For the last four year, our main holiday has been on the beautiful Canarian island of Lanzarote, where we have enjoyed the home comforts of a villa holiday. Most of our days are spent lazing by the swimming pool before I get busy preparing dinner at the barbecue. Of course, whilst on holiday, we still want to try out some of the restaurants on the island so we always put aside a few evening that we can get out and about.
Having settled into our villa in Playa Blanca on the Thursday, our first planned meal was set to coincide with a live music performance at a restaurant owned by friends of ours, Benn & Zoe.
The sun was just beginning to set as we made our way to the old capital, Teguise, where La Cantina is located. The drive took 45minutes from Playa Blanca, and by the time we had worked our way across the wine region, La Geria, it was dark by the time we reached our destination. The sunset views over La Geria made the long drive worthwhile.
I had previously made a reservation and upon arrival we were shown quickly to our table in the secret garden. In recent years the wine from Lanzarote has been receiving rave reviews from those in the know. The fact that grapes can grow in the volcanic ground is a mystery, so to be able to produce award winning wines is truly a great achievement. We ordered a bottle of my favourite island wine Manto - a crisp, dry Malvasia, then sat back to climatize as we cast our eyes over the menu.
The menu at La Cantina is a mix of tapas dishes and plated dishes, and whilst the range of choice is not huge, there is a running theme through the food on offer - Flavour, Flavour, Flavour.
We decided to order a couple of the tapas dishes to share as a starter. The bruschetta con tomate was wonderful. Two giant squares of lightly toasted bread, topped with the sweetest marinaded fresh tomatoes and some grated cheese for good measure. This is a dish that is served the world over, however I honestly can't remember tomatoes tasting so good!
To accompany our bruschetta, we had a platter of Lazarote cheeses with warm bread. We both love the local cheeses, and the selection we had was a great balance of soft and mild to hard and strong flavoured cheese. There are lots of cheeses produced on the island using goats, sheep and cows milk, or combinations of. Most of the islands cheese is consumed either by the hundreds of restaurants or the locals, however there are specially packed cheeses that you can bring home with you.
Both tapas were good sized portionsand great value at €4.95 each, and with hindsight I think the bruschetta would have been ample starter before our mains.
After a short break when we were able to grab quick chat with Benn as he wandered the floor making sure that the evening diners were being looked after. Zoe had the evening off but was expected to be in later in the evening.
For her main, Nicola had ordered Ropa Vieja, which translates as "Old Clothes". Ropa Vieja is a dish that is common across the Caribbean but that originated in The Canary Islands. The islands were often the last stop for Spanish ships before they set sail to the Americas, continued migration between the Canary Islands and the carries meant that the dish crossed the ocean sand became a staple on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ropa Vieja was originally a stew like dish made using leftovers, usually chicken, beef or pork in a tomato sauce. In the Canary Islands, chick peas and potatoes are usually in the mix.
Nicola isn't normally a big stew fan she easily worked her way through the Ropa Vieja with a big grin on her face. With loads of chicken, chorizo, lardons, pork, celery, carrot, tomatoes, potato, chickpeas, theis slow cooked bowl of flavour was a winner with Nicola and since we returned from our holidays, she has urged me to get the recipe from Benn & Zoe so that I can recreate this dish at home.
The exact history of how the dish got its name is unknown but one of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes (ropa vieja) and imbued them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned the clothes into a wonderful beef stew. Who knows. All I know is that I'll be making my own version soon!
As for myself, I don't normally order a steak when I'm out but the sound of the Uruguayan prime steak with various sides, sounded lovely.
The chargrilled steak that arrived was cooked medium rare, maybe a little rarer that I would normally go for, but even so it was delicious. The huge steak was juicy and tender with nice caramelisation and a great smoky flavour from being cooked on the grill. The steak, topped with a slice of sun-dried tomato & basil butter, was accompanied by chunky sautéed potatoes, mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, a fresh dressed salad, and a little jug of mustard.
The various textures and tastes on the plate were almost perfectly balanced, although I wouldn't have missed the mashed potato. Nothing against the mash, it's just not something that I would normally have with my steak.
The steak was only €18.95 which was great value for such a well cooked piece of beef. You would struggle to get a similar size and quality steak in the UK for under £25.
Two big starter tapas followed by a hearty stew and a slab of prime beef meant that we were both too full to try some of Zoe's famous home made brownies, so instead we sat back with a coffee and enjoyed the rest of our wine.
Shortly after our table was cleared, Zoe made her appearance alongside the main event. Zoe & Benn's daughter Talulah Ruby was performing her farewell gig with her singing partner Jake Brown. Talulah Ruby, a Lanzarote born singer/songwriter has been performing around the island since she was 14. The gig at La Cantina was a farewell performance before she left the the island to start a music music course at the prestigious Brighton institute of Modern Music. If what I heard was anything to go by, don't be surprised to see the name Talulah Ruby in the coming years.
With fantastic food at great value, followed by live music from an up and coming star, our evening at La Cantina was worthy of the long drive from Playa Blanca. If you get the chance, get yourself through to Teguise and pay a visit to La Cantina. Whether it be lunch or dinner, you won't be disappointed.
La Cantina serve food daily as well as hosting wine tasting evenings and exhibitions. More recently, Cantina Pantry has opened next door. This wonderful delicatessen is testament to the passion that Benn and Zoe have to local produce and quality food. The shelves are stacked high with a mouthwatering selection of wines, olive oils, meats, cheeses, sauces and spices. In addition, you also have the opportunity to buy some of the ingredients that are used on the La Cantina menu.