This is my last review for the next four months as I am away on an adventure working on a boat, and so it was with absolute pleasure that we went out in perfect Parisian style. We were invited in to come for lunch at Alain and Thierry’s beautiful French restaurant just over from Mercat Olivat, Les Artistes y Mas. The weather was delightful as we strolled along in the sunshine to our reservation and we could honestly have been transported to the streets of Paris, such was the atmosphere in the air. We could almost taste the French Onion soup we had been promised from the street.
Rounding the corner we came across Les Artistes y Mas, where we were met with beaming smiles and the warmest of welcomes from both Alain the Chef and one of the owners, and Monika his right hand woman, front of house, sommelier, waitress and all round rock. Strains of French music tickled our ears as we stepped from Spain right into France, with no borders being crossed.
The décor is delightfully French, with red and white tablecloths, creamy exposed brickwork, sumptuously dark green tiling, and eclectic lighting, all bringing the sunshine from outside straight into the interior. It will be a few months until I am able to return in the evening but it is clear to see that the ambiance will turn from bustling day time pavement café to a romantic evening venue, perfect for liaisons of the heart. There is just something about a French restaurant the sets the imagination running, and the Directors film spotlight beside the front door had us talking about our favourite French films. So, mine may only be as highbrow as Chocolat, but I think you understand what I mean. It’s such an evocative country and cuisine, you just can’t help it.
As Anouska, my favourite restaurant companion, and shooter of these fantastic photos, and I settle down to see what treats are on the menu today we are accosted by the lovely couple at the table next to us. Firstly, they are curious as to why we are here with a notebook and a serious piece of camera equipment, but more importantly they wish to implore upon us the absolute quality of the food and dishes on offer. As with so many things in life, word of mouth is so important and theirs is no less valid. They are so excited by the different dishes that their enthusiasm is utterly infectious, and we end up chatting for a while. Originally from Germany they make the pilgrimage over to this side of town almost weekly to sample more of Alain and Thierry’s delights. Whilst we are there, they actually attempt to pay l’addition and leave three times, but each time Alain just appears with another little treat which keeps them seated and delighted for a whole extra hour.
As we settle into what we know is going to be a lovely experience, Alain comes over to see that we are okay with everything so far. Well, frankly what is there to complain about? We have been seated at a lovely table, surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean artwork of Yvonne Le Meur, which will be on display until the 20th December 2020, the atmosphere is convivial, the French music is lulling us to a different time and place, and we have yet to start eating. Yes, we are definitely okay.
I ask Alain about the name, Les Artistes y Mas and he says it’s because they want it to be so much more than food, so much more than art. It is a gathering place for likeminded people who love all that there is about coming together and celebrating the rich tapestry that is life. In this case it is expressed through the chef’s palate and the artist’s easel. Unfortunately, Thierry, Alain’s partner can’t join us when we visit but we learn a little about him from Alain.
He says that as far back as Thierry can remember, he was always passionate about art. From childhood, his parents enrolled him into the School of Fine Arts to satisfy his passion for drawing. When he entered the school he was a child, but he didn’t leave it until he was 24, at the end of his artistic studies. He has lived with this passion for art for a very long time. There was a period of time where he was able to practice activities as diverse as the restoration of frescoes for historical monuments, such as the trompe l’oeil. He designed theatre scenery, worked in gold leaf, and journeyed down many other roads that his art took him. Alain says with a smile that Thierry really knows how to live his passion! This is clearly where the idea of having changing exhibitions every two months comes from, allowing local and international artists the opportunity to wow the diners as they taste the artwork coming out of the kitchen.
Which leads me nicely into Alain’s own personal work of art and gift – his food. Today we are going to enjoy a selection from the menu so that we can get a feel for what is on offer, though there are obviously daily changing specials, so always something new to drop back into the restaurant to sample. We kicked off with a selection of tostadas all on different homemade breads. The pesto, tomato and parmesan toast with a drizzle of garlic oil was sweet with a delicate crunch. The rillette with cornichon was just how you would expect to find it in a French farmhouse in the middle of the rolling countryside. But oh my! The gingerbread with foie gras and fig was just something else. The perfect amount for it not to be too heavy, the ginger and fig cut perfectly through the creaminess of the foie gras. To be honest I could probably have stopped there, but there were definitely hints of French Onion Soup wafting our way from the kitchen, so I reigned myself in somewhat.
Before we could get to that dish we were next presented with Prawns, French Style. Sweet and delicate prawns on a bed of salad, perfectly flavoured with garlic and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It’s a fantastic light but flavoursome dish for those long hot summer days that will be back with us soon enough.
But then it arrived. In my opinion, the pièce de resistance. Yes, I think you’ve guessed it – the French Onion Soup. A meal in itself, this was a steaming bowl of deliciousness, taking me back to my school days and French trips to Normandy in the winter, when the only thing that can bring you back to life is a bowl of this most sublime of soups, placed before you with floating hulks of bread and soft strings of never-ending onion, all wrapped up in a broth that makes your toes curl. It was heaven in a white ceramic bowl and I feared for the rest of the dishes we were yet to taste, so it was with sadness that I had to lay my spoon to rest. Although Monika did come over twice to try and remove it before Nou and I finally relinquished. Just one more spoonful…
And though I wished I could have finished it all, I was actually glad to have left a little room as we still had three beautiful plates to try. First up was the Confit of Duck with roasted potatoes and garlic, another yummy dish, with a strong flavour and fabulously crispy skin, that was equally as moreish as the soup. The final main we got to try was the bœuf bourguignon, made from three different cuts of beef that had been marinated in red wine and a plethora of other herbs and spices for hours on end. It is the epitome of comfort food, rich and full of flavour. All of the dishes were washed down with a delicious Côtes-du-Rhône, which is actually the house red and a total steal at €19.
As we finish up with one of my now favourite French desserts, the Floating Island, a dish of an egg white island floating in a vanilla cream that my Dad would have drunk straight from the bowl, we get a moment to chat to Alain himself.
A lover of all things food, he grew up cooking around his mum and says proudly that he has now been cooking for over fifty years. And it’s not just French food, though this is definitely his passion, but also Morocco, Scandinavian and Asian food. He says that he can often be found cooking Chinese at home and Nou and I will be wangling for an invitation if the fabulous spread we have enjoyed today is anything to go by. They opened the restaurant here a year ago, combining the twin passions of both Alain and Thierry and it is clear they have worked their magic, well Alain’s to be accurate, as he used to be a close up magician. I try and get him to do some tricks for us but he becomes uncharacteristically shy. Maybe on our return…
It’s very clear to see why they have survived the various different things the world is throwing at us right now. Alain is passionate about the food and even more so about the people. He loves the personal touch and takes the time to come out and greet each and every customer whilst checking on them throughout the service. Not that he need worry, we were placed in the more than capable hands of the wonderful Monika from Poland, who was always quick with a smile anda laugh and made us feel as though we had known her for years. The two are a great combination, even when posing from the photos you’ll see in the typical French style uniform with wooden bowtie to boot, they just can’t stop giggling. You can’t help but smile and laugh along with them both.
Les Artistes y Mas is indeed far more than just a restaurant. It is a meeting place. A homely venue where you can pop in for a quick bite or settle in for an afternoon. It is a place of smiles and laughter and friendships. I for one cannot wait to return in the spring for round two of that soup. I wish them all bon courage!
By Victoria Pearce
Les Artistes y Mas
Plaça del Comtat del Rosselló, 4
07002 Palma de Mallorca
Tel – +34 871 50 48 83