On the north side of the island, barely three kilometres from Fornells, a cluster of sprawling white villas entangled with bougainvillea can be found glimmering like architectural diamonds along the water’s edge. This is Ses Salines – a tiny sailing community of Europe’s wealthy where the silent streets between the mansions are fringed with date palms and fig trees. It is here, nestled in this exclusive settlement and hidden from the rest of the island, that my favourite restaurant in the world is set.
Unexpectedly, given its location, there is not a hint of pretentiousness about Ca Na Marga (which is named after its owner, Margarita). Ceiling fans of brass and polished wood hang low from decked ceilings, spinning lazily above patrons who dine wearing simple linen shirts or crumpled summer dresses with espadrilles or avarcas. The entire place is alive with animated chatter and laughter (it is impossible to have a bad time here) which rings above the unbroken hissing and steaming of a wood-fired barbecue in the centre of the room. Not only does this fill the place with a beautiful aroma, but it presents a pleasing alternative to background music. The star of the restaurant is Jorge – a jolly, red-faced man who handles the barbecue and whose thirty years of experience leave me yet to find a better steak in any restaurant in all the world. Jorge greets his regulars with an enthusiastic handshake (for the men) or one kiss on each cheek (for the women), and those who frequent the place can often be seen standing with him, engaged in an animated conversation as he expertly cooks their meat or seafood; his glass of red wine never far from hand, and never empty.
I crave Jorge’s steaks all year round, so taking a trip to this restaurant the night of my arrival was not even optional. We were greeted as we emerged through the clanging beads that dangle in the open doorway by Marga’s daughter, the manager of the restaurant, with kisses on both cheeks in the European fashion. Jorge waved at us from his barbecue, and we were welcomed to sit wherever we wanted.
To start we had mussels – fresh and cooked with butter, garlic and finely chopped French vegetables, finished with a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs; and calamari – served with a squeeze of lemon, the rings were plump and tender, and the batter was soft and sweet.
Next, we inevitably had steaks. My father chose a T-bone, my mother a rib-eye, my sister a sirloin, and I a fillet. Cooked over a barbecue fired only by olive wood, their steaks have a uniquely beautiful flavour; and my fillet, cooked to a perfect medium-rare, quite literally melted in the mouth. The meat arrived lightly freckled with flakes of sea salt, and to accompany it I chose a sauce of Mahon cheese – a faintly aromatic, sweet and mildly nutty cheese produced only on the island and named after its capital city, Mahon. At the first bite I was speechless at how a thing could taste so astonishingly good, and I had to put down my knife and fork, close my eyes, and savour the moment! (I do this every year)
When the desperately miserable time came that my steak/piece of culinary heaven was no more, I found solace in the consolation of the dessert menu. I noticed a new item on the list – Mahon cheese ice cream with fig coulis. Perhaps I am too fond of this cheese, perhaps I am an unrefined oaf to order the same thing over a succession of two courses, perhaps I purely don’t care – but I just had to try this. As the dish was presented before me I prepared myself for the unlikely possibility of finding it to be revolting, but the unusual combination proved to work together flawlessly. The ice-cream, only slightly sweet, almost had the delicate flavour of an unconventional cheesecake, and the fig coulis, reduced to a rich sticky jam, offered a pleasing contrast.
Once another summer’s delicious meal had been concluded with after-dinner cafe con leches, it was time to leave Ca Na Marga and head back to the villa. Marga’s is the only restaurant my entire family returns to year after year, and for this there is a good reason: It may not be the most trendily decorated establishment; it may not have the most gastronomically exciting menu; there are no cutting edge ingredients or avant-garde cocktails – but good, simple, Mediterranean cuisine at its finest, perfectly cooked meats, and traditional Spanish hospitality, keep Ca Na Marga at the number one spot on my list of favourite places to eat.