I’d normally avoid a term like ‘the best’. But when a dish in a restaurant explodes in my mouth, setting off culinary fireworks whizzing with such magical and intense flavours that have only been previously matched by experiences at El Bulli and El Celler de Can Roca, then pondering whether it’s ‘the best’ in The Canary Islands doesn’t seem quite so outlandish.
Given that Juan Carlos Padrón was in the running for the best chef in Spain title of 2012, I expected the food at El Rincòn de Juan Carlos to be of a high standard… but I didn’t expect it to grab me and whirl me around the room with wild abandon in the same way as the creations of arguably the best chef and one of the best restaurants in the world had done.
First of all, its location is in an unassuming alley in Los Gigantes; a Tenerife resort that caters mainly for British visitors. It isn’t the sort of place you would expect to find a restaurant serving thrillingly original, avant garde cuisine. Nearby is a pie shop selling British pies and a restaurant advertising the sort of food featured on the blackboards of UK pubs circa 1999.
It’s a humble location for an equally humble but immensely talented chef who allows his food to do the bulk of the talking on his behalf.
After an interview about the upcoming best Spanish chef competition, the down to earth and extremely affable Juan Carlos Padrón surprised the three of us (Andy, Arantxa Ros and myself) by treating us to a selection of taster dishes from his menu.
Even the bread served to start the meal was original; a choice of tomato or onion and thyme bread cakes that had the appearance of savoury flowers and which possessed a texture that was more a marriage of bread and pastry. One bite unleashed flavours that set off more ‘Mmmms’ than the signature dishes of lesser restaurants could achieve. Dipping the bread in an accompanying dish of pale lemon olive oil heightened the ecstasy and I wanted the meal to stop there in case what followed didn’t live up to the curtain raiser.
A follow-up appetiser of oyster in tempura batter with Japanese lime served in its shell on a bed of rock salt positively muscled memories of the bread out of the way. Its sublime, yet intense flavours invoked a sense of standing in the warm sun at the seaside, the Japanese lime adding a slight zest akin to my toe being lapped by deliciously fresh water.
The culinary magical mystery tour continued with a mushroom cappuccino whose foam topping and mushroon ‘coffee’ tasted wonderful when scooped delicately using a spoon but leapt into a completely different league when sipped like a conventional cappuccino. Cappuccinos will simply never be the same again.
The next offering ramped up the creative intensity even more and was my favourite dish (an extremely difficult call). Parmeson ravioli sounds like a typical pasta dish but the trio of light pasta pillows on a peppery lentil sauce held a surprise. The secret of unlocking their flavours to their full is to eat one whole (no secret really as Juan Carlos’ wife tells you before you jump in). The ravioli was impossibly delicate (in a how-did-he-do-that sort of way?) and one bite detonated an explosion of dreamy, creamy parmesan.
And so the journey of gastronomic discovery continued – papas negras (Canarian potatoes – a local delicacy) with poached egg and black truffle: wild sea bass seasoned with pimentón de la Vera on a foamy, sweet celery mousse; oxtail on an eiderdown soft potato bed with caramelised onions.
The symphony of tastes and original combinations came to a symbol-clashing climax of zesty orange granules, parfait of passion fruit, cardamom ice cream and orange blossom foam that was as light as air and as palate refreshing as a dip in a plunge pool.
When we finished, the three of us simply sat back, looked at each other and almost simultaneously sighed a deeply contented ‘WOW’.
El Rincón de Juan Carlos was a revelation. A truly secret treasure of a restaurant whose reputation is known mainly via word of mouth.
The menu at El Rincón de Juan Carlos is the menu of a chef who has experienced the work of great chefs in the kitchens in Costa Brava and in France and who has created his own distinctive and tastebud applauding style. There are other good restaurants and talented chefs on Tenerife and in The Canary Islands… no there are other great restaurants with incredibly talented chefs. But this is the first time I’ve encountered one that was up there with the skills of the Rocas Brothers or even those of the master, Ferran Adriá.
El Rincón de Juan Carlos serves sophisticated. original and immensely satisfying cuisine that is Michelin star quality… but not at Michelin star prices. Foodies who pass Tenerife’s way take note.
Restaurante El Rincón de Juan Carlos; Pasaje de Jacaranda, 2; Los Gigantes; +34 922 86 80 40; open 7pm to 10pm daily, closed Monday; 3 courses plus wine €45-€50 per person; www.elrincondejuancarlos.es
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+