In Palma he is known simply as ”Miguel”.
The owner of La Paloma restaurant speaks Spanish like a native. Mikael Appelqvist from Sweden bought a Palma palace 30 years ago and became a local.
– I never wanted to make Swedish meatballs at my restaurants, explains ”Miguel”.
La Paloma’s creator is now the owner of not only La Paloma in La Lonja, but of restaurant Chez Camille around the corner, and imports and sells Kamado Monolith grills in Spain.
– Thirty odd years ago people used to drink a lot on their holiday, says ”Miguel”, as he shows us around La Paloma with its stylish blue velvet chairs, beautiful old stone and cosy wooden beams.
– At that time there was a restaurant in Palma with typical Swedish food, where people were always very drunk. I didn’t enjoy that kind of situation much. I really prefer the Spanish style of going out, where people eat, drink and are merry without falling over… So I decided to adopt the Spanish style food and ambiance.
Nowadays he still serves local fare such as pa amb oli, patatas bravas, pata negra ham, baby squid, beetroot tartare, spare ribs, octopus taco and beef tenderloin.
”Miguel” was the first of a long line of successful Swedes doing business in Palma. Ola and Grethe Holmgren, who founded Palma Pictures, were pioneers also, then came Micke and Johanna Landström of the Portixol Hotel group, Mats Walhström, who once started Purobeach and Puro hotel, Barbara Bergman and Klas Käll who created Rialto Living, the former part owner of Hotel Tres, now part owner of Hotel Cort, Ture Stendahl, Gran Casa Can Bordoy’s owner Mikael Hall, and many, many more Swedes have become prominent Swedish figures in Mallorca’s business world.
Mikael Appelqvist was never considered Swedish in Palma, however, he was ”Mallorquin”.
But ”Miguel” was born on a Swedish island called Gotland in 1962. Interestingly, Gotland is almost the same size as Mallorca, and island life has always attracted him.
His first professional education was that of a foreman, specializing in the art of cutting meat. Butcher by trade, he branched out, and explored the food business at Hotel Reisen in Stockholm, and as a chef at a famous restaurant in Göteborg called Johanna, where the well known chef Leif Mannerström presided.
– In those days we worked very hard, and used every penny we earned on travelling, says ”Miguel”, who was about 19 years old at the time
– I went on one of my trips, and ended up working at the old luxury hotel El Encanto in Santa Barbara,California, where California’s founding father, the Jesuit priest Junipero Serra, born in Mallorca, once lived.
– The famous cooking teacher Julia Child visited ”El Encanto” while I was there and signed her cookery books at the hotel.
– Every two weeks all the chefs had breakfast duty – what a nightmare that was! Imagine keeping track of all the different ways Americans want their eggs done, and in record time as well! Not just the soft boiled 3 or 4 minute eggs, but all the ”over easy”, ”sunny side up”, ”hard scrambled”, ”soft scrambled”, ”poached”, ”shirred”, ”baked”, ”basted” ”ranchero” and so on … Tough while working against the clock.
After the US, ”Miguel” travelled to a very large island called Australia – and from there he decided to visit his brother Putte ”Pablo” Appelqvist, who was working on the island of Tenerife, one of the Spanish Canary islands.
– Our grandfather had been one of the very first Swedes to visit the Canary Islands, says ”Miguel” Appelqvist. So we decided to try our luck there too.
– It was crazy – but good. Not being able to speak Spanish was hard, and everything took forever. I remember we needed to wait a whole year to get a phone installed. And afterwards we noticed there was not much point in having it. No-one else had one, so there were no calls!
”Miguel” and ”Pablo” worked at Ferdinand restaurant in Los Cristianos, Tenerife.
– After a while, just working and being on a banana island so far away from Europe, started getting to me – I missed the seasons of the year too. I did some research, and decided to give sunny Mallorca a try instead.
When he arrived on the island, the luxury port Puerto Portals was just being built.
– I worked for a retired English footballer at his bar ”Fat Sam’s” in Portals at first. He had lots of contacts and it was a great way to start.
A shady part of town
For a while, ”Miguel” had an evening job at the bar, and a dayjob at a real estate agency. In the early nineties parts of Palma’s amazing Old Town areas were still rather suspect. ”Miguel” Appelquist went for a stroll in one of the most central parts of the Old Town. Very close to the bar Abaco, popular then too despite the murky corners around it, he saw a stunning 15th and 16th century palace that was for sale.
The stalls from the old bordello, that had been lodged there, were still upstairs, says ”Miguel”, shaking his head with a laugh.
– The location was great. My imagination of how it could be transformed got going.
A lot of work was needed. ”Miguel” initially planned to live on the second and third floors himself with his wife, the corporate and private event planner Camilla Alverus, whom he had met in Palma. The entire bottom floor of the palace was already a Spanish style restaurant called ”La Paloma”, that had been founded in 1938, and the logical thing to do was to keep the name and upgrade the kitchens and the décor. Later, Camilla’s event company got the name La Paloma too.
– I don’t remember the exact price I paid for the La Paloma building, says ”Miguel”. – But yes, real estate was a lot cheaper then.
”Miguel’s first line apartment in a brand new building in the popular beach resort Illetas, just outside of Palma, was just 72.000 euros in 1989. Looking at some of the old newspapers ”Miguel” has, that originate from 1975, long before his time in Mallorca, a central large Palma apartment with many bedrooms, a salon, a dining room and bathroom was the equivalent of just 6.000 euros to purchase!!!
– Once we got started, La Paloma worked better than I expected, says ”Miguel”.
– We had to wait until 1993 to open our doors. But when we finally could begin it was so crowded! People didn’t mind if they knew each other or not. They just sat down together and chatted and enjoyed themselves anyway. When it got jammed, plates of tapas were passed over people’s heads until they reached the right table!
Staying away from serving Swedish meatballs turned out to be a really good idea. A lot of foreigners and locals loved sampling Spanish specialties, and on the whole people vere very merry and behaved themselves really well at La Paloma.
Through the course of about 28 years there have been many more refurbishments and a lot of investments made. Beautiful old stone walls, wooden beams and gorgeous floors from the 15th and 16th centuries are now visible in the palace. ”Miguel” created a fabulous event space on the second floor and offices too. Today there is a mixture of classic Palma palace style and new design there, courtesy of Swedish designer Yvonne Börjesson at La Paloma.
– Take a look at this old photo from 1948 – one of the children standing outside La Paloma actually celebrated his 70-th birthday in our party room, says ”Miguel”.
– It’s hard to remember all the celebrity visits we have had through the years.The Swedish film ”Jönssonligan på Mallorca” was partly recorded here. The golfer Seve Ballesteros dined here, as did several famous British footballers, the art collector Baron Thyssen’s wife Carmen Servera visited us, as did Sweden’s Princess Birgitta, businessman Stellan Lundquist, the Swedish musician Sven Erik Magnusson, radio profile Kent Finell, DJ Clabbe af Geijerstam, drag show artist Lasse Flinckman and many more.
Catering to the movie industry became a side business for La Paloma, and film crews such as the one from ‘‘Vendetta” ate spare ribs, croquettes and tapas from his palace in Palma. In the stunning upstairs party zone lots of event planners have held memorable fiestas for their conference groups and birthday parties. Guests from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Russia, the US, Canada and many many more countries have enjoyed themselves there over the years.
– On occasion we have even had traditional Swedish Christmas food ”Julbord” served at exclusive events in the party room, he confesses.
A few years ago ”Miguel” added Chez Camille to his portfolio, and his Palma Old Town empire expanded.
– To me there is no better place to survive Covid than in Mallorca, says ”Miguel”.
– When things pick up we will be among the first to feel the benefits.
Text: Charlotte von Proschwitz.
Photo: Thomas Engstrom and La Paloma.