A determined effort by the island’s government to preserve traditional small-scale agriculture explains why the Menorcan larder is so rich with high-quality produce. In addition to citrus fruit and sun-ripened vegetables, the olive oil is excellent, as are the wines, while the Mahón cheese made from raw milk on island farms is prized all over Spain. Small fishing boats land their catch daily in Ciutadella and Mahón, which is why the seafood in many restaurants is exceptional. Perhaps the island’s most famous dish is caldereta de llagosta, rock lobster caught along the island’s craggy shoreline cooked in a tomato-rich bouillon. Sobrassada, a soft pork sausage flavored with paprika, is another local favorite, but the Menorcan staple that has gone on to achieve international popularity is a condiment, mayonnaise, which was purportedly invented here in 1756 to celebrate a French naval victory, and which was originally known as “Mahón-aise.”
Today, the beauty of Menorca, its growing number of sophisticated visitors and the island’s superb produce are attracting talented young chefs, which has created a vibrant restaurant scene, especially in Ciutadella.
Young chef Victor Lidón started cooking in his family’s restaurant when he was 16, and then worked in Barcelona and London before becoming head chef at Michelin three-star El Racó de Can Fabes (near Barcelona) under the direction of chef Santi Santamaría. When the restaurant closed, he decided to return to Menorca. He has since transformed his family’s tavern into one of the most charming restaurants on the island. The menu changes with the seasons but offers dishes like foie gras with a pumpkin tartlet, grilled catch-of-the-day fish with black eggplant and a sauce vierge, and coconut foam with curry ice cream.
Ca Na Pilar Restaurant
Avenida de la Mar 1, Es Migjorn Gran. Tel. (34) 971-370-212
In the countryside just outside Mahón, this amiable tavern is one of the best seafood restaurants on the island, partly because it has its own fishing boat. The menu runs to simple but delicious dishes like white beans with baby clams, and grilled red mullet with fried potatoes.
Can Bernat des Grau
Carretera Mahón 3, Carrer de Fornells, Maó. Tel. (34) 650-974-685
This casual sea shack-style restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean in Sant Lluís is a local favorite for carefully prepared Catalan comfort-food dishes like roasted vegetables, deep-fried baby artichokes, steamed mussels, grilled turbot, black rice with shellfish and aioli, and paella. Reservations are essential.
Club Náutico Binisafua
Passeig de la Mar 29-31, Sant Lluís. Tel. (34) 971-357-741
Menorca’s best bar has a dramatic cliffside setting and is the most popular place on the island for sundowners, since the views over the Mediterranean are so spectacular. Book one of the VIP terraces to be sure you’ll have a perch on which to enjoy a pomada, Menorca’s signature cocktail of locally distilled Xoriguer gin and lemonade. (Note: Later in the evening, the bar becomes a nightclub.)
Cova d’en Xoroi
Urbanización Cala en Porter, Carrer de sa Cova 2, Alaior. Tel. (34) 971-377-236
Reservations are essential at this stylish and fashionable restaurant in the pretty little port of Fornells. Start with sautéed red Menorcan prawns — they’re incredibly sweet and succulent — and then tuck into a caldereta de llagosta, the restaurant’s signature dish. The less expensive seafood version of this stew, with mussels, langoustines, clams and fish, is also excellent.
Carrer Escoles 31, Fornells. Tel. (34) 971-376-442
At this art gallery-like restaurant with parquet floors, white walls and a big picture window overlooking a small garden, Menorca-born chef Felip Llufriu draws his inspiration from the dishes he ate as a child. Nowadays, he updates them with clever garnishes and impeccable technique learned when he worked at the Roca brothers’ acclaimed restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona and then as chef at their restaurant in Barcelona. Made with mostly local ingredients, his food is sincere, full of flavor and deeply satisfying, including the dishes we enjoyed at a recent lunch here: cannelloni stuffed with creamed chicken and accompanied by a garnish of lardo di Colonnata, roast suckling pig with carrot puree, and a superb plate of cheeses from the Balearic Islands. Mon pours an excellent selection of wines by the glass, and service is charming and polished.
Passeig Sant Nicolau 4, Ciutadella. Tel. (34) 971-381-718
The name means “roots” in English, a reference to the fact that its chef is a Menorca native who returned home after cooking at an alphabet of famous restaurants in Spain and elsewhere. This all-white restaurant with a quiet terrace for alfresco dining serves a menu of inventive contemporary Menorcan dishes. This evolves constantly but includes prawn-filled ravioli, oysters in lemon gel, cold beet-and-basil soup, roast suckling pig and roasted dentex (a firm white fish) with grilled artichokes, and chicken-and-red-prawn terrine.
Calle de Sant Isidre 33, Ciutadella. Tel. (34) 971-480-516
Located in a former jewelry factory, this charming hotel-restaurant has an industrial-chic décor with bare wooden tables and a friendly staff. Chef Miquel Sánchez is one of the island’s most inventive cooks and serves a market menu that changes according to the seasons. Dishes like a succulent ragout of local pork and lentils with shrimp in leek-and-lemon cream express his rustic but debonair style.
Avenida Jaume Conqueridor 38, Ciutadella. Tel. (34) 971-382-808