I’ve been doing it for years, and sometimes I don’t give it a thought, other times, I am a tad wary of eating alone. I was looking forward to eating at Casa Tomas in Las Caletas on Lanzarote’s Costa Teguise. It came highly recommended. It was the end of my week’s stay, and I was floating on a wave of bonhomie, that had engulfed me from the moment of arrival. What could go wrong?
Casa Tomas is located right on the main street that winds along the seafront of Las Caletas. Easy to find; easy to park; I trot jauntily down the street, to see a group of good old boys hanging around the door, blocking the entrance. I’d had mixed experiences with bars which still seem to be the male domain in these islands. I hesitate.
One of the guys thumps his friend playfully on the arm and says, “Hey let the lady pass!” and the entire group smile and wish me a good day. Passing into the restaurant is like surfing on a wave of goodwill.
Karma restored, I introduce myself to the guys behind the bar, who turn out to be Vicente and David the sons of this family business, and they are expecting me. Vicente shows me to a table, right next to the window, overlooking the ocean. “Overlooking the ocean” aren’t quite the right words. Closer and indoors wouldn’t be possible. The restaurant window opens onto black lava, stark against an intensely blue ocean.
Casa Tomas wouldn’t be allowed today. Spain’s Ley de Costa forbids building this close to the shoreline, but these buildings were constructed so long before that particular law was invented that it is excluded from the country’s current relentless and apparently heartless pursuit of its enforcement.
I’ve been eating pretty good fish in Fuerteventura, after all, these, two islands are probably the most connected to the sea of all the Canary islands, so I decide to put myself entirely in Vicente’s hands, and not to know what will arrive. A foodie adventure!
As always in the Canaries, bread and mojos are brought with the wine, which is also Vicente’s suggestion. I often give these a miss, not to fill up before the “proper” food arrives, but in the interests of research and this blog I indulge, and can report that these are “the real thing.”
Mojos are served in almost all Canarian restaurants, the red made with red peppers, just which peppers and how much of the hot ones is clearly hotly disputed. I surfed the internet to double check on this, and the variety of recipes is prodigious. The mojo verde (green) is made with parsley or cilantro. However, there are a multitude of variations, and every decent establishment has its own recipe. They are smooth, not at all like salsa, and usually brought to your table with the olive oil and vinegar. They have, in the time I’ve lived in the Canary Islands, been dumbed down in many areas frequented by tourists, like Los Abrigos and La Caleta in Tenerife, but this red mojo has a zing I’ve not enjoyed in a long time, and the freshness of the green distinguishes it from any I’ve had before.
Eating alone, I often flick through a book or, of course, consult my phone, but today the sun glancing of the white tips of azure waves is hypnotic. I need nothing else whilst waiting. Well, maybe a consultation of the label on the half bottle of Vega de Yuco which sits in front of me.
Lanzarote’s wines were the first Canarian wines I drank. In an unforgiving climate the early settlers had devised a unique way of cultivating vines, each growing in its own circle of volcanic rocks, they polka-dot the hillsides of the island. Most famous for white wines produced from Malvasia grapes, I am told that the reds are rapidly growing in quality and popularity.
The one in front of me is white and although the label says seco, it isn’t too dry. Well chosen by my hosts to compliment the fish and seafood for which their restaurant is famous. I am, frankly, happy enough to sit here, nibble bread and quaff wine, but my first course arrives.
It is a bowl of the most luscious prawns I’ve ever eaten, fried in the lightest batter I’ve ever tasted. Each lands on my tongue and lingers with that delight which comes only from the perfectly cooked. I am quite happy to call it a day here, perfect prawns with perfect wine.
On the edges of my consciousness the sounds of companionability; it’s Saturday afternoon, families gather, and friends celebrate the weekend. The patience and good nature of Spanish waiters with young children, who get under their feet, never ceases to amaze me. Instead of a tut-tut or a grumpy look, a tousle of the hair or a kiss on the head, things which might have them in jail in a different social climate.
The décor is traditional Canarian family restaurant, chunky furniture; nets, ropes and other fishing paraphernalia around the walls, along with pictures of the area as it once was. It’s unpretentious and cozy, all the love and passion is aimed at the food. I’ve been in countless establishments like this over the years, on the coast they specialize in fish, inland it’s goat or pork, but this one, Casa Tomas has clearly taken the traditional to the next level.
When my main course comes, as expected it’s grilled fish and Canarian potatoes, garnished with salad. This is very much a family business, chef is mama, Soledad, and I can’t tell you what it is she does to bring out all the flavor and freshness of the vieja (parrot fish), but she makes a familiar dish exceptional. I’ve eaten a LOT of fish here, and this was, without a doubt, the finest. I constantly say that food cooked with that extra ingredient, love, always stands out from the crowd, and that is what this is.
When Soledad comes to sit with me for a while later, my suspicions are confirmed. Every word she utters is laden with her passion for what she does. She tells me how this idyllically located property was handed down through the family, and how she and Tomas (who has disappeared for the moment) decided to turn it into a restaurant when they realized that Costa Teguise was on the cusp of being developed into a major resort. At first their clients came from the workers who arrived in droves, but as the community established, and began to thrive, tourists as well as locals began to find their way down the road to find a taste of genuine Lanzarote cuisine. A huge per centage of the clientele are still locals, which is always the sign of good food, and recent years, scraping through what Spain calls “La Crisis” has been hard, but they are now emerging on the other side.
Even had the food been slightly less delicious, I would still have passed a delightful afternoon in Casa Tomas, important as the food is, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly friendly. This is often the way in a family business, but not always. Here it really shows. Here there are no gold-painted grapes or fancy place settings, but genuinely fresh and lovingly cooked dishes, and the sort of informal, attentive service that makes you want to linger – forever. I know I will go back, but if I’m alone I won’t give it a moment’s thought, partly on account of the welcome, and partly so that I can give my full attention to the food!
Tomas was absent for much of my visit, but is very much of the “mein host” mould, welcoming and genial, and I am told that he has a wealth of stories about the island, which has ensured that I will visit Casa Tomas again – as if I needed another excuse!
Tomas generously refused all payment for this delicious meal because I’d been recommend by friends at Sands Beach Resort during my stay there in April, who’d told him that I blog, but my opinions, I promise (you know me well enough I hope!) were in no way influenced by that!