I have, over the years, developed a unified theory of crustaceans. Rule one: the simpler the better. Rule two: eat within sight of the sea. Rule three: when the call of the lobster sounds, heed it. This is how I found myself bleary-eyed one late spring evening, my thumb stiff from too much scrolling, the words ‘traditional Menorcan lobster stew’ blinking in my front lobe like a Vegas neon sign.
Caldereta de langosta. Fresh lobster in a velvety broth. Caldereta de langosta. Tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, parsley. Caldereta de langosta. Have softer, hotter words ever been whispered?
The problem with fugue states is that they ignore practicalities. Sure, Menorca is an idyllic island year-round; a Balearic beauty blessed with all that is good in the world. Yes, pine-scented paths lead to turquoise bays. Yes, glossy black horses canter on wild beaches. Si, a Hauser & Wirth gallery sits tantalisingly on an even smaller island just a short boat ride away.
But are there lobsters in April? This is the burning question I throw at chef Alex Larrea from Menorca Experimental, a finca turned hip hotel where my fugue state has taken me. Naturally, much of his menu is plucked from the sea, and produce comes from the red, fertile farmland around the hotel. I’ve already polished off croquetas and a plate of smoked sardines with pickled grapes – but what, I persist, of the famed lobster?
‘Summer is officially the season for lobster in Menorca, and they are very strict about it,’ he tells me.
So if I eat lobster tonight, where will it come from? ‘Oof, I don’t know. But not from Menorca.’
I ponder this curse as I sit in Ciutadella’s Café Balear that evening. I’ve booked a table here on the recommendation of a friend of a friend, who described his eyes ‘rolling to the back of his skull with each bite of the lobster stew.’ It’s a short stroll from the old town’s small port, where the café moors its own fishing boat. The setting sun lingers in candy-floss skies. The table linen is heavy and starched, the atmosphere hushed. A clay caldereta is brought to my special side table with much decorum, and the stew ladled, plumes of steam rising from the pot, into a deep dish for me. I peer into its bisque-y depths.
Menorcan lobsters, I’ve read, are large spiky things with blue carapaces and fearsome pincers – all the better to protect the delicate flesh within. This specimen looks legit (I injure myself on a particularly sharp piece of shell), but I’m left feeling deflated. Chef Alex’s ominous warning was right: the stew is perfectly pleasant, but the lobster’s flesh is chewy and watery, betraying an extended stay in the freezer. My eyes, much to my sorrow, do not roll to the back of my head. I remember my first rule – ‘the simpler the better’ – as a neighbouring table takes delivery of a platter heaped with fried potatoes, grilled lobster and fried eggs. Something inside me mourns a little.
It’s with nervous anticipation that I head to Fornells the next day, fresh from two glorious hours on horseback on the sands of Son Bou, and with an appetite to match. The usually charming fishing village (rule number two: ‘eat within sight of the sea’) seems to be suffering from a bout of pre-seasonal disorder: the main road has been dug up, tables are gathering dust in closed restaurants, and a chilling polar wind blows through the palm trees. Family-run Can Tanu – one of the few restaurants open and serving the prized stew – is a popular joint. I watch the waiter turn hungry lobster-lovers away at the door, his hands clasped in contrition, but luckily the hotel has called ahead for me.
I’m ushered to a table for one by what appears to be an abandoned bar and watch Pilar González, the matriarch, cooking up a storm in a tiny bedsit-sized kitchen. Her son – the chap with the contrite expression – runs in and out to the main dining room next door, a pass of sorts having been carved through the thick wall. His face falls again when I ask for caldereta de langosta. ‘The sea is angry,’ he explains, and the family’s fishing boat hasn’t been out. He points to a corner of the room, where what looks suspiciously like a newsagent freezer has been fashioned into a makeshift lobster tank. ‘You see, it is empty.’ He takes pity at my pained expression, and tells me I could order lobster – inferior, smooth-shelled, non-Menorcan lobster, that is. I nod with a heavy heart.
Thankfully, the waiter’s eyes light up when I ask him to pick some starters for me. A trio of zamburiñas arrives: little scallops basking in verdant olive oil, fragrant with the clean, sharp scent of parsley. Then follows a platter of small Menorcan prawns, peach-pale, firm and buttery. They taste, as good crustaceans should, of lazy days on hot sand, waves lapping at burnished skin, chilled wine on salt-parched lips.
I could go on, I suppose, and tell you of the bib tied around my neck, of Can Tanu’s caldereta. But you’ll have to find out on your own. My unified theory stands: when the call of the lobster sounds, heed it. You’ll be just in time.
THREE MORE FOR THE ROAD
Speaking of seafood bibs, you’ll need one for a taste of Jumbo’s chilli crab, arguably Singapore’s national dish. Dipping crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside mantou buns into the fiery sauce is one of life’s great pleasures, but for the ultimate umami hit go for salted egg crab instead. 2 Orchard Turn, ION Orchard, Singapore (reopening 17 June)
If you’re heading to Bordeaux, make time for a day trip to oyster capital Arcachon. Central market Les Halles has all the makings of a stellar picnic: spit-roasted chicken, tiny guariguette strawberries, and of course a dozen or so bivalves from Cap Ferret. 3 Rue Rhin et Danube, Arcachon, France
It’s been 10 years since my last visit, but I still dream of Kimly: seafood doesn’t get more transcendental than at this rustic seaside spot in Kep. Order said decapod with green kampot pepper, then sit back with a cold Angkor beer and watch staff wade into the water to retrieve it. Crab Market, Kep, Cambodia
For more Balearic island adventures, lobster-based or otherwise, explore our full collection of Menorca hotels