A long-awaited meal at a new favorite restaurant, Ter Mar in Toroella de Montgrí, ended with us promising never to return.
[I didn’t have the presence of mind to take any photos to back this review up. You’ll just have to trust me.]
We’d eaten at Ter Mar several times previously and this was the 2nd or 3rd time that we decided to take some friends along. Since we discovered it last year, it seemed like the perfect restaurant for us: decent seafood and rice dishes, not too expensive, and only 10 minutes drive from the dog-friendly beach at l’Estartit. So we were looking forward to this summer’s lunch.
I’ll start with the service, because that’s where pretty much any experience with a restaurant starts. Ter Mar is clearly a family-run restaurant and the service is carried out by, I presume, four members of the family: the parents and two daughters. Of these four, only one of the daughters is any good. The other three are generally impatient, rude and unhelpful. They have all mastered George Costanza’s art of looking very stressed and angry all the time, in order to look like they’re busy. The ‘nice’ daughter (I don’t know any of their names) is friendly, solicitous and far more efficient than the other three put together. That said, we never had any real problems at Ter Mar. Until this visit.
There were three of us plus Larry, and we were meeting a couple of other friends at the restaurant. We arrived 10 or 15 minutes late but the covered outdoor dining area wasn’t full and this didn’t seem to be a problem. We ordered some drinks, agreed on some starters, and picked out a black rice and a paella to share. Gemma and I had shared a lobster rice last time we ate at Ter Mar (in May), and it was very good.
The starters arrived: fried whitebait, baby octopus, frogs legs, maybe something else. It was all pretty average both in flavor and presentation but not terrible. We were hungry after a morning at the beach, so we ate most if it. Next came the black rice. This is where things started to go wrong. The rice was below average in quality. It didn’t taste of much, even after adding the alioli. It was pretty disappointing but again, we were hungry so we persevered.
And then came the paella. The (nice) daughter who delivered it to our table immediately apologized for it “not looking very good” but insisted that it would taste just fine. It looked unlike any paella I’ve ever eaten. the ‘bits’ – the langoustines, mussels (yes), etc appeared to be positioned entirely at random. A good plate of rice is generally a little better arranged than that. And the color. The rice was an odd shade of grayish brown, clearly lacking even the smallest amount of saffron (which, as anyone knows, adds not only color but also flavor to paella).
I served everyone and we tried to eat it but no one got further than a forkful or so. The paella was dry and sticky, almost tasteless and very stodgy. This was rapidly turning into one of those situations where you rave to a friend about a restaurant you’ve discovered, take them along for a meal and are the served the worst food you’ve ever had. Between the five people at that table, we must have eaten hundreds of paellas. This was one of the worst that anyone had tried. You’d find significantly better paella on la Rambla, and at a better price.
The lads say it’s fine
We called the head waiter (the father) over and explained that the paella was below the standard that we expected. We explained that it didn’t look rice, didn’t feel right and didn’t taste right. He irritably asked what we wanted instead but we preferred to move onto dessert. So he moodily took the paella away with him and said he’d bring the dessert menus. Which he did, a few minutes later. But as he handed them over, he said that “the lads in the kitchen have tried it and they say there’s nothing wrong with it”. This wasn’t a good move. If the customers – a whole party – say something’s not up to scratch, it’s not. We each responded with our own suggestions for him, mainly along the lines of “Well, good for them. They can eat it”, or “Maybe that’s the problem”.
After a botched attempt at ordering desserts (we hesitated for, seriously, a second and the not-so-nice daughter spun on her heel without a word and left us hanging), we finally received our desserts and coffees. Nothing wrong here, so we cheered up a little and then asked for the bill. Which, when it arrived, included Paella x 3 – a bit of a surprise given that we’d just sent that back.
Don’t come back
Gemma went to have a word with the father and that’s where things really broke down. He refused to take the paella off the bill because “it was fine”. Gemma made it clear that we’d been there a few times and that we weren’t trying anything on, but the food wasn’t good enough. Finally, he shouted at her “Fine, I’ll take it off the bill. But if you don’t like it, don’t come back!”. Now that’s service.
So we won’t be going back to Ter Mar, and that’s a shame. it seemed like the kind of place that could become a regular fixture: three or four times a year we’d have lunch there. We’d take our friends and they might end up taking other friends. Instead, at the request of the owner, we will not be returning. Instead, I’m sharing this review with the world with the hope that someone, somewhere, might see it and decide against eating there.
Don’t bother going to Ter Mar. With few exceptions, the food is poor and the service worse. Try Picasso, just up the road from it.