Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review - Casa Roja, Puerto Del Carmen

We've been coming to Lanzarote for a number of years now, seven in total if my arithmetic is up to scratch. However, Casa Roja in the harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen has been serving up quality food for much longer. In fact, Casa Roja was originally built in 1850 by Dom Rupert Gonzalaz Negrin, where it served as a building to store animals such as chickens, goats and camels. Over the years, the front area increasingly became a busy meeting place for the many tradesman.
Fishermen from all over Europe would bring a variety of fresh fish, especially herrings, sardines, mackerel and bream. As quickly as the goods came into the red houses, they were dried, salted and then sold, mainly by the Canarian this point in time, Casa Roja was a renowned trading area, and became a important symbol of the Varadero community.

Over the following years, three families resided at The Red House, one of which turned the building into a small shop that sold groceries. Mainly the building served as a storage area until the end of the twentieth century when it was eventually reinvented as a restaurant.

The restaurant has changed hands many times over the years but the original structure of the building has always remained the same. Casa Roja still maintains its status as the most important landmark in the old harbour area of Puerto Del Carmen.

Casa Roja sits right on the waters edge with tables set up to allow its diners to enjoy a fantastic view of the harbour and the picturesque hills in the distance. We have eaten in Casa Roja a few times over the years and the restaurant had always been busy on our previous visits, and tonight was no different as the restaurant was already very full. After being greeted by Heidi at the door, we were quickly seated at our own waterside table before being offered an aperitif of 'Cava Martini' by the restaurant manager, Viktor.

The Cava Martini was a brilliantly refreshing start to our evening. A fresh blend of martini and lime juice, shaken with ice before being topped with cava and a bruised mint leaf. This is a definitely a drink that I'll be recreating at home, it was very good.
The wine list had a wide range of Spanish and Island wines to choose from. As we had been to Bodega Stratvs the day before for a little wine tasting, we decided to order a bottle of the Stratvs Blanco which was a light, crisp Malvasia that so easy to drink, with food or on its own.
As we finished off our aperitifs and began to enjoy the wine, Viktor talked us through the specials that were available this evening. English head chef, Paul, has cut the size of the menu considerably, putting a huge emphasis on producing high quality food whilst trying to use as much locally sourced ingredients as possible. The specials demonstrated this by incorporating tuna, and prawns that both came from the surrounding waters.
Nicola ordered Seared Scallops with bacon, and fig jam for starter. This was to be followed with Sea Bass with Buere Blanc and chives, served with Canarian Potatoes and salad. I found choosing starter very difficult as there were so many things that I love to eat. In the end I plumped for the Timbale of Tomato & Mozzarella with Basil jelly. For my main meal, I ordered the Fillet of Beef dish from the specials.
Our starters arrived pretty quickly and we could see that presentation is an important factor at Casa Roja. It didn't take long to see that the food didn't just look good, it tasted fantastic too! The scallops were cooked perfectly, the slight charring from the grill giving a nice smoky flavour to the sweet & succulent scallops. The accompanying fig jam was sweet and sticky, but balanced with the saltiness of crisp bacon pieces scattered over the top.
The timbale of tomato and mozzarella was a delightful twist on the classic 'Salade Caprese'. Firm sweet tomato and creamy mozzarella had been placed in a mould before being bound in a basil jelly. When turned out onto the plate, the jelly tower was accompanied with soft avocado and tomato pieces and garnished with fresh rosemary and dill. Finally, the timbale was topped with a Gofio cheese Tuille biscuit, helping to add a crunchy texture to the starter. Where do I start? This starter was amazing! Everything on the plate had a reason to be there, the flavours and textures were perfect, I especially loved the jelly which tasted exactly of fresh basil without the jelly texture causing confusion. I have to be honest and say that I initially thought the Tuille was overcooked as it tasted slightly burnt, that is until I remembered that it was baked with Gofio cheese. The strong flavour of the cheese in the biscuit is quite overpowering on its own, however when combined with the other flavours on the plate, everything came together wonderfully.
The expectations for the main courses were now incredibly high, and after a short ten minute break, two more beautiful plates of food were brought to our table.
Grilled Sea Bass is Nicola's favourite fish, tonight she was tucking into two huge grilled fillets of soft, sweet Sea Bass smoothed in a rich Buere Blanc with chives. The fish was well seasoned, and served on top of salty Canarian potatoes and a well dressed salad, finally the whole dish was sprinkled with some Lanzarote black salt flakes. This was fancy fish and chips, done incredibly well. Nicola made short work of her Sea Bass, however her overall enjoyment was dented slightly by a small collection of bones that she was gathering on the side of her plate. I know that when you order fish that there is always the chance of a bone or two, but not enough to create a small mound. The head chef was very apologetic about the bones, in fact I think he was a little annoyed that a fish could leave his kitchen with that many still intact.
The fillet of beef that I had ordered from the specials menu was, put simply, steak served with potatoes. What I actually had was possibly the tastiest and juiciest steaks that I have ever eaten! The fillet is marinated with Malden salt flakes, Lanzarote black salt, fragrant pink peppercorns, and a little truffle oil, before being grilled and placed on top of the same salty Canarian potatoes and dressed salad that the Sea Bass had come with. I had been warned that the steak didn't come with any sauce because the steak didn't need any. Those are brave words especially when fillet steak needs a lots of help to bring the flavours out. How they manage to get so much flavour into a piece of beef is beyond me, words cannot describe just how tasty my medium cooked fillet steak was. I rarely order steak when I go out for dinner and I think after this meal that I will be less likely to order steak in the future, it just wouldn't be fair!
After drinks, wine and two fantastic courses, we were both full. I didn't think that either of us would manage dessert but a quick look at the dessert menu soon had us changing our minds. Nicola seen the words 'Baileys, chocolate, and bread & butter pudding' and her decision was easy after that. I'm a big lover of cheesecake so when I was told that the special was a cheesecake that incorporated the local 'Bienmesabe' into the base and filling of the cake, I had to try it.
As we waited for our desserts, the head chef kindly came out and had a brief chat with us about the changes that he had made to the menu as well as a giving a brief biography that stretched back almost 30 years including time served under chefs Marco Pierre White and Gary Rhodes.
Desserts arrived and we were both glad that we had ordered a third course. The bread and butter pudding was a dense stack of Baileys soaked bread layered with rich dark chocolate, served on a bed of raspberry coulis and more chocolate sauce. To lighten this sumptious pudding, it was topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice-cream, finished off with more chocolate work. It must've been good because Nicola managed to clear her plate in record time!
My 'Bienmesabe' cheesecake was another example of how local products are used on the menu. Bienmesabe is a Canarian dessert of ground almonds heavily soaked in honey, usually served with ice-cream. Tonight, the Bienmesabe was mixed in with both the crisp base and the filling to create a deliciously sweet cheesecake. A homemade passion fruit sorbet was placed on top, helping to cut through the sweetness. Sweet and sharp working well to put a smile on my face. This was a deliciously well flavoured cheesecake.
Six plates of food were ordered, and every plate was sent back to the kitchen empty. The total cost of dinner for two, including three courses, aperitif and a bottle of locally produced wine, was just over €100. In my opinion it was money well spent, the levels of skill in the kitchen are clear to see in the food that is served, and the flavours and textures that we tasted were well put together.
There are a number of restaurants who have been nominated for Michelin stars, but if you're looking for fine dining on the island, you don't need to go any further than Casa Roja in Puerto Del Carmen.
Keep up to date with Casa Roja on Facebook.


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