The restaurant opens for evening service at 6:30pm every day, except Sundays, and you would expect it to be quiet at that time. When we arrived at 6:32pm at least a quarter of the tables were already full, with more people lining up on the street behind us to get one of the coveted covers that fly out of the restaurant every evening. And it’s only Tuesday. This is clearly not an unusual occurrence as the well-oiled staff machine kicked in and people were seated, QR menu codes shown and drinks orders taken and delivered in what seemed like a blink of an eye. But it wasn’t rushed, there was time for repeat customers to receive a warm returning welcome and those new to the restaurant to have everything explained to them, ensuring that they too would quickly come back.
The restaurant is owned by Ronny, born to Greek parents who grew up in the industrial city of Duisburg in Germany. He is able to give us a few moments to talk is through his story before he dashes off to the kitchen in his main role of Head Chef. His says it was his mother that prompted him to go into food gastronomy. It was clear that academia wasn’t his thing and so at 15 she suggested culinary school would be a good fit and at 16 he was enrolled. It was a 3 year course which included parallel hands on experience at a small, very old restaurant with the most incredible reputation. Everything was handmade from the butter to the ice-cream. It was genuine farm to table cooking.
He says he learnt from the best, with master head chefs giving up their time and secrets to train the next generation. After 3 years he had his diploma in hand and set out into the real world, moving to Chicago in 1999 to begin a 2 year stint at the Hilton Chicago. This was the first time he had experienced large industrial kitchens and as an initiation into his first chapter it was everything he could ever have dreamed of. As this chapter closed another one began and, encouraged by many of the chefs he worked with, he made the move to London.
In 2001 he began working with Gordon Ramsay, at his first restaurant of the same name, on the Royal Hospital Road. While it was an incredible school and experience he quickly realised that this was not the world for him. There were too many protocols, it was too rigid and too formal. He says that the job is hard enough as it is, so if you aren’t having fun with it then really, what is the point? It was time to move on.
He was offered a job at the Adlon Berlin, probably the best hotel in Germany at that point and still today (think the Ritz in its heyday) where he stayed for two years, until he was invited to go to Greece with the same hotel group to oversee the pre-opening and opening of their new hotel in Thessaloniki where he ended up staying for 5 years. Sadly at this point in 2007, the economic landscape of Greece wasn’t looking too bright and he decided that it was finally time to branch out on his own.
And so, after much research, he found himself in Mallorca, a place he had never visited at that point. It quickly became apparent that though he really wanted to open his own place and had so many ideas, his lack of the language would hold him back and instead he needed time to get Spanish under his belt and learn the lie of the land. So what did he do? Oh just went and worked under another Michelin stared chef, Marc Fosh, in his Santa Maria restaurant for a couple of years.
Finally, in 2009 it was time. The Duke was born. As this goes to press The Duke turns 13 on Wednesday 13 April and what a ride it has been so far. Opened with friend and surf guru Juan Jose Campos, this is where the surf influence of the whole restaurant has come from. Juan Jo was actually the first to bring surfing to the island, importing boards from all over the world and bringing his love of surf together to compliment Ronny’s love of food. The pair worked tirelessly together for 8 years to bring the right look and feel to the Duke and it has clearly worked. Ronny and Juan Jo parted business ways a few years back so that Juan Jo could look after family commitments, but they are still firm friends and always take time to have lunch together. In fact Juan Jo has just opened a small new restaurant in Santa Eulalia here in Palma called Bodega Morey, which Ronny urged us to go and try out.
Finally, letting Ronny get back to his day job, we settled back to taste the food that everyone is so clearly loving. We decided on a selection of tapas so that we could try as many things as possible, although the main menu selection looked equally delicious. First up was a seriously tasty black olive tapenade with black corn chips. Anouska, my most fabulous photographer and best friend, said he had her at tapenade and she simply couldn’t stop eating it. That was until the main tapas dishes arrived.
A Thai salad to rival the best in Bangkok, with its crunchy, delicate sweetness, was coupled with mango and duck. What a combination. Alongside this were the avocado nuggets. I don’t know how they make them but these are the most perfectly ripe slices of avocado that have been dipped in bread crumbs on two sides and I can only assume lightly fried, giving the avocado slices just the slightest most delicately delicious crunch. The guacamole was fresh and full of zest, with just the right amount of spice. Yet another winner in round one.
Round two consisted of seriously tasty Mexican beef tacos with a spicy sauce on the side that I wanted to take a bottle of home with me. As I looked around the restaurant this is clearly a firm favourite with the regulars and I can understand why. At the same time the wonderfully attentive Rafael, who has been at the restaurant for three years and says it’s just a place where people, both customers and staff, can be themselves, brought out the Korean shrimp croquettes. Now those of you who know me know that I’m not the greatest fan of croquettes and constantly lament the over fishiness of anything involving a prawn. I had 3. Nothing more need be said!
As the last plate of round two we were treated to the lamb kebabs with pitta and tzatziki and it was clear to see where the Greek influence has come from. The meat was dense and tasty, the lemon zing really added a punch and the homemade pittas definitely put my lockdown attempt to shame. When we were talking about a favourite dish out of all of them it was impossible to pick one.
To finish up we chose a couple of small desserts. The chocolate truffle with mint and salt, which one bite of was a whole cake in itself, and the coconut cake with papaya and berry coolie which was the absolute opposite, so light it was that it could almost have drifted off the plate. As a final indulgence we ordered the spicy margarita as a parting farewell and quite frankly I couldn’t have found anything better to round out such a lovely experience.
The whole team, from the delightful and fascinating Ronny, to head waiter Dani who has been there since day one, to Raphael and the rest of the crew whose names I didn’t get as they were busy looking after all of the other guests, are absolutely wonderful and welcoming. Not once did I see a dry glass in the house and all of the tables were full of laughter and happiness. The last two years have been difficult for everyone but this teenager is continuing to flourish at every step.
By Victoria Pearce
Carrer Soler, 36, 07013 Palma, Illes Balears
Contact Ronny and the team for any provisioning, catering and bespoke menu needs.