Some towns capture the heart and the imagination. Ciutadella is one. Previously the capital of Menorca (but not since 1722), it is the same size as current capital Mahon, both small cities with 30,000 people living in each. The remaining 30,000 Menorquins live in other small towns and rural Menorca. Ciutadella is a small city, cosy and friendly, but its architecture and large square lend it a feeling of a much larger place, and one that you want to get lost in.
The streets of Ciutadella are gorgeous, winding and narrow. Many shoot off the large impressive main square, the Placa d’es Born, which overlooks the harbour below. The narrow streets are lined with Moorish, Gothic and Medieval architecture. Window balconies jut out above, reminding me of sleepy Andalucia. It is all very lovely, and glorious on a sunny day.
Coffee in Bar Imperi, Ciutadella
We started our day in a lovely little cafe in the corner, Bar Imperi. I was meeting Antonio, secretary of the Fra Roger Gastronomy & Cultural Society (Fra Roger Gastronomia y Cultura) and a Ciutadella native. Fra Roger wrote the first Menorcan cookbook and is a very important figure in Menorcan gastronomy. He was a Francisan friar and likely learned to cook in the friary. He wrote down all he learned in his book Art de la Cuina (The Art of Cooking) which was published in the 18th century.
Bar Imperi is a local institution and it is clear from the first few minutes that Antonio knows everyone there. Here you can have local pastries and snacks, coffees and alcoholic drinks. There is an open courtyard to the back as is common in buildings like this in this area. Over coffee and sobrassada sandwiches we spoke of Fra Roger and his recipes. He wrote 200 including dishes like lobster meatballs and there are many references to the original mayonnaise, alioli. Menorquins claim mayonnaise as a Menorcan dish, discovered by the French during their occupation of Menorca (and called after its place of origin, Mahon).
Seafood lunch at S’Amarador overlooking Ciutadella harbour
Lunch had to be seafood, and we headed to one of the best restaurants in Ciutadella, S’Amarador. It was packed on a Monday lunchtime, on the terrace overlooking the harbour, in the courtyard where we sat, and throughout. We had a seafood platter to start with john dory (sublime!), grouper, cuttlefish red prawns and scorpion fish.
To follow we ordered the local speciality Caldereta (invented since Fra Roger’s time and in Menorcan cuisine for 100 years or so). A local spiny lobster soup, this version was rich and had a beautiful deep rust red lobster broth with lots of lobster in, and crisp thin toast to dip in and soak it all up. As good as last years was this was divine and I was full, but the magnetic broth kept pulling me back. For dessert I had to have the local ensaimada, a glorious snail shaped lard pastry dusted with icing sugar, and served with cinnamon ice cream this time.
Finish the day with a Pomada, Menorca’s favourite gin drink
My third recommendation is the same as my first, but you will thank me for it. Start your day at Bar Imperi with a coffee, and finish it there with a pomada. A pomada is the local drink, a gin cocktail made with Menorcan Xoriguer gin and lemonade (or lemon fanta). Sometimes, lemon, or homemade lemonade.
Here I learned a neat trick, maybe two. First, you can order small cocktails, just to start your evening, a perfect primer, and not so much that it will make you sleep. Second, as I witnessed the barman repeatedly smash a bottle of fanta off the side of the counter, I realised that they had frozen the whole thing, and then gave it a good beating to create crushed ice. My pomada was like a pomada slushie, and it was so good in the heat.
I will return to Ciutadella, I have a list of restaurants to check out and I loved the relaxed friendly vibe there. I think it will be a perfect place to chill out once my book is done (and it nearly is!).
What You Need to Know
Bar Imperi, Placa des Born 5,Ciutadella de Menorca
S’Amarador, Carrer de Pere Capllonch, Ciutadella de Menorca
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I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca, who sponsored this project. As always, I have complete editorial control. With particular thanks to Antonio and the Fra Roger Gastronomic and Cultural Society and Menorca Guides for their help on this wonderful day in Ciutadella.