I first noticed the aubergine walls of Lucas Maes Restaurant when a cascade of tiny lights appeared on them in the run up to Christmas several years ago.
Located on a slip road to the TF5, slightly back from and above the road, you might have considered it perfectly forgiveable that I hadn’t noticed the restaurant before, until you discovered that I had driven past it several times a day for years.
When I finally got round to visiting, I realised what I’d been missing.
Food with a view
Stepping onto Lucas Maes chill out patio with its commanding views across the banana plantations of La Orotava Valley to the glistening Atlantic beyond, is like entering the glossy pages of Conde Nast. Black rattan low backed settees with plump cushions cluster around candlelit coffee tables beneath an elegant canvas awning.
Inside the traditional house, Lucas has applied his eye for art and his impeccable taste to the individual styling of each of the dining rooms. Many of the floor tiles are original, a row of stained glass panels are set into the picture window that capitalises on the views. Walls are rich, warm vermillion, vibrant turquoise or cool beige and are adorned by abstract oil paintings by Jesús Torrez.
Centre stage is a large glass cabinet displaying some of the fine wines for which Lucas Maes restaurant won the Best Wine List in the Canaries award in 2009.
The culinary art
As I walk into the dining room, Lucas is in his familiar territory – behind the worktop of his open kitchen where he’s putting the finishing touches to my first course.
On a textured glass plate which appears gold beneath the spotlight, a succulent carpaccio of red tuna is rolled around a warm centre of chutney, tomato and crusty bread and placed on a bed of cream cheese. There’s a small crown of crispy noodle and a single beet leaf is leaning against the roll.
It’s his passion for preparing and presenting his dishes as an art form that has earned Lucas his reputation as a chef’s chef and one of the finest in the Canary Islands.
Nothing here is mass produced or frozen, every ingredient is freshly prepared by Lucas. From the bread rolls to the ice cream everything on the menu has the handmade by Lucas label.
I bite into a piece of the tuna and the cool flesh of the fish yields to the warm filling. It’s a delicious blend of tastes ““ the simple,untouched flavour of the tuna giving way to the delicate savour of the chutney and tomato and then to the hint of cream cheese.
As I scrape every last vestige from the plate, Lucas is sprinkling tiny cuts of black olives and placing beet leaves carefully onto my next course.
Three plump scallops have been gently seared and are sitting on a bed of yoghurt, lightly drizzled with curry sauce and topped with the black olives.
My first reaction is one of amazement.
“I’ve never seen fresh scallops on Tenerife!” I declare.
“That’s because you can’t buy them here,” he tells me. “Only frozen scallops are available on Tenerife. I buy these fresh from Madrid market. Provided I get my order in before midday, it’s delivered to me the following morning.”
The scallops are the freshest and most succulent I have ever tasted. The sauce gives just a delicate hint of curry, enough to complement but not to interfere with the flavour of the scallops and the bitterness of the olives is countered by the suave yoghurt.
Just when I think it can’t possibly get any better, dessert arrives in the form of banana ice cream and mousse on a biscuit bed with a toffee reduction.
The fact that its presentation is worthy of a place in the Tate Gallery does not I”M afraid, stop me from ruining it. The banana ice cream on the toffee reduction reminds me of my childhood and a flavour combination long since confined to memories. The mousse on the biscuit base is a mini cheesecake sensation of taste and texture.
Fighting against the urge to pick the plate up and lick it, I prattle on and on to Lucas about how much I’ve enjoyed his cooking. Lucas just smiles his handsome, Belgian, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-the-mouth smile and goes about his culinary business.
Tenerife magazine’s five star rating for Lucas Maes
Décor ““ 5 stars. All the beauty of a grand, old La Orotava house with contemporary style, comfort, elegance and loving attention to detail.
Menu ““ 5 stars. A new menu is created every week to showcase Lucas” innovation and capitalise on the availability of seasonal ingredients.
Food ““ 5 stars. This is where some of Tenerife’s top chefs come to eat on their night off. If you judge your food by its volume, this isn’t for you but if you’re a true foodie, Nirvana awaits.
Service ““ 5 stars. Friendly, efficient, deferential and good looking…what more could you want?
Where, when and how
Barranco de la Arena, 53 (on the Salida 32 slip road from Carretera Los Rechazos to the TF5), La Orotava; open Wed-Sun 13.00-15.30 and 19.00-23.00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; reservations (0034) 922 321 159.
Starters average €17, main courses average €19. There’s are two ‘degustación” menus at €35 and €40 which allow you to sample a wide range of dishes.
The wine list is extensive to the point of bewildering, from locally produced to rare treasures and from affordable to off the chart.