It’s fair to say the dessert at Jardín de la Sal restaurant was a work of art, and not just because its creator had seen fit to autograph it. In fact, you could say it was his signature dish…
A magnificent compilation of chocolate mousse; chocolate cake; almond ice cream; broken Oreos; dried banana strips; and toasted almonds lay on a slate. At its heart, an elegant glass filled with passion fruit syrup, and yoghurt and goat’s cheese foam lay on its side as if it had fallen over, spilling its contents. At the bottom of the slate, the name Juan Carlos was scribed in caramel.
Emerging from the kitchen, the young chef introduced himself and chatted enthusiastically about the wild beauty of the salt pans that lay beyond the restaurant window and about the freshness and goodness of the produce used in the restaurant, all of it grown locally and seasonally.
While we chatted, he asked if we had tasted the dessert yet. We admitted we’d been too busy photographing it and not a taste had as yet passed our lips. He asked us to try some, and we duly tasted the rich, creamy chocolate mousse and the dreamy yoghurt and goat milk foam. Then, to our amazement and near consternation, he pinched some of the grape flor de sal decorating one corner of the slate and lightly sprinkled it across the plate. Then he asked us to try it again.
The salt had lifted the chocolate taste to beyond orgasmic, a fact that must surely have been reflected in our cartoon expressions of amazement. We have clearly been seriously underestimating the gourmet qualities of flor de sal and need to pay much more attention to the white stuff being harvested right outside the window.
Where is it?
Located right on the southern tip of Fuencaliente, the most southerly municipality on La Palma, the Jardín de la Sal restaurant has been open for just two years and has already earned itself a reputation that has raised the bar on la Palma’s gastronomic offerings in exactly the same way that salt raised the flavour of our dessert.
Naturally specialising in dishes that showcase the prized, marine salt that is collected in the salt pans sitting alongside, the outside and upstairs terraces would normally be filled with diners and drinkers enjoying the mighty views or the nightly sunsets that emblazon the sky. But today there’s a warning in place for the force of the wind, a storm is coming, and the upstairs terrace is no place to be.
The contemporary styled interior dining room has a ceiling to floor window overlooking the ocean, and pale lilac walls adorned by prints of newspaper articles about the opening of the salt flats nature reserve and the man whose dream it was to preserve the craft of producing marine salt on La Palma. Just a handful of tables occupy the space which is exactly how Juan Carlos likes it.
“Quality not quantity is important to me,” he says.
The dessert is the finale to a four course tasting and drinks menu, arranged for us by Visit La Palma, which has taken us on a culinary journey from the island’s emerging craft beers and its trademark dishes of pato asado (roast pork), chicharros (small fried fish), potaje de trigo (corn soup) and cabrito en salsa hierbitas con papas bonitas (baby goat in a herb sauce with speciality potatoes), all given a creative culinary makeover and enhanced by the addition of flor de sal; to its distinctive and harmonious white and red wines.
Highlight amongst the medley of gastronomic treats for me was seared tuna on a bed of sweet potato mash, drizzled with a tomato and coriander sauce. The tuna was beautifully fresh and succulent infused with essence of the ocean, and the sweet potato mash worked symbiotically with the sweet and sharp, tomato and coriander sauce. A triumph of a dish.
The bodega of choice for the restaurant is the local Teneguia whose wines we drank the whole time we were on La Palma and now miss them as our local supermarket doesn’t stock them (plea to Teneguia – please can you supply to Al Campo?). Every bottle we sampled was excellent, from the crisp and fruity, white La Gota and soft, vanilla Teneguia red, to the sweet, golden Malvasia Aromatica. As I was driving and could only taste a miniscule amount of each, it was the most frustrating wine tasting experience ever. Not so for Jack who was definitely on the ‘mellow’ side by the time we left.
Starters average €10. Try their salteado de chipirones (baby squid sautéed with onion and Iberico ham), they’re legendary. Main courses range from €7 to €22. They do a salt encrusted fish which is allegedly amazing but which we didn’t get to try. A good excuse for a return visit. Desserts average €3.50 but if you want to enjoy the amazing creation we had, you’ll have to ask for a special of the lot!
El Jardín de la Sal; Carratera La Costa El Faro; Fuencaliente; La Palma; (0034) 922 97 98 00; the restaurant is open daily from midday to 6pm; the upstairs coffee bar and terrace is open daily 11am to 7pm (weather permitting!).
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, Wizz, you can read her latest content on Google+