I had been meaning to go to Fera for a long time as many of my friends and colleagues have absolutely raved about it. In fact, we had decided to book in for the fantastic value lunch menu for a special occasion, only for the world to draw to a halt and lockdown to become all-consuming.
So it was with absolute delight when we were invited for an evening as guests of Executive Chef Simon Petutschnig. Tucked away just off Jaime III in the heart of Palma’s bustling city, Fera really just creeps up on you. The imposing door, with its medieval feel, speaks of secrets of centuries past. On entering the sumptuous interior full of amazing hand-picked artwork, instantly puts you at ease, as does the smiling (you can see it in their eyes), masked entourage of staff who are there to ensure that everything is perfect.
Simon quickly comes out to meet us and ushers us into what I think is Fera’s best-kept secret, it’s garden. Sadly due to lockdown, the wonderful beds of herbs that would normally be teeming with rosemary, thyme, basil, and any number of other weird and wonderful plants, are now empty. But Simon says, not to worry, they’ll soon be back to their aromatic glory. It’s such a wonderful oasis considering how close we are to the Born and you feel yourself instantly relax. It also helps that Simon is a thoroughly charming host who is more than happy to spare us some of his time, despite the fact that they are now down to pandemic stretching four in the kitchen, as opposed to the normal nine.
I ask how they are coping after everything that has happened and he says they’ve just had to adapt. Rather than trying to do everything they have simplified the menu so as not to compromise on quality and are currently only open three days a week. Hopefully this will have changed by the time this goes to press so be sure to check their website for updates.
As we sit sipping our sake, gin, and cava cocktail I begin to ask about Simon and the team behind Fera. Originally from Austria, he eventually found himself seduced by the Spanish way of life. In Austria, it is very much indoor and home-based living, whereas he loved the freedom of the alfresco dining in Spain, and on arriving in Barcelona found himself overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and colours of La Boqueria market. For him, it pretty much sealed the deal. Whilst based in Barcelona he found himself living with several Japanese flatmates who introduced him to the flavours, techniques, sauces and knife skills of Japanese culinary prowess. Oh and Sake, they definitely introduced Sake into his life, and it is a theme that runs throughout several aspects of the restaurant.
I ask if this is where the influence behind the restaurant comes from and he explains that he always wants to stay true to the roots and the local atmosphere, hence the traditional Mediterranean heart of the restaurant, but that he also wants to ignite the fiery Asian soul. Its wild side if you will. Which seems rather apt as when I ask why the name Fera he explains that it is Latin for wild as the restaurant itself is individual, with wild ingredients and even wild characters, as he describes his love of Harley Davidson motorbikes, rock music, and tattoos.
The team behind Fera comprises of husband and wife team Sheila and Ivan, who look after the design and business side respectively, and Simon, who looks after all things food, and they work seamlessly together. Since opening in October of 2017, Simon says each member has never had to go against their principles, which is no mean feat. In fact, he describes the whole team as a family, and you certainly get the sense that there is a bond between them all that emanates not just from the staff themselves, but also through the furnishings and food. Everything is inviting and welcoming, and it comes as no surprise when Simon tells us that most of his bookings are from locals living in and around the island, mostly through word of mouth. It is also for this very reason that they are very careful about where they put their prices. He says it would be easy for them to increase the costs of the dishes, but that wouldn’t be honest and an honestly priced menu and happy locals are exactly what they are aiming for.
It seems a fairly exhausting life with long days and even longer nights but Simon says he is lucky enough to have his wife Vanessa, a child psychologist from Argentina, to keep their home life under control. Having met and fallen in love on a random ferry crossing to Ibiza, she is the fire behind the ice that allows Simon to weave his magic in the kitchen.
And talking of fire and ice, the whole of the restaurant has been designed around Feng Shui principles with the cold kitchen in the north and the hot in the south, as well as the various walkways, water features and art all placed very specifically. Sheila was determined to have the correct energy flow throughout the location, which she has clearly achieved in abundance.
We eventually realise that we have been sat talking for almost an hour and perhaps it is time that we allowed the executive chef to actually head off and create his own art that we are seriously excited to be sampling that evening. After checking for any allergies he invites us to our beautiful table inside, as the garden is reserved for lunchtime dining.
The restaurant is warm and welcoming and whilst the tables have been correctly socially distanced it doesn’t feel empty and there is a happy buzz from the surrounding diners, made up of a fairly international crowd of locals. It is then that we are placed into the hands of Terrence and Kelly where they explain that tonight we will be sampling the tasting menu in order for us to get a feel for the range of dishes that they offer, and then run through the wine list. We chose a pale rose from Son Naava who supplies many of the wines to the restaurant. It is served at the perfect temperature and works with all the dishes we were set to try.
It was at this point that Anouska, my dear friend and ever-trusty photographer and I, became increasingly excited, as the sights and scents of the dishes being served around us were tantalisingly mouth-watering.
We kicked off with some homemade bread in three styles served with two aiolis, one basil and one beetroot. As with everything we experienced that night, the presentation was spot on. And the bread! We literally had to stop ourselves from demolishing it as Terrence kindly pointed out that we had a fair way to go yet. Next up were the nori rolls served either with a truffle or avocado cream. They were just the right amount and had a delicate crunch from the seaweed wrap.
After the rolls, we were served what was probably my favourite dish of the whole night, although if I’m honest, I was hard pushed to choose a winner. This was the bluefin tuna tartare. It’s difficult to describe what we were tasting as it was all at once both fresh but also smoky. The tuna literally melted on your tongue. It was absolutely divine and a dish I could happily eat every day.
Next was the salmon from the North Sea. Though this is farmed salmon the way the currents run through the farm mean that these salmon are pretty much the athletes of the sea, with barely any fat running through them. They were served with a passionfruit ring, Japanese vinegar, tapioca, roe and cubes of mango. After the smokiness of the tuna belly, this was delicate and sweet and took the palate to a different level.
After these cold dishes, we moved onto the hot courses and were served a delightful chicken cannelloni with truffle, chive olive oil, bechamel sauce, shitake mushrooms and parmesan and almond crumble. For me, it conjured up images of being in your Japanese Grandma’s kitchen in winter, as the shitake mushrooms and the chive olive oil elevated it from its traditional Mediterranean home. Japanese comfort food.
At this point I was exceedingly glad to be wearing a flowing dress, as, whilst the dishes weren’t huge they were definitely beginning to add up. Or maybe that was all the bread. Needless to say Terrence, ever the expert waiter recognised this in us and said he’d give us a break for a while after we’d had our spectacular, and somewhat confusing at first, palate cleanser. We were presented with a dish which looked like uncooked pastry, with four whole limes, crumbled chocolate brownie and stalks of mint. Beautiful yes, edible, not so sure. But then Terrence put us out of our misery by bringing two traditional wooden sake cups which contained a lime filled with sake and lime sorbet. Oh and a lovely Japanese kettle. Still confused by the pie in the middle we waited with bated breath to see what was about to happen. And it was beautiful. As Terrence poured the water into the bowl beneath what turned out to be a ceramic dish masquerading as a pastry lid, wafts of smoke began to emanate. It was truly mesmerising as each time you blew more smoke drifted out and swirled around our dishes. This one definitely won for the theatre of the night. And the sorbet was delicious as well.
After taking our well-earned break we finished our main courses with a succulent sea bass served with fake risotto (celery cubes), which does a very good impression, and fennel. It was a great way to end as it was light and full of subtle flavours, the ying to the cannelloni’s yang.
At this point, Terrence, and Kelly who we discovered came from Wigan, assured us that there was only one dessert course, which we opted to share between us, and then a final surprise. Like every other dish we had been served over the evening, this one was no less delightful, and with a distinct nod to the far east. Chocolate and sake mousse served with chocolate crumble and a basil and chocolate mousse on the side. Those of you that know me know I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, however, the two of us devoured it, as whilst it was both chocolate and a dessert, it wasn’t in the slightest bit cloying or heavy, just really damn tasty.
With the finish line in sight and the possibility that our chairs would collapse beneath us Anouska and I sat in ready anticipation for our surprise. What appeared were two delightful chocolate and banana macaroons and a cube of osmosised (yes it’s a word, I checked) melon with Frangelico. A perfectly, fittingly, quirky end to what had been one hell of a spectacular dinner.
I know times are tough for restaurants and bars at the moment and we can only hope that as the new normality begins to settle that they can start to return to full capacity. I for one am looking forward to Fera being back up to her old self so that we can enjoy live music under the stars, picnics in the garden and a menu that does indeed carry a Mediterranean heart within her Asian soul!
Review By Victoria Pearce
Carrer de la Concepció, 4
Palma de Mallorca, 07012
T.+34 971 595 301