In a world overtaken by Trip Advisor reviews, the idea of popping into somewhere just because ‘it looks like it might be good’ is long-forgotten for plenty of people. For many of us food-loving weirdos, before we visit somewhere we research it thoroughly, poring through reviews and blogs, appealing for information on social media and going to every length to make sure we don’t make a mistake.
I do that, of course. It’s one of my favourite hobbies and sometimes the anticipation of going somewhere is half of the enjoyment of the adventure itself. But it leaves little to chance, and the satisfaction of happening upon somewhere great – while great – is completely different to that of patting yourself on the back for having completed thesis-level research of a destination before making your dining decision.
That contrast has made me wonder how different my restaurant choices might be if everything was left to chance rather than design. Of course, I might have missed out on plenty of the places I actually sought out thanks to my research (all sorts of places from Salthouse Bacaro in Liverpool to Tivoli in Cortina d’Ampezzo). But equally, would I have discovered more?
Where am I going with this ramble? Well, because in a rather rare moment, Que Tal in Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria is somewhere that bridges this gap. Do any research and it pops up as the number one place in the area – a fine dining experience quite different from anywhere else. In the same way El Rincon de Juan Carlos helped dispel the idea I’d had that there’s no such thing as great food in Tenerife, Que Tal is clearly raising the bar over on Gran Canaria.
But equally, take Trip Advisor, social media and good old Google away and I’m fairly sure we’d have ended up dining here anyway. The first time we walked past it, tucked down a side street, we were on our way home from dinner and while the rest of the pretty little town was closing up and going to sleep, the people sat in intimate tables of two outside the tiny restaurant on a little cut-through were still going strong, tucking into intricate plates of food quite unlike any of the other menus we’d seen with the unmistakable tones of Ronan Keating in the background.
The second time I walked past Ronan was still playing but it was midday and the music was to accompany the chef making his own pasta and assembling dainty lobster ravioli on a big bench in the middle of the restaurant. I booked there and then – regardless of the research.
In a tourist haven, Que Tal is carving its own path. We ate at some rather good restaurants in Puerto de Mogan – this is not a ‘Sunday roast with a pint of cider’ kind of place. While others along the west coast of Gran Canaria may cater to those in search of the ultimate all-inclusive experience complete with fry-up and buffet nights, the town known as ‘Little Venice’ is packed with a whole range of restaurants, from fish specialists to a ‘Jamon’ bar, several rather respectable Italian restaurants, and plenty of traditional Canarian cuisine with even some pinchos thrown in for good measure.
Yet Que Tal stands apart from the rest. This isn’t just about eating food, it’s about the dining experience – often the mark of a great restaurant. There’s one sitting at 8pm and one menu – an eight-course tasting menu (called the ‘Love Menu’ by the way) priced at a fairly reasonable 69 Euros with optional accompanying wine flight. We arrived to find the menu folded on the table detailing what was to come, along with a welcome outlining the desire to provide flavours and textures but in a relaxed, homely atmosphere. Cue Ronan and his dulcet tones.
So, the food. You’ll have to forgive me if some descriptions are slightly lacking in details. A wine flight can do that to you….
We started with ‘Tuna’ – lightly crumbed on one side but sashimi-style raw underneath, tiny spheres of wasabi on top, and served with a chunk of seared watermelon. Next, a carefully arranged selection of lobster and crayfish (including the lobster ravioli I’d seen previously) on a clear flat bowl so sparklingly clean that you’d be forgiven for thinking the food was laid on the placemat below. On top was poured a lobster bisque packed with almost toffee notes that was so deep in flavour, yet simultaneously refined, it reminded me of the dreamboat Porthilly Oyster sauce at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant.
A duck scotch egg on a bed of risotto was rich and meaty, complete with perfectly cooked egg inside while a second duck dish was more classically presented. Scotch eggs seem to be everywhere these days but rarely with a meaty risotto to join them.
My favourite course, ‘Tiger Sole’, was an elegant game of food jenga, with the fish piled on to a cube of fondant potato and topped with a smoky prawn cracker. The fish was perfectly cooked, with samphire bringing that taste-of-the-sea saltiness to the dish, cucumber adding crunchy freshness, and that tried-and-tested accompaniment, dill, bringing a touch of bitterness. A real winner.
A basil mojito was the palate cleanser, bringing some much-needed freshness after several courses of rich food and far too much wine (please note, the portions in the wine flight are rather generous. Do not have pre-dinner drinks before you arrive – I speak from experience…!)
And then it was on to the ‘Black Angus’ – a chunky hunk of beef that fell apart at the lightest touch of a fork. Served on a light, sweet puree with a rich, silky jus (yes, I don’t know exactly what they were and I was too sozzled to a) ask and b) write it down), it was perfect. The kind of dish you want to go back to and have as the main course in a normal three-course meal.
We finished with a dessert known only as ‘chocolate’ – a gooey chocolate fondant more like something you’d get on an ordinary restaurant menu than some of the more fiddly desserts you can get at restaurants of this kind. Flavour-wise, it was perfect and just the right balance of bitter and sweet and while being relatively classic and straightforward, was presented with all the panache of a top-flight restaurant.
We wobbled out of Que Tal close to midnight, having eaten and drunk our fill. Luckily we were staying at an apartment pretty much over the top of the restaurant so it wasn’t far to stumble home. I think it’s safe to say that while I enjoy tasting menus, I’m just not woman enough for a wine flight – especially when the servings are this generous. Of course, they were all great – some more than others – but I think unless you can handle vast amounts of alcohol it can slightly diminish the impact of the food as you get progressively more drunk, demonstrated perfectly here by my lack of thorough descriptions on the latter courses.
However, wine flight or no wine flight, drunk or not drunk, I can confirm that the food at Que Tal is really rather good. It’s special without being too poncey. It’s relaxed without being uber-cool. The setting is beautiful, the courses well thought-out and brilliantly executed, and it offers the experience that comes with dining in an independent restaurant borne of passion, not profit.
Yes it’s not cheap, and just a few feet away in Puerto de Mogan you can get pretty good food for a much smaller bill. But sometimes it’s worth pushing the boat out just a bit to try something different – and you’ll certainly get that here.
We paid in full for our meal at Que Tal. They didn’t know I was a blogger.
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