Mallorca has a number of very smart hotels linked to golf courses and spas. They tend to be housed in (very) grand properties surrounded by beautiful countryside, and offer a unique escape from everyday living.
One such hotel is the Castillo Hotel in Son Vida, about a 10 minute drive to the north west of Palma. It's fabulous location in the hills above Palma give rise to wonderful views of the city and the sea beyond. Add to this the fact that the hotel really is in a castle (albeit one built at the beginning of the 20th century), and you have all the ingredients of an establishment normally only witnessed in James Bond films.
The Frenchman and I had booked a table for dinner in the Es Castell restaurant - one of several eateries in the hotel complex. As we drove up to the hotel, we couldn't help but be impressed by the grandeur of the place, a majestic building with a flag-bearing turret (I have a soft spot for turrets) and generous landscaped grounds. We left our car keys with a very gracious doorman and went in search of the bar for a quick drink. The hotel is vast inside, just as you might expect a country mansion to be, with a huge atrium and sweeping staircases. What with paintings of ancestors on the walls, candelabras and an armoury featuring a range of ancient swords and pistols, we wondered if we had take a wrong turn somewhere and had ended up back in 1902.
We found the Bar Armas, which was wonderfully intimate and traditional with its wooden panelling, soft lounge music and impeccable waiter service. It felt very grown-up and elegant, so we felt it was fitting to take a glass of cava and enjoy the gentle ambiance. I could have quite happily have stayed there for another, but duty called and we headed downstairs to Es Castell Restaurant. Somewhat larger than the bar (this restaurant can seat 241 persons), the huge dining room has panoramic windows that afford a wonderful view of the Bay of Palma. At this time of year, it's not really possible to appreciate the outlook, but the cathedral was brightly lit and you could see thousands of twinkling lights from the ships in the harbour. Reams of wood panelling, thick curtains and luxurious velvet covered Louis 14th style chairs create a glamorous space, despite a mirrored ceiling that belongs in the seventies. In the summer, you would probably want to choose a table on the large terrace adjacent to the dining room.
We were seated at a spacious table for two and were served a basket of bread with (surprisingly) butter rather than the usual olive oil. The menu is traditional Spanish, with a good selection of the usual suspects; the wine list is also mainly Spanish, with a small range of international varieties. Our lovely maitre d' was happy to serve us wine by the glass to match our food choices, and he fetched us a young but rounded chardonnay from Catalonia to start us off.
We ordered scallops with a crust of black olive and an endive salad & croutons, and home-made pasta with tomato, basil and Soller prawns for our starters. The scallops had been sliced and topped with crunchy bacon bits, with more of a black olive tapenade than a crust. It was served cold which was unexpected but not unpleasant. My pasta was an enormous portion - it could easily have passed for a main course. The fresh tagliatelle contained diced fresh tomato and luscious sweet prawns, and everything was bathed in a basilic olive oil. It was simple and well executed, and very filling.
Our second wine of the night was a young red from the centre of Spain, just south of the Rioja region. A full-bodied and rich red wine reminiscent of dark chocolate and cherries was a very good choice to go with the red meat that we had ordered. The Frenchman had chosen Basque tenderloin of beef in a thyme flavoured gravy, and served with guacamole - yes, we did a double take at this too, but perhaps this is a nod to a Latin American influence. The steak was succulent and tender - a very good piece of cow declared The Frenchman - and was beautifully presented with a selection of vegetables. I had gone for the slow-cooked leg of lamb with rosemary flavoured potatoes. I was presented with a brontosaurus-sized leg that was way too big for the plate it was served on, which made eating it somewhat of a messy challenge. The meat was delicious, and came with a very good dark and rich gravy. The rosemary potatoes turned out to be fat cut chips that had a wonderful texture on the inside but could have done with being crunchier on the outside. Spinach and assorted vegetables completed the dish.
Despite having eaten two of the largest portions known to man (well, with the help of the ever hungry Frenchman), we were persuaded to have dessert by our charming maitre d'. Unable to cope with the interesting sounding chocolate bullion with apricots and duck foie (?!), we chose the altogether easier to manage ice cream. And boy, was I glad that we had been persuaded. My vanilla ice cream was truly the best I have ever eaten. Three scoops of delicious thick, creamy, fudgy vanilla with hints of white chocolate, it was a triumph. The Frenchman's chocolate ice cream was acknowledged as being sweet and very chocolaty but I could see the envy in his eye as I devoured my vanilla scoops.
We declined coffee and were served petit fours along with our bill. The cost of our three course dinner (excluding wine) was €120. You can expect to pay between €12-24 for a starter and between €25-39 for the mains. The wine starts from €34 for a bottle of house wine. Service is exemplary and we found the whole experience to be elegantly sophisticated. The dining room caters well for large groups - there was a corporate group of around 50 guests when we were dining - and we imagine that the room would host excellent parties, weddings and other family events. For the one-on-one romantic occasions, you can still achieve intimacy in the dining room thanks to the well spaced tables. Even better, take a table on the terrace and enjoy the views and the service - just as the aristocracy must have done back in 1902...