Local Flavor: where to eat and drink in Palma de Mallorca


I’ve watched Palma’s culinary star shoot high in recent years. Mallorca’s capital is quickly becoming one of the hottest cities in the Med for food. Raiding sea, mountains, meadows, farms and orchards, chefs are elevating stunningly fresh island produce to the extraordinary in dishes full of flair and creativity. 

Over the past 20 years, Palma has become a love affair on the plate. And eating here is incredibly chilled. You don’t have to book months in advance to score top tables, times are relaxed (Mallorcans typically dine late) and you’re often welcome to just rock up. Part of the beauty of Palma is wandering through its honey-stone streets, starting the day with coffee and pastries on a sunlit plaça, easing gently into a starlit evening with tapas and vermouth in a backstreet vermutería or kicking back with an aperitivo in an inner courtyard bar. No hassle. No rush. No pretense.

Theatrically positioned by the sea, Palma has always looked out across the water to the world beyond. And the world now comes to Palma’s kitchens. Astoundingly fresh sushi, ceviche with pisco sours, Brazilian barbecue, classic French – you’ll find the lot alongside Michelin-starred restaurants where chefs like Marc Fosh and Adrián Quetglas pride themselves on simplicity in dishes that big up Balearic flavors as clean and bright as the light that beats down on these streets.

Mama Carmen is a great breakfast and brunch spot by the Mercat de Santa Catalina © Mama Carmen

Breakfast 

Most Palma locals save their appetite for lunch and I’ll often take their lead, just grabbing a coffee and pastry. But my, my, what pastries! The Mallorcans excel on this front and pinning down the city’s best ensaïmada (a feather-light, beautifully flaky, snail-shaped pastry lightly dusted with icing sugar) can turn into a quest. I suggest keeping it traditional and heading to the likes of family-run, old-school Ca’n Joan de S’Aigo, which has been baking since 1700, or the Forn del Santo Cristo, where sublime ensaïmades come with silky fillings from marzipan to honey, white chocolate and dulce de leche.  

For something more substantial, nose around the produce-laden stalls at the Mercat de Santa Catalina before nipping into Mama Carmen’s for brunch. A bubble of artsy, back-in-time warmth, this cafe does smoothies, specialty coffees (try the pumpkin-spiced latte), granola bowls sprinkled with seasonal fruits, cacao nibs and edible flowers, impressive vegan eggs and artisan-baked bread with toppings like avocado, rocket and feta—all served with love on pretty vintage crockery.

 If I’m more in a NYC mood, I’ll make for Rosevelvet Bakery near La Rambla instead. They do fabulous coffee, moreish pistachio pastries and brunch specials like pulled pork brioche with pickled onion and coriander and wicked huevos rancheros (Mexican-style eggs).

 Finally, Swedes are doing wonderful things at sourdough bakery Fika Farina, headed up by Mattias Mårtensson and his partner Jimmy Groth. Come for coffee, fresh-pressed orange juice that tastes of pure sunshine and some of the best cinnamon buns, pains au chocolat and open sandwiches you’re likely to get anywhere.

L: Iced coffee R: A small queue of women outside Palma coffee shop
Nanø Coffee Lab is a much-loved coffee spot on Passeig des Born © Nano Coffee

Coffee

Palma’s coffee scene has exploded recently. Gone are the days when the only options were café con leche (coffee with milk) and cortado (espresso with a splash of milk). Now you can’t move for chat of third-waves and single-origin beans.

 In an untouristy part of town, La Molienda is one of my go-tos for a freshly roasted cup. With an eye on the ethical, sustainable sourcing of beans, this is hands-down some of Palma’s best coffee. When the sun’s out, this corner café’s terrace hums with locals sipping artistically presented cappuccinos and citrusy cold brews.

Bang in the center, just off Plaça Major, Arabay has been going strong since 1952 and is now an industro-cool cafe, roastery and barista academy. These days, it’s all organic and fair trade, and the smell of coffee hits you like a crisp left hook as you step inside. The baristas really know their stuff, whether you go for a frappé or French press.

Wander along tree-lined boulevard Passeig des Born, chuck a left down a quiet street, and you’ll come to Nanø Coffee Lab. This urban-cool, metro-tiled number takes its beans seriously. I love the happy hiss of the La Marzocco espresso machine, the cute window seat (space for max two) and what they rightly call ‘damn good coffee.’

L: White gazpacho dish R: Shrimp and fries
Britsh-Baleriac fusion cuisine at Market Kitchen © Jodi Hinds; R: Prawns and chips always hits the spot at Mola © Mola

Lunch 

Opposite the food market in the artsy Santa Catalina neighborhood, Mola hits the sweet spot with its breezy blue-and-white splashed interior and chilled atmosphere. On the menu: round-the-world sharing plates bigging up primary ingredients. The zingy Thai salad and perfectly crisp tempura prawns with wasabi mayo are divine. 

Turn the corner and there’s the Market Kitchen, headed up by food-mad Brits Rob and Amber Kirby, who have found their spiritual (foodie) home in Palma. With cookbook writing and TV chef experience under his belt, Rob now devotes his energy into rolling out British-Balearic fusion food in a quirky, vintage-cool bistro setting. The London salt beef bagel with Mahón cheese, cured pickles and homemade crisps is superb, as are the Sunday roasts. Except here, they are often served with mimosas and blood-orange negronis.

More central? Who would think that just a five-minute stroll from Palma’s knockout Gothic cathedral, you would find a treasure like the Forn de Sant Joan, a stunning minimalist conversion of a 19th-century bakery, complete with brick-walled cellar. Here Mallorcan ingredients are imaginatively elevated in dishes like oyster with cold almond soup and salmon roe, slow-cooked lamb with Idiazabal cheese and mint oil, and tuna tartare with guacamole.

Cheese board and vermouth at La Rosa Vermutería
Try La Rosa Vermutería for a central and buzzy aperitivo © Sasha Brady

Aperitivo 

Warming up for the evening with a vermouth (fortified wine flavored with spices and herbs) is a thing here. One of the most atmospheric picks is central and buzzy La Rosa Vermutería, where quality red, white and rosé vermouths are nicely paired with tapas.

As the sun sinks and sky pinkens, I love a sky-high aperitivo. There’s a growing crop of rooftop bars in Palma, but few can rival the Sky Bar at Hotel Hostal Cuba for dress-circle views of the Bay of Palma and the cathedral, which glows gold in the moody blues of dusk. They do great cocktails, including a cava-spritzed Bellini and Balearic signatures like Maó Mule (Xoriguer gin with ginger beer, passion fruit and orange bitters). For holiday flavor and a dash of class, the poolside Singular Rooftop Terrace is also good. Slightly more affordable and less posh is the eighth-floor Hotel Almudaina Sky Bar, where the city spreads out at your feet.

Plates of haute cuisine dinner at Adrián Quetglas
Adrián Quetglas is a great spot for a special lunch or dinner © Arthur Le Brac

Dinner 

Palma’s summery heat and sociable nature mean that I’m often more in the mood to tapear (eat tapas – yep, it’s a verb) when the sun plops into the Med rather than go for a blowout dinner. There are some incredible options for doing just that, with top billing going to La Bodeguilla, run by two food-loving brothers. It’s a grown-up, monochrome space, with giant hunks of jamón serrano dangling from the ceiling and wine-barrel tables referencing the phenomenal wine list that canters boldly around Spain. The produce-led menu pops with island flavors from meltingly tender suckling pig to scarlet shrimp slick with garlicky aioli.

I love Adrián Quetglas for a special lunch and for dinner too, it’s unmissable. Vertical gardens and fern prints bring a natural touch to this Michelin-starred number. Hailing originally from Buenos Aires, Adrián returned to his Mallorcan family as a passionate traveler, talented chef and advocate for ‘democratizing haute cuisine.’ This is reflected in ingeniously simple dishes like turbot with peas, Tramuntana lemon and lemon verbena, and gazpacho with prawn carpaccio, pickled watermelon and basil-almond ice cream. The five-course lunch is a snip at €55.

But for romance, La Vermutería wins. Tucked away in the palm-speckled inner courtyard of Can Cera, this 17th-century palau (mansion) is now a boutique bolthole in Palma’s old town heart. It’s an enchanting backdrop for zingy cocktails and island wines matched with exquisite island tapas, from Mallorcan cheeses to black pork sobrasada and smoked sea bass. 

If you’re up for more of a party vibe, swing over to dark, sexy Vandal (look out for the graffiti at the entrance). It’s full of retro sparkle and Mallorcans sipping signature cocktails like Sóller Tonic (gin, rosemary and clementine marmalade). Argentine-Italian chef Bernabé Caravotta delivers playful, palate-awakening sharing plates like ceviche cones with coconut foam, pisco Bloody Mary oysters and slow-cooked lamb with labneh and Moroccan spices. All utterly delicious.

Cocktails at Door 13, a Palma speakeasy
Cocktails at the Great Gatsby-esque speakeasy, Door 13 © Door 13

Bar 

If it has been a hot one and I want to dip my toes in the water and peer out across the Med with a sundowner as DJs spin clubby Ibiza tunes, I head to Anima Beach, but a stylish flip-flop from the center.

Later on, for a speakeasy vibe, jazzy beats and mind-blowing drinks, I recommend the Clandestino Cocktail Club. The cocktails here are works of art – take the zesty matador (pisco, calvados, lemon, yuzu foam and Inca bitters), for instance. For time travel, I adore Abaco. Push open the heavy wooden door of this opulent 17th-century palau and you’ll find yourself in a fairy-tale courtyard brimming with fruit, flowers and classical music. Here you can nurse a house cocktail (rum, whisky, Grand Marnier and fruit juice) and feel like a film set extra as candlelight flickers.     

Craving one last, late-night cocktail? Check out Door 13, hidden in a warren of stone-walled lanes near the old capuchin convent. Find the secret code or ring the bell to be admitted to this speakeasy cave with Great Gatsby-esque décor and bohemian vibes. It’s a smashing spot for inventive cocktails like Miró (gin, dry vermouth, Jalapeños and burnt rosemary) as live bands play everything from flamenco to swing.





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