Culture is like an extravagant bar of the very best dark chocolate. Rich and satisfying it leaves you wanting more. But for me one square will last me for a while. Gordon on the other hand has to finish the entire bar in one go. This is why Gordon is in London enjoying a week of non stop culture, cramming in as much theatre, art and music as he can, while I am in Mallorca enjoying a week of non stop sun, sea, and fun, cramming in as much food and wine as I can. For Gordon it is a heady mix enjoyed at a frantic pace, for me the mix is not quite as heady and best enjoyed at a snail’s pace, something at which I can excel.
This is my fourth visit to the small town of Porto De Soller on the north west coast of Mallorca. A guide book describes the atmosphere as “low key chic”. Chic I can do, low key not so much. The town sits on a beautiful bay, a natural harbour almost entirely surrounded by mountains. There is a marina at one end and a sandy beach at the other connected by a pedestrian only promenade lined with charming restaurants and a few small hotels. Not a high rise or block of flats to be seen.
The only downside is the tourists. The place is filled with French German and English , three races that do not get along. The Germans grab the best chaises on the beach and round the pool by 7.30 in the morning by leaving their towels and belongings there but not their bodies, the English get drunk and sunburnt and spend most of the time saying “mustn’t grumble” while doing exactly that, and the French wander round thinking they are better than everyone else.
Well that must be a record even for me – I have offended three countries in just one sentence. But wait, there’s more to come!
The hotel I stay at is, I suppose, the quintessential definition of low key chic. Small stylish and comfortable but definitely not opulent with an excellent restaurant that presents an impressive buffet breakfast served around the pool. It doesn’t matter how chic an hotel is, buffets bring out the worst in people. The Germans pile enormous amounts of food on their plates, determined to get something of everything in case it has gone by the time they make a second trip to the trough. The English make sandwiches with the bread cheese and cold meats and discreetly put them into sandwich bags which they have thoughtfully brought with them, and then when they think no one is watching they pop them into the wife’s bag. Lunch having been taken care of, they then help themselves to a nice cooked breakfast. The French avoid mixing with the hoi polloi. They sit slightly apart from the rest, drink endless cups of coffee from the espresso machine, eat a croissant or maybe two and long for a cigarette.
Most seaside resorts in Mallorca cater to the “spag bog” brigade (an affectionate English term for Spaghetti Bolognese, especially when referring to dried pasta, canned sauce and that awful”parmesan cheese” that comes in a glass shaker with a chrome top) . There are a couple of such restaurants for those who have wandered into town by mistake, but mainly the restaurants are excellent and a little pricey.
I have written about my favourite restaurant in previous blogs, but it seems I must do so once more. The restaurant sits at one end of the bay, on a perch overlooking the marina with wonderful views of the entire bay and the mountains. The food and the view are fabulous. Consequently the place is always packed with not a seat to be had.
The restaurant is run by an elegant man fending off his approaching 60th birthday with great style. He spends a lot of money on himself and it shows. He is slim and fit, an unexpected and somehow a little annoying appearance for someone who spends his life in a restaurant. He dresses beautifully in perfectly pressed long sleeve shirts and trousers. Today his shirt is a pale blue, his trousers dark blue and his shoes of course are brown, seemingly brand new, and if they could have a red sole, they would. One wrist has a very expensive watch which he looks at frequently, the other has several leather and silver bracelets. His face is pleasant but not too handsome, but his smile is dashing, mainly because it produces three long dimples that crease each cheek. He has enough charm for an army of maitre D’s, but carefully doles it out in measured amounts according to the customer. His regulars, who are of course locals and not tourists receive the three dimple smile and so much charm it borders on obsequiousness. Returning tourists get the two dimple smile and a polite but warm greeting.
Reservations are a must and need to be made a week or two in advance. I have learned through experience that he will not accept reservations for one. So each year I make my reservation for two and explain on arrival that my friend is sick and it is just me. As soon as he sees me he remembers this. I watch as he struggles to achieve the two dimple smile, but he can’t manage the warm welcome. Instead he merely says “Just for one, is it?”
There is a steady stream of unsuspecting tourists with no reservation asking for a table. They clearly annoy the maitre D. He expends zero charm on them as he turns them away. Invariably they then ask to make a reservation for tomorrow. There is just a hint of scorn in his voice as he informs them that the next available reservation is at 5.30 a week on Friday. He should leave it at that, but he doesn’t. He tries a tight one dimple smile and adds
“Of course, if you would like to come for lunch I could fit you in next Thursday”
Meanwhile an elderly couple arrives. You can tell they are locals as they are dressed for a nice dinner out as opposed to the rest of the crowd who are in shorts. She is shining bright in a long colorful dress, with hair done for the evening, makeup carefully applied, and a small fluffy thing draped over her arm where her handbag should be. He is equally well put together in a long sleeve shirt and slacks with her handbag over his arm where his jacket should be.
They get an effusive welcome and a three dimple smile. She even warrants a peck on both cheeks. He tells them their table for three is ready. It is infact a table for four, with just two place settings and three chairs. One of the chairs has a large cushion on it. The couple take chairs across from each other, while the fluffy thing over her arm is placed on the pillow on the third chair, next to hers. The small fluffy and remarkably unattractive dog, for that is what it is, is obviously used to this treatment. It settles quite happily on the chair with its little pink tongue sticking out between its protruding teeth. Keeping one eye open and firmly fixed on the kitchen door, it takes a well earned nap. It doesn’t move or make a sound until the waiter arrives with their food. The moment a plate is put in front of the wife, the dog leaps up and with his back feet on the chair he puts his front feet on the table and angles his head until it’s little pink tongue is inches away from her plate. She smiles adoringly at the dog. The first large forkful of food goes into her mouth, the second much smaller forkful is offered to the dog. He takes a moment to sniff it carefully, decides it is acceptable and proceeds to lick it off her fork with its little pink tongue.
They share the meal, taking it in turns to lick the fork. One plate, one meal, one fork, two little pink tongues. It is gross. I can’t help but wonder how efficient their dishwasher is. Has my fork been in that horrible little dog’s mouth?
The only person who seems at ease with the situation is the Maitre D. He hovers attentively and asks how the meal is. The wife says it is lovely. The dog says nothing but curls back on the cushion seemingly content.
I am a little peeved. How is it that they take a table for four and get the royal treatment while I take a table for two and get the brusque treatment. Next year I will book a table for two and take a dog.