It has been one of the hottest days of the summer so far, not just because the temperature is climbing quickly but mainly because it is one of those muggy, can’t catch a breath days where no matter what you’re doing, you can’t cool down. When the sun finally disappears, there is a slight breeze, although not much, so we couldn’t have picked a better night to be dining al fresco in Aura. After an invitation from Jade to join her for dinner, the short trip from Santa Gertrudis is taken up by chat of how good the food was last year and what they could possibly do to top it! The garden restaurant is stunning, and since they lost the giant sails that provided some shelter from the elements, it has even more of an open air feel to it. It’s still early but there a couple of family tables already seated, Aura loves your children, offering to feed any of them under 12 years for free this summer, as long as you are seated by 20.15. That’s one of things that really impresses about the Aura operation, no matter how much success they are having, they are always looking at ways to step up to the next level.
One such step is a redesign of last summer’s popular menu. Meetings were held all through the winter, tasting became a daily occurrence and even the vessels that some of the dishes are delivered in came in for serious scrutiny. The result? Read on and I’m sure you’ll have no problem forming your own opinion, suffice to say, our meal in Aura last summer was one of our favourites of the year so they have big shoes to fill if they are looking to improve on that experience. The Aura staff is very friendly, it’s almost like coming home for dinner. From the minute you set foot in the garden area, to the drink at the bar prior to your table seating and throughout the meal, they can’t do enough for you. They are helpful with the wine list, great with food suggestions and generally on hand and usually ahead of the game whenever you need anything. While we are perusing the menu, hot bread and butter is delivered to the table, the bread, a variety of different flavours, packed into a cool brown bag and the butter salted with lemon twists through it. It’s this attention to detail that makes all the difference. With Jade at our table we have the inside scoop on everything on the menu, which is the perfect way to enjoy a meal. I think every restaurant should offer the option of having an ‘insider’ at your table!
For starters we opt for a mixture of dishes to share, including the 100g hand-carved jamon Iberico de bellota with preserved pear pickle. The Pear Pickle is amazing and is a discovery from the island, a family run business where Paola produces a range of artisanal preserves, jams and jellies, which also includes the orchard apple mustard that will be served with the creamy Gallician Tetilla cheese later in the summer. The grilled Mediterranean king prawns on ‘sand’ with rose harissa mayonnaise is not only delicious but fun to eat. Dip the giant prawns in the slightly spicy mayonnaise before coating them in the ‘edible sand’ for the maximum flavour explosion. Next up is the Heirloom tomato salad, handmade burrata and thyme oil. The handmade burrata comes from Artina House in San Rafael, a family run artisanal dairy that has seen UK Prime Minister David Cameron queue to buy Massimo’s legendary mozzarella! Finally, I opt for the Aura signature white peach salad and am not disappointed, it is served with jamon Serrano and the famous San Rafael mozzarella and mint leaves producing the perfect flavour combination.
It’s not just that the food is so tasty, it’s that every dish has a story behind it, whether the vegetables came from Aura’s own garden or the mozzarella from a local dairy farmer making a name for himself, the thought that goes into every bit of the menu is evident by the time the food reaches your table. Given that it is such a hot evening, for drink we opt for a crisp rosé from Provence, after some advice and friendly instruction from our waiter Joan. The wine is perfect, as is the amount of time between courses; just enough to allow the starter to fully make its impact and give us a chance to chat, not to mention make our own impact on the crisp Provence rosé! When the main courses do arrive, once again the presentation is amazing. Unlike the starters, clearly no one is in the mood to share their option as we all dig in. Our choices include Slow-cooked pulled pork burger with apple & horseradish compote and homemade focaccia turns a burger into a taste extravaganza! Five-hour slow roast lamb with cucumber and mint yoghurt takes a lot less than five hours to be demolished. Scallops with sweetcorn polenta, chorizo & chorizo oil and pan fried seas bass fillet with summer pea puree make up the four dishes. The sea bass is pan fried to perfection and the pea puree offers a unique twist on the garden vegetable, we also order salad and roasted vegetables on the side. The table goes completely quiet for the first time this evening as we all lose ourselves in our main courses.
At this point I think it has to be mentioned that the Essential team are more than happy with our lot and are ready to call it a night on the food front, until Jade starts waxing lyrical about some of the desserts and the process that they underwent in the winter to make sure they got it just right. For me, the chocolate pot, which was concocted in exactly the same way but presented in various sized vessels to the staff, resulting in a multitude of different opinions, is the winner. I need to see what this looks like as the finished article! Arriving on a small rectangular slate, with a mini glass dish complete with locking lid and a bit of honeycomb on the side is simple but very effective. The only thing better than how it looks is how it tastes, it’s funny how we can gracefully take our main course apart but when it comes to dessert it’s all out war. Our trusty snapper and self confessed creamed rice fanatic orders the chilled cardamom & rose rice, wild rose jam and pistachio, which I’m assuming he enjoyed as he never looked up from the minute the first spoonful hit his mouth. The chocolate brownie, milk ice cream with salted caramel sauce suffered a similar fate although we all did get to taste the salted caramel sauce and if a huge vat of it was available we may have all jumped in. The desserts are rounded off with a vanilla panna cotta with passion fruit syrup, delivered in a quaint glass dish and swiftly dispatched.
We order coffee, probably more because we don’t want the experience to end than anything else. While we wait for them to arrive, the boutique has opened so we wander over for a look. It’s a cool space full of local designer wear, for men and women. They have everything from a straw top hat to Syd & Rex swim shorts, making sure you look your best on one of the island’s many beautiful beaches. The boutique makes perfect sense, what better than a little retail therapy while you are in between courses. The Aura experience is every bit as good as we remember it, I think it is fair to say that they have definitely upped the ante as far as the food goes, I would have given you directions to the nearest padded cell if you had told me last summer that they would improve of the food for next year but that’s exactly what has happened. And with the menu changing throughout the summer, who knows what goodies they have in store for us.