Tenerife; bananas, a Portuguese revelation and finding a soul

The hotel and plantation sit on the coast and have a fair bit of history, which the hotel’s website briefly describes. It’s worth visiting if only for the background soundtrack of crashing surf – click here. The hotel is a welcoming and informal place to stay and it was interesting to learn so much, at first hand, about banana cultivation. The philosophy of the owners is clearly to share all that El Patio is and that includes the plantations, historic buildings and house, which is a family heirloom. A guided walk is on offer after a candlelit evening meal in the courtyard. We took advantage of it and it was a pleasant affair with convivial conversation but a less than memorable dinner. In a hotel that offers evening meals on an ‘as requested’ basis it’s probably best to assume that there’s no full-time chef, no regular suppliers, a limited menu and culinary skills to match.

We enjoy our food and sampling local hostelries is a big part of our travelling. In a short, first visit to Tenerife it’s not possible to visit every restaurant and pick out the best but we had a good look around. After the disappointing meal at El Patio that rolled out a monochrome version of what had been on offer throughout our tour I was more or less resigned to accepting that cuisine of a high standard and, specifically, something that took the tradition of the island and moved it forward was confined to big hotels and main towns. There, the food might easily be described as international fusion – not quite Canarian but not quite something else either. The ingredients were, without exception, good and always fresh and staff were always smiling and welcoming but a lack of attention to detail betrayed an assumption that any given customer was visiting the island and unlikely to return. We’d been to restaurants, like the excellent El Templete in El Médano for example, which were authentic but uninterestingly traditional. Restaurant Carmen in Icod de las Vinos was simply hopeless and Aristides Restaurante in Garachico served just-off-the-boat fish with service that was friendly and personal but the dishes were overpriced and over-oiled; not great when the plates are cold. Not despair by any means but just a little disappointing.

But providence took a hand in the form of the people down the corridor. We’d rubbed shoulders with Paulo, Cristina and the delightful Inez going in and out of the hotel and found them having dinner at a small place in Garachico called Hotel Quinta Roja. We’d had a nose around the building when we were exploring the town; it had been a possible destination for us when we were looking for a place to stay in the north so we’d tested the coffee, which was drinkable.

Paulo, Cristina and Inez

The hotel had a pretty, modern feel to it and had benefited from being improved as part of Garachico’s beautification. And it had a restaurant with a menu that didn’t impose the tourist’s favourite, papas arrugadas [wrinkly potatoes], but which did serve local produce. The restaurant was empty save for our friends and we wondered why. Paulo explained that it was simple – he followed the chef and Julio Lazquez happened to be working there that night.

Julio has his own restaurant in Garachico and also cooks for the hotel, dividing his time and alternating between the two. His restaurant, El Lagar de Julio, is small; more intimate and more personal than the hotel, but both serve an equally high standard of cuisine. Imagination, presentation and a light, balanced touch overlay the excellent local ingredients. The food makes dining in either an experience that adds a dimension to visiting northern Tenerife. So impressed were we at Quinta Roja that we booked tables for next evening at El Lagar, where Julio’s sister is hostess. The cooking is excellent, the dishes are presented with individual flair and, in our view, Julio is taking huge steps forward on behalf of Canarian cuisine. Between us all we sampled most of the dishes on offer and none disappointed.

So, our last evening on the north coast was gentle, long and convivial; the local wine again consistently good and conversation with our Portuguese friends and Julio both interesting and stimulating. Next day we’d head south and expected to witness another facet of the island but this evening, I felt, was a taste, albeit fleeting, of the essence of Tenerife and this is what I’d take with me.


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