and was delivered. We noted servers wearing white gloves to delivery the cutlery for each course, which is seen in few restaurants in Mallorca. The whole experience – food, wines, setting, and service – added up to an evening out that we’ll remember. We can’t wait to take our Oxford foodie friends to this one…
OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE:
Bala Roja has also introduced a lunchtime executive menu. Opening hours are now:
Bala Roja was my Restaurant of the Week from August 13th-18th on Mallorca Sunshine Radio 106.1FM. Restaurants do not pay to be featured; I choose the restaurants myself, based on good experiences of recent visits.
©Jan Edwards 2018