This week we had one of the most disappointing eating experiences to date on Tenerife.
It was a learning experience that taught me once again to read very carefully between the lines when following recommendations from restaurant reviews.
We were checking route directions for one of our Island Drives and had timed it so we’d be passing through picturesque Vilaflor right about lunchtime. Our favourite restaurant there, El Rincón de Roberto, closes on Tuesdays, prompting us to try somewhere else. I’d read good things about Casa Pana so it seemed the perfect stand-in.
The setting was ideal, a quaint restaurant with a vine covered terrace overlooking a small barranco in the centre of town. With the sunshine feeling spring-warm, we were in good spirits for enjoying food described by various Tripadvisor reviewers as ‘Perfection’, ‘Taste of the Canaries’, ‘Real Canarian Cuisine’ and ‘Very Good Local Food’.
The waitress, friendly though she was, continually answered in English even though we ordered in Spanish. Although this happens a lot in some resort areas; in the hills it’s a surprise.
The mojos that came with bread were tasty; however, alarm bells went off at full volume when the almogrote we’d ordered as a starter arrived. We’ve eaten mountains of almogrote, a strong cheese pate from La Gomera, but never one like Casa Pana’s. It was dry and in chunks. After fifteen minutes in the sun it softened but it seemed like it was old almogrote. At best it wasn’t good almogrote.
It was a taster of things to come. Our friend’s pork and chips looked and tasted good but the cabra (goat stew – a speciality of the house) and chicken from the oven looked quite unappealing. A lot of Canarian cuisine is simple peasant food with looks that aren’t meant to win prizes. As long as they’re tasty you can forgive the ‘plonked unceremoniously on the plate’ look. The appearance wasn’t helped by an overdose of colourant that turned everything yellowy orange.
Both goat and chicken had been hacked into pieces on the bone, again not uncommon even though it makes eating a messy business.
The real problem was that the goat and chicken were not good quality. The goat was fatty, the chicken tasteless. The yellow sauce that engulfed both was pointlessly bland. The papas arrugadas, on the other hand, were proper papas arrugadas – black skin with yellow flesh.
The thing about the goat and chicken is that neither were undercooked or tasted as though there was anything wrong with them. It just wasn’t good quality Canarian food. I’d go as far as saying it was the most disappointing meal we’ve had in a Canarian restaurant in ten years. There was no pride in taste, quality or appearance.
However, portions were big and, in theory, cheap. And there’s no arguing that it was Canarian cuisine.
With so many good reviews, did we just eat at Casa Pana on an off day?
I don’t think so.
Amongst the glowing reviews are a few dissenters. Their comments paint a similar picture to our experience. Quite a few of the favourable reviews mention ‘big’ portions and that it was the most authentic local food they’d tasted. Both are clues.
Big portions don’t mean good food. Sitting at the bar where I watch football, I’ve lost count of the number of restaurant recommendations I’ve heard one customer give to another because portions were ‘huge’. Nothing about quality or flavour.
Additionally, many reviewers clearly stayed in one of Tenerife’s purpose built resorts where authentic Canarian cuisine isn’t easy to find. At least one reviewer comments that it was the only restaurant they found serving authentic Canarian cuisine; this speaks volumes.
Eating something local often tastes better when you visit pastures new, but how does anyone know how it compares if they haven’t tried other ‘local’ places?
There were a couple of other ‘signposts’ I didn’t spot till afterwards. None of the diners at the other tables were Spanish speakers – unusual in a Canarian restaurant at 2pm. Additionally, the restaurant closes at 7pm. How many Spanish eat an evening meal before 7pm?
Maybe we’re spoilt with our choice of good Canarian restaurants, but I resented forking out for food that fell way below the standard I’m used to.
Casa Pana is in a charming spot and the people who run it seem nice enough, but next time I’m in Vilaflor I’ll make sure it isn’t a day when El Rincon de Roberto is shut. And when I read any restaurant reviews that focusses on the size of the portions, I’ll quickly skip over them.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+