Puglia – Taranto – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2019 by gannet39

In April 2017 I made my second visit to Taranto. A few things had changed on the dining scene since November 2009, but a lot was the same. My map with these restaurants and more is here.

My favourite restaurant is still Al Gatto Rosso and it’s still the best in town (please see my next post).

As in 2009, I stayed in the Hotel Mercure Delfino www.accorhotels.com at 66 Viale Virgilio. My tip is to try and get a room at the back for the relaxing sea views. The staff are helpful and the breakfast is okay.

The two nearest decent restaurants to the Hotel Delfino are ten minutes’ walk, or less…

Braceria Via Vai (Intermediate B), 7/B Piazza Ebalia, www.facebook.com/BraceriaViaVai

The restaurant that used to inhabit this spot in 2009 (Ebalia, see review below) had closed by 2017, which is probably for the best as Taranto could do with some new culinary ideas. In a town famous for its seafood there is definitely a place for this ‘Braceria Italiana’ (Italian Grillhouse).

Via Vai isn’t cheap but the choice and quality of the meat on offer probably merits the prices.

The servers are all young guys who were a bit rough round the edges but are relatively attentive. We had a couple of miscommunications; I said ‘patatas fritas’ in Spanish instead of ‘patatine fritte’ which got me some freshly made crisps when I just wanted chips (French fries), although they replaced them without argument. When I finally got them, the chips were pretty good (B+) although they went down to a C once they’d cooled a bit.

I had the Chianina Costata; a rib steak from a Tuscan cow breed. It was overdone even though I asked for it medium rare (B). ‘Medium’ for a steak in Italy means bloodless according to Ivan and Bruno, a friendly local young couple on the next table. The steak was okay (B) but also needed a fair bit of salting to bring the flavour out.

After three days of fish I had a real hunger for meat so I ordered an additional plate of pork sausages (B). I thought they would come as a starter but they came with the steak so I had my work cut out for me. I nearly made it but I had to leave a sausage, a chunk of steak and half the chips. As usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

The Primitivo red was decent (B) but Ivan informed me that Negroamaro is nearly always better. He should know about these things as his family run Ristò Fratelli Pesce, a local fish restaurant in the old town.

Total cost with a barrique grappa, water and cover was €64; a bit pricey but there are cheaper cuts and kinds of steak available.

This next place was also excellent in 2009. It’s in the opposite direction from the old town but worth the excursion…

La Fattoria (Intermediate A), 9 Via Abruzzo, www.facebook.com/lafattoriataranto

Eight of us sat down for lunch and had the Antipasti di Frutta di Mare which included mussels in breadcrumbs (A), sweet pan-fried olives (A), fried red mullet (B), grilled aubergines (A), marinated anchovies (A), grilled courgette with mint (A), prawns and baby squid (lightly poached in fish stock) (A).

My main was a sea bass cooked with delicious olives (A). The Falanghina (A)and novella Primitivo red (B) were very nice too. We finished with a fruit salad that included Figi di India prickly pear (B).

This next place is worth knowing. It’s extremely popular, partly because it’s ridiculously cheap and also because it’s very conveniently located for the train station…

Trattoria L’Orologio (Elementary B), 27/29 Via Duca D’Aosta

This is quite possibly the cheapest restaurant I have ever eaten in! All the pasta courses are €3 and the second courses are €5!

Although the building is very modern and clean, it seems they’ve been knocking out basic but tasty food to the masses since 1938.

I had the Penne al Sugo di Carne, Salsiccia Arrosto, Sorbetto al Limone and a Limoncello for the princely sum of €12.

Okay so haute cuisine it ain’t as you can see but it’s nice to know there’s somewhere people can receive nourishment so cheaply.

And if you’re looking for a drinking establishment, this one might have potential…

Exit Village (B), 120 Via Cavallotti, on the corner with Lungomare Vittorio Emanuelle).

I was alerted to this bar by the scene of a bloke snogging a drag queen against a skip outside late one night. Just the kind of decadent place I love! It’s a cool little cellar bar with a mixed crowd, handily near the Mercure Delphino hotel. In 2009 a grappa with a very camp half a grape on a cocktail stick on top cost €4. They shut at 2am.

You can stop reading from here if you like as these next two places are ones to avoid and the last one is closed…

Marco Aurelio (Intermediate C+), 17 Via Cavour

I came here when I couldn’t get into Al Gatto Rosso on my first attempt. It’s completely bland and boring so there’s no reason to come unless there really is no other option, or if you want somewhere handy to eat before or after visiting the Archaeological Museum (see coming post) which is immediately over the road.

The young female owner is nice and friendly but her waiter is a member of the dull and sullen brigade. He did his job but without the slightest hint of aplomb.

I had a mezzo of the house white and the antipasti mare (all B).

I finished with an amaro called San Marzano which I’d never come across before. It was pretty horrible (C) so most likely no other restaurant will have it.

All his cost me €21 which isn’t too bad I suppose.

Pizzeria Landhaus (Elementary C+), 107 Via Cesare Battisti, www.pizzerialandhaus.it

I fancied a pizza for once and as this place was ranked #3 on TripAdvisor in 2017 so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

This proved to be a mistake as the food wasn’t great and my visit coincided with a little girl’s birthday party. Woe was me!

The decibels were such that even the other customers were telling them to shut up, to no avail! That’s something I’ve never witnessed before because the Italians usually let their kids run riot.

The Arancino rice ball I had as a starter didn’t do much for me (C).

And the Neapolitan style Margherita was just okay B-).

With a large beer and a limoncello the bill came to €14.50 which is normal.

You’ll never see me in here again though, just in case those little girls are still around.

Ebalia (Intermediate B), Piazza Ebalia NOW CLOSED!

In 2009, seven of us went to this restaurant recommended by the Delfino reception.

The highlights of the shared antipasti were, steamed mussels, sardine roe béchamel gratinata baked in a scallop shell, deep fried artichokes stuffed with ricotta, polpo affogato, or ‘drowned’ octopus, which all scored a strong B.

My main course was a huge portion of seafood linguine (B) whereas my friend Nicky had beef steak tagliata on a bed of red chicory (A).

The wine was an excellent Primitivo di Manduria (Villa Mottura ’06) (B+). Claudia our local manager, a wine expert, told us she has never had a bad bottle of Primitivo di Manduria.

I loved the dessert of Sfoglia con Crema Pasticcera (B+). The little sandwiches of puff pastry and vanilla cream, dusted with icing sugar, were described as ‘sporco musso’ by the waiter, which translates as ‘dirty mouth’!

They are so described because they cover your lower face with powdered sugar and flakes of pastry when you bite them.

They are absolutely wonderful when they are still warm (A). We washed them down with a glass of Muscat di Trani (A).

The best place in town deserves its own post. Al Gatto Rossa next!

Puglia – a walk around Taranto

Posted in Città Vecchia, Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2019 by gannet39

As Puglia’s dirty little secret, Taranto doesn’t even get a mention in many travel guides. It’s a shame as the town has an incredible history, stretching back to the Ancient Greeks, due to its exceptional suitability as a port.

The town is blessed with an outer bay, known as the Mare Grande, and two smaller inner seas, together known as the Mare Piccolo, the entrance to which is guarded by an island.

However, the sprawling port around the bay and the derelict old town on the island, along with a large navy base on one side of the Mare Piccolo and several oil refineries on the other, have done Taranto’s reputation no favours.

So, there are more beautiful places in Puglia but I still find Taranto to be a very interesting place and it has quickly grown on me the better I’ve got to know it. A visit to the Archaeology Museum made me aware of its illustrious past (see later post) and in this post I describe a walk you could do to become more familiar with its current layout.

You’ll find a Google map with all the places mentioned here.

Turning left out of the Hotel Delfino, walk down to the western end of Lungomare Vittorio Emanuele III taking in the views of the sea and the port in the distance as you go.

On the right just before the end is the former governor’s palace, now the Prefecture of Taranto.

It was originally built in the fascist era as you can probably tell.

On the corner is the Monumento al Marinaraio, the sailors’ monument.

From here you can cross the old bridge to the Città Vecchia on the island.

By now you’ll have a good view of the Castello Aragonese www.castelloaragonesetaranto.com.

Continuing straight along Via Duomo you’ll immediately come to the remains of a Greek temple, the Tempio Dorico www.museotaranto.it.

It’s very atmospheric walking around the old town. Video here.

Even if it’s a little eerie at times.

There were are many important buildings here, locked away behind their big gates.

But despite its dereliction, the Città Vecchia is still very much lived in…

Eventually you come to the Cathedral of Saint Cataldo. I’m not a big fan of Baroque so I’ve not been inside.

That said, the campanile around the back is quite striking.

The most important church however is the church and associated monastery of San Domenico. The Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore can trace its origins back to the Byzantine period and was used by the Templars in the Middle Ages. The current building dates from the mid-14th century.

Nearby, Palazzo Pantaleo www.comune.taranto.it at Vico Civico is fairly interesting to walk around.

In Piazza Fontana, just before the second bridge at the other end of the island, is another local landmark, the Torre dell’ Orologio.

From there you could double back and walk along the other side of the island, along the quay where all the small boats are.

Some are in better condition than others.

There are a few cheap seafood restaurants along Via Cariati that might be worth a try. Paranza is supposed to be good.

Eventually the road will bring you round to this monument on Discesa Vasto, near the first bridge.

If you cross back over to the Borgo Nuovo and aim left, you will soon come to the Archaeology Musuem, the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto (MARTA). This museum is so good that I’ve given it its own post.

Alternatively or as well, you could go and have lunch at Al Gatto Rosso the best restaurant (see later post).

Or you could just admire the dolphins on the gates of Museo TalassograficoAttilio Cerruti“, a mollusc farming research institution on Via Roma.

From here it’s a stone’s throw to the town’s main square Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and the derelict brown hulk of the Palazzo degli Uffizi , a former orphanage, looming over it.

The bandstand is a much nicer thing to look at I think.

From here you can walk back to the hotel along Via d’Aquino, the Borgo Nuovo’s pedestrian shopping street.

Just in case you’re wondering, if you turn right out of the hotel instead of left, you come to…

… more hotels.

Some old…

…and some new.

And that kind of sums up Taranto.

I’d happily come back a third time to get to know it even better.

More about places to eat and drink in Taranto next.

Puglia – bowling around Brindisi

Posted in Brindisi, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2019 by gannet39

I flew out to Brindisi a couple of days early in April 2017 in order to have a short break before starting work. Unfortunately I somehow managed to delete all my photos for this historic city, except for a scattering of food photos that were preserved on Instagram, so apologies if this post feels a litte text heavy.

My map with all the places below and more is here.

Restaurants:

Penny (High Intermediate A), 5 Via San Francesco, www.enotecaristorantepenny.it

I would recommend coming here just for the surroundings, a high-vaulted ceiling picked out in striking black and white stripes. Mario the owner told me the building dates back to the time of Frederick II, the Swabian king of Puglia in the thirteenth century.

Alternatively you can sit out on the terrace in the summer.

The food was also good, all B/B+. The seafood antipasti were really nice…

…but the Linguine ai Frutti di Mare took me to the the gates of heaven (A).

They make good Canoli too (B).

La Locanda del Porto (Intermediate B), 20 Via Montenegro, www.lalocandadelporto.com

A popular family restaurant recommended by my AirBnB host just opposite my apartment. The seafood antipasti were the highlight (B/B+), as they often are in Puglia.

Pizzeria Romanelli (Initial A), 3 Via Santa Lucia, www.pizzeriaromanelli.com

I think an essential Brindisi food experience is coming to Romanelli for a panzerotto (a deep fried pizza pocket) which they have been making since 1949. The photos on the walls will also take you back in time. I had a ham, mozzarella and tomato one for €5 which was excellent.

Il Botteghino (High Elementary B), 35 Corso Roma

This place is rated for its focaccia (famous in Brindisi) by some but I didn’t find it to be anything special. The cheese and mushroom one I had for €2.50 was okay (B), but not worth a special trip.

Cafes & Bars:

Bar Rosso et Nero (Elementary B+), 15 Via Santi

Also calling itself Rouge et Noir, this old school bar has won the Slow Food Association award for Best Bar in Puglia, primarily I think for its hand whipped gelato which is indeed excellent (A+). I can vouch for the Crema and Nocciola varieties.

It is also a pasticceria but going by their cornetto I would give the rest of their cakes a miss (B-). The coffee wasn’t great either (C) but the old couple who run it are nice.

Bar Betty (Intermediate A), 6 Via Regina Margherita

I’ve given this place on the waterfront an A rating solely for their Cappuccino and Cornetto di Crema which I had for breakfast one morning. The service I received was friendly and efficient. Can’t say what the food is like though as I haven’t tried it.

Spirito (Intermediate B), 16 Via Santi, spirito-the-right-one.business.site

The bartenders at Spirito mix a decent Negroni and you get lots of stuzzichini (nibbles).

Wine Market (High Elementary B), 3 Via Congregazione

A small modern wine bar with a young friendly staff. You get a glass of celery and carrot sticks and a bag of savoury and sweet nibbles with your glass of wine. I asked for the best Puglian white wine they had. What I got (for €4) was fine (B) but nothing special.

Market:

There’s a food market till 2pm every day in Piazza Mercato, near Piazza Vittoria, that’s worth a wander. I saw these unusual crabs in one of the fish shops nearby.

Museums & Sights:

The most famous monument in Bari is the Colonne Romane a column that is popularly considered to mark the end of the Appian way. In actuality, at least according to the plaque attached to the railings around it, it was just a column in a ceremonial square that happened to be near the water’s edge.

The original capital (the decorated top part of the column) was removed for safety reasons and is now housed in the Palazzo Palazzo Granafei Nervegna (see map) where you can get a much better view of its detailed carving. A copy is now at the top of the column.

I had a look round the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Ribrezzo (MAPRI) www.provincia.brindisi.it (entrance €5 in 2017. It’s housed in a building a pleasant courtyard next to the cathedral in Piazza Duomo.

Part of the complex is the Portico dei Cavalieri Templari, the which is the only remaining part of the Templar’s main church. It now houses some of the museum’s collection of capitals and other bits of stonework.

There’s not that much to see inside most of the museum however the stars of the collection are the bronze statues on the top floor which were pulled up from the bottom of the harbour in the 1970s.

There’s another museum called Collezione Archeologica S. Faldetta down on the waterfront next to the steps leading up to the Colonne Romane. It’s primarily a collection of Greek ceramics which didn’t do much for me. The custodian of the place is what we in Sheffield would call ‘a bit of a wrong un’. He was either drunk or crazy, I couldn’t work out which, as he just wandered around talking to no one in particular in a loud voice. If you don’t fancy looking at the pottery you can just go up to the top floor in the lift and get a view of the harbour and the Colonne Romane in the piazette next door.

One thing I didn’t do was go over to the art deco Monumento al Marinaio d’ Italia on the other side of the harbour. It has a good view of Brindisi but it’s hard to get over to that side.

Taranto next!

Shopping for Cheese in Spain

Posted in Centro, Goya, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Salamanca, Spain with tags , on February 17, 2019 by gannet39

I was recently asked for advice on shopping for cheese in Spain so I thought I’d share my thoughts on here as well.

Cheese sellers will offer you samples if they see you looking, or you could ask:

‘I’d like to try…’
‘Me gustaría probar…’

In the first place, Spanish cheese can be divided into three main groups:

Fresco: fresh cheese which has not been cured or aged
Semi curado: semi-cured cheese which has been aged for two or three months
Curado: cured cheese that has been cured for upwards of 4 months

A cheese board might feature all three ages of the same cheese in which case they are best eaten in the order of age, youngest first, strongest last.

They can also be divided according to the animal which produces the milk.

Queso de…

Oveja: sheep
Vaca: cow
Cabra: goat
Or a blend (mezcla) of two or three of the above

The most famous national cheese is Manchego, a sheep’s cheese from La Mancha, which is usually what you will get on your hotel breakfast buffet. Manchego Curado is the best stuff.

Other famous Spanish cheeses are:

Cabarales, a blue cheese from Asturias (often just cow but the best is a cow, sheep and goat milk mix)

Torta del Casar from Extremadura (sheep)
Mahon from Menorca (cow)
Idiazabal from Navarra and the Basque country (sheep)

Here’s a more exhaustive list with links.

When it comes to buying you could say:

‘I want to buy two hundred grams of Manchego Curado’.
‘Quiero comprar doscientos gramos de Manchego Curado’.

100g: cien gramos
250g: un cuarto de kilo

If it’s a segment of a wheel and you want to transport it you can ask for it to be vacuum packed or ‘envasado’.

Spanish people eat cheese as a tapa or as a starter, and also as a dessert with thin slices of ‘membrillo’ or quince jelly.

Grilled goat’s cheese is nice with some fig jam or ‘mermelada de higos’.

Toasted almonds, Marcona are the best, go well with matured cheese.

Connoisseurs say it’s best to drink white wine with cheese as it won’t dominate the flavour, but personally I prefer to drink red with more powerful curados. Dry Fino or Oloroso sherry goes well with it too and Pedro Jimenez sweet sherry can be an amazingly good match with blue cheeses like Cabrales.

The two best places to buy cheese in Madrid are:

La Boulette is a stall in Mercado de La Paz www.laboulette.com
El Poncelet, a shop between Alonso Martinez and Colon www.poncelet.es

The former is less than 10 mins walk from the Hotel Goya and the latter around 15 mins.

Both are proud to say they have over 200 varieties in stock, and they do have many Spanish cheeses but a fair amount of their stock will be from abroad.

Please feel free to add tips and comments or to suggest other cheeses.

Happy cheese shopping 🙂

Madrid – Chamberi – Gabinoteca’s Cocina Creativa in Rios Rosas

Posted in Chamberi, Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Rios Rosas, Spain with tags on February 16, 2019 by gannet39

Rios Rosas is somewhat off the beaten tourist track but I don’t mind a bit of a walk if the food’s good. Of course you can take the train to the station of the same name.

This tapas bar is one of a few businesses using the same address on a curved street (unusual in urban Madrid) off a grid street, so it’ll be where you weren’t expecting it to be. Having Google maps helps with this, mine is here.

Gabinoteca (Intermediate B), 53 Calle Fidez. De la Hoz, www.lagabinoteca.com

Gabinoteca was a hot spot for Cocina Creativa when I visited in March 2017. It’s a big space but also very popular so if you go on a weekend night as I did, it’s probably best to reserve. I was offered a high table with a bar stool at the top of the flight of stairs as you go in but it really didn’t do anything for my vertigo so I asked to be seated elsewhere and was given a place at the bar instead.

My friendly server recommended a few things for me, starting with the Tapa de Vieiras a la plancha con Pimientos de Confitadesimos; a canapé with scallops au gratin bedded on a confit of red peppers, which was really tasty (A).

On the recommendation of a blog I read I ordered El Potito; a tapa of egg, potato and truffle, served in a Kilner jar, but I didn’t rate it as highly as my first order (B-).

The house ‘Laxas’ Albarino was just ordinary, as was the following glass of ‘Portia’ Ribera Crianza (both B) that I had with the next two dishes.

The Carrillera de Ternera (veal cheeks), usually a favourite, was unimpressive (B).

The Taco Pato involved a tray with pots of stewed duck (A), marinated red onion (A), guacamole (B) and fried onion (C).

The final bill came to a total of €34.59 which seemed fair.

So the food was slightly hit and miss but generally okay. However I wouldn’t go again unless I happened to be in the area.

Madrid – Cortes – Las Huertas – two meals to remember at Triciclo

Posted in Centro, Las Huertas, Las Letras (Cortes), Madrid, Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags on February 15, 2019 by gannet39

Triciclo (High Intermediate A), 28 Calle Santa Maria, www.eltriciclo.es

As of Spring 2017 I’m very happy to say that Triciclo, located within my favourite tapas zone of Las Huertas (see my other post), is a new addition to my shortlist of essential places to eat in Madrid.

It was the place to be for the blogosphere when it opened in July 2013 but now things have calmed down it’s much easier to get in. You’ll still probably have to reserve at peak times though.

When I first came on a Thursday evening I had to squeeze into a tiny space at a raised table by the bar (my only gripe) but ended up liking the experience so much that I came back with a reservation for Saturday lunch and got a more comfortable seat in the pleasant dining room next door.

What made my experience so memorable was the superb service I received from Luis, the young sumelier (sommelier) who at only 26 is amazingly fluent in both English and wine.

On the first night I had the Menu Degustacion, seven dishes for €50, and the Maridaje (wine pairing); seven wines for €30, and it was worth every penny.

The bread and olives were excellent of course, as was the amuse bouche, whatever it was (A).

First off was a Fino from Bodega El Maestro Sierra which I really enjoyed (B+). In addition to producing great wine, the bodega is also notable for being run by a woman who took over thirty years ago when her husband died. Apparently this was very much frowned upon in traditional Andalucia.

I later procured a couple of bottles of this for my personal cellar.

The following descriptions are often incomplete as it was hard to keep up.

The first starter included some of the famous white prawns from Huelva which were paired with coconut milk, shichimi powder and trout eggs to superb effect.

This was paired with a stunning French white called Meursault. I later found out it costs around £40 a bottle but Luis had opened it for a table of the owner’s friends and very kindly given me a glass when he didn’t have to. I’ve since added one to my collection as it was superb (A+).

Whatever came next had a lot to compete with, but the mackerel did well (A).

It was matched with a Ribeiro called Finca Viñoa which had a subtle flavour and nose (B).

After this Alcachofas (B+); artichokes cooked on the plancha with a pil pil sauce, seaweed and Callos de Bacalao, the flotation bladders of cod, which are one of my favourite things to eat for their amazing flavour (A+).

Luis told me artichokes are usually best with sherry but he matched them with a favourite white of his called Artifice from Tenerife which had a very unusual petroleum-like taste(B).

After this; butter beans with clams and prawns (B).

This was matched with a Ribeira Sacra called Tolo do Xisto which had a medium nose and flavour (B+).

Next up, some Merluza (hake), which was very good (A).

The Gramona cava Luis served it with was also stunning (A) and I later bought some.

Apparently the bodega’s owner takes into consideration the astral biodynamic calendar to decide when he picks his grapes!

Then Mollejas; sweetbreads with beans (B+).

They went well with a glass of Scala dei Garnatxa from Priorat (B+), Spain’s finest red wine region.

To finish, Apple and Lychees (B+).

The best match for this was a slightly sweet wine; Moscatel de la Marina by Enrique Mendoza, which knocked my socks off (A). I later bought twelve bottles on the internet for my pop-up restaurant.

For a final digestif with my coffee I asked Luis for something special from the bar’s liqueur collection and I was given a glass of Don Papa; a new rum on the market from the Philippines. He advises cooling a drink with ice cubes but removing them with tongs before they start to melt too much.

Having loved my first experience so much, I came back for Saturday lunch, and Luis worked some more magic on me.

I’ve not graded them as I was too busy speaking to Luis but it was all superb again.

After an amuse bouche of I forget what…

…matched with a Manzanilla called Sacrista AB from Barbadillo…

… I restarted with the Tosta Atun.

And a rose called El Aprendiz from the DO Tierra de Leon.

Then a third portion of Ciervo (venison) decorated with salmon roe I think.

Matched with a glass of Llanos Negros ‘La Batista’; a Malvasia from La Palma.

Also a third of Esparragos, the season’s first crop of forced asparagus, arrived that day from Navarra.

And a glass of 2014 L’Equilibrista from Catalunya.

Then a third of Manitas; pig’s trotters, or as Luis called them pig’s hands.

The wine was called 30,000 Maravedies from Bodega Maranones near Madrid.

I don’t recall what was on the Taco Carri, sorry. Bet it was good though.

With this a 2013 Syrah called Toc Toc.

To finish, Nuestras Frutas, our fruits, which included kiwi, mandarin, red grape and cantaloupe melon was sublime.

And a final glass of 2012 MR Mountain Wine, a moscatel from Telmo Rodrigquez in Malaga.

This Maridaje of six wines only cost me €22, so I think Luis might have swung me a couple of favours, good egg that he is.

So the wheels came off my reviewing at the end but suffice to say I had two superb meals here and absolutely recommend Triciclo for lovers of fine food and wines.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Food & Drink in the Old Town

Posted in Gran Canaria, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain, Triana, Vegueta with tags , , , , on February 14, 2019 by gannet39

Please see my previous posts for things to see in Vegueta and Triana (the old town).

My Google map is here.

All the places below are handy for my colleagues staying at the Hotel Parque although the first restaurant is better for tourists seeking an idyllic spot. Everybody should visit the market.

Mercado de Vegueta (B+), Calle Pelota

This is a lovely market to walk around because the stall owners have put so much effort into their displays.

Does anyone know what these strange things are?

Casa Montesdeoca (Advanced B+), 10 Calle Montesdeoca, www.facebook.com

This is a higher end restaurant located in the large courtyard of a sixteenth century house in the old town. It’s not quite as stunning as their photos make it look but it is very pretty with an old well and lots of plants. It’s hard to believe the house was a ruin just a few years ago.

The tables have been placed under the courtyard porticoes and umbrellas in case of rain which was a distinct possibility when I was there in March.

The waiters, dressed in white tunics, are friendly and efficient. A soundtrack of Spanish guitar added to the relaxed atmosphere. The food is good and nicely presented but not amazing (B).

I had the Raviolis Rellenos.

And the Sama en Espejo de Trufas y Espuma de Frutas del Bosque, that is, a local fish with truffles and a foam of forest fruits.

With a bottle of Manto by La Geira, another volcanic dry Malvasia from Lanzarote, which was lovely.

The bill came to €60 which was par for the course I think.

El Herreno (Intermediate C), El Herreño Calle Mendizábal, 5 Calle Mendizábal, m.facebook.com

This is a big old place by the market with large dining rooms that were filled with big groups of locals when I went for lunch on a Saturday. It’s very cheap, which may account for its popularity, and the service is fast and efficient but not particularly friendly. It’s the Lonely Planet top pick for Las Palmas but for me the traditional food wasn’t good enough to warrant the rating.

I went for media raciones of three classic local dishes beginning with Ropa Vieja; originally a Cuban dish called ‘Old Rope’ which has bounced back to the Canaries due to their close ties with the Caribbean island. It can be made with different meats and even fish but was composed of chicken, potatoes and chick peas here. It was the only thing I polished off (B-).

Also Gofio Escaldo; a puree made of maize, originally a poor person’s dish, which I wasn’t too keen on and didn’t finish (C-).

Also a tasteless version of the local chick pea stew; Garbanzada made with carrot and only tiny pieces of jamon which was too plain to interest me and I left a lot of it (C). The version I had in La Dispensa (see my Isleta – Las Canteras post) was much tastier with the inclusion of chorizo and morcilla. With all this, a half bottle of Cune (B).

For dessert Mus de Gofio, a sweetened version of the maize puree I had above (B) and a Ron Miel brought the total to €30.

I have to say my poor old stomach wasn’t too happy digesting the food from here. Maybe I had too many chickpeas and too much maize but I think it was the quality of the cooking and ingredients that disagreed with me. It’s an experience that the budget traveller might enjoy, and there are plenty of other more common Spanish dishes on the menu besides my weird selection, but that said, I won’t be going back.

Pecado Ibérico (Low Intermediate B), 21 Calle Cebrian

This modern little breakfast place also doubles as a deli, a junk shop and a bar. I came for lunch but there was nothing lunchy on the menu so I had a wrap (erroneously called a Burrito) filled with cooked ham. It was cheap at €6.50 and included a juice and a coffee.

I’m guessing the place is run by a mum and her hipster son, neither of whom were particularly welcoming but they thawed slightly under my charm offensive.

I bought a jar of local honey here as well. It was a bit pricy at €9.90 but I was happy to pay that as it was very good (A).

El Modernista (Elementary A), Plaza de San Telmo

This is a café located in the lovely Modernista kiosk in the square opposite the Hotel Parque where I should have been staying.

I could look at this building all day. In need of a pit stop after a long walk, I had a Café Cortado, a small bottle of water and a double Ron Miel for €9.10.

And that my friends was the end of my eight days in Las Palmas.

Off to Madrid next!

Las Palmas de Gran Canarias – Historical Architecture in Vegueta

Posted in Gran Canaria, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain, Vegueta with tags , , , , on February 13, 2019 by gannet39

Vegueta was the first neighbourhood of Las Palmas when it was founded in the late fifteenth century. It was declared a National Artistic Historic Site in 1973. Many of the principal civic institutions were located here.

At 1 Calle Colón you’ll find Casa de Colón www.casadecolon.com which used to be the governor house and also claims to be the temporary residence of Christopher Columbus before he sailed for the Americas.

Personally I’ve lost count of the number of cities that lay claim to his name (Genoa and Barcelona spring to mind). It’s now a museum about the Castillian conquest of the Canaries as well as Columbus and pre-columbine America. Entrance fee is 4€ for adults and it’s free the first weekend of the month.

Although the rest of the building is quite austere on the outside, the entrance door is stunning.

The characters seems as sharp as when they were first carved. Click on the pics to enlarge.

The rear entrance is also quite ornate.

The carved figures here seem slightly cruder and less sharp but more humourous.

In Plaza Santa Ana you can see the Catedral de Santa Ana. Although there was nothing inside that particularly impressed me, next time I go I’ll pay the 1,50€ to go up to the roof to enjoy the views which are supposed to be very good.

One of the buildings on the southern side of the square has some nice architectural features.

Plaza de Santo Domingo is a nice square with a pretty fountain.

Another building of note is the Teatro Perez Galdos at 1 Plaza Stagno www.teatroperezgaldos.es.

It seems quite austere from the outside but perhaps there’s more to like inside.

Eating in Vegueta next!

Las Palmas de Gran Canarias – Modern Architecture in Triana

Posted in Gran Canaria, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain, Triana on February 12, 2019 by gannet39

Triana is the former merchants district in the old town. The adjoining neighbourhood of Vegueta (see nextpost) has governmental buildings dating back to medieval times whereas Triana has more recent residential buildings dating back to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Today it is one of the most important commercial areas in Las Palmas, particularly since the pedestrianisation of its main street Calle Triana. My map here.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my employer either uses the Hotel Astoria in Isleta or the Hotel Parque www.hparque.com in Triana in the old town. The Parque is preferred for logistical reasons as it’s next to the Estación de Guaguas (gua gua is the local name for a bus).

The hotel faces onto the Parque de San Telmo. In one corner of the square is the beautiful Art Deco kiosk (quiosco) which houses a café.

Nearby at 2 Calle Buenos Aires at Punto de Información Turística de San Telmo.

At one end of Plazoleta de Cairasco is the Art-Nouveau Gabinete Literario, constructed in 1842.

It was originally a theatre and later became a club, but nowadays it houses a literary society, as well as a restaurant and a cafe.

I only managed to snap a couple of shots inside before the concierge threw me out.

At 6 Calle Cano is the Casa Museo de Pérez Galdós www.casamuseoperezgaldos.com.

On Calle Pérez Galdós is the Modernista Palacete Querego Rodríguez Quegles.

At different times it has housed the Conservatory of Music, the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Government of the Canaries, the Direction of Universities and Research, and the Canary Academy of the Language and is now used as a cultural space.

If you sneak through the front door you can catch a glimpse of one of the beautiful stained glass windows.

Modernisme is my favourite style of architecture and this blue and white confection was my favourite building in the area.

This is another beautiful example of Modernisme.

And here’s another fine Modernista house on Calle Cano.

And there are many more, especially along Calle Triana. Click on the photos to expand them.

I also like more traditional Spanish houses with their balcones cerrados; enclosed balconies that regulate heat and noise from the street.

Some buildings have a Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish revival) features but they don’t seem to be as common as in other cities in southern Spain.

Plaza de las Ranas has a Neo-Mudéjar kiosk…

…and a nice statue with a fountain.

Plaza Alameda de Colon is another pleasant square.

There are a few examples of art deco around.

A more recent building is the Rationalist Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria, built between 1932 and 1942, on the corner of the Bravo Murillo and Pérez Galdós streets.

And there is the odd Postmodern building in the neighbourhood but they are few and far between.

So Triana is an architectural paradise for building spotters. There’ll see some more in Vegueta, the oldest barrio, next.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – a walk through Ciudad Alta

Posted in Ciudad Alta, Gran Canaria, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain with tags , on February 11, 2019 by gannet39

Ciudad Alta is the barrio on the hill between Isleta (see previous posts) and Triana (next post). One day I walked through the neighbourhood towards the old town along Paseo Chil (the main artery). My map is here.

This is where the well-heeled locals reside now that Triana, once the poshest part of town, has become an outdoor architectural museum.

There are some fantastic homes up here but I stopped taking photos of them after getting being told off by a security man. In the UK you can take pictures just about anywhere you like when you’re outside but it might be different in Spain. Better safe than sorry anyway.

However, I did get a few snaps of the wonderful Neo-Mudejar monster that is the Hotel Santa Caterina www.barcelo.com. Next time I come back I’ll try and get to the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant.

The hotel overlooks the lovely Doramas Park (at 227 León y Castillo) which was designed by the British in the 19th century.

It’s an oasis of tranquility with all kinds of exotic plants and flowers that I had never seen before.

There are a few whacky statues and water features dotted about as well.

By way of contrast I also came across this brutalist staircase which I adore. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

The lovely neighbourhood of Triana next!

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Isleta – Eating and Drinking around La Puntilla

Posted in Gran Canaria, Isleta, La Puntilla, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2019 by gannet39

La Puntilla is the area at the far north eastern end of Playa de Canteras. See also the previous post on places to eat around Playa de Canteras for the rest of the beach area. My map here.

The best place to go for tapas in Isleta is the old market, the Mercado del Puerto de la Luz at 76 Calle Albareda mercadodelpuerto.net, which has been renovated and turned over completely to tapas bars.

This first one was my favourite but the others were good too.

Skandi Tapas (Elementary B+), inside the market, is run by a lovely Swedish lady. She’s a former SAS airhostess so she knows a thing or two about hospitality. We had a tapa of Caballa Ahumada (smoked mackerel) with crispbread…

…and three different tapas of Salmon; smoked…

…marinaded (gravelaks) and in rolls with Polar Bread, a northern Swedish flatbread (recipe here) and served with a traditional mild mustard sauce.

All these scored an A with me but then I’m biased as I’m half Norwegian. It was really nice to have something different from the usual Spanish tapas. With three glasses of wine each the bill came to a reasonable €32.

At Cachuk (Elementary B+) there’s an Italian vibe with dishes like Mejillones Relleno alla Livornese.

My friend Tina and I also had the oysters…

… and a nice glass of Ribera del Duero.

At El Camaron (Elementary B) on the outside of the market we had some good grilled prawns and razor clams (B+). With two glasses of Albarino the bill came to €18.80.

Whereas La Barra del Puerto (Elementary B+), next door to El Camaron did some good octopus with a green mojo, made with coriander, recipe here.

As for restaurants…

La Marinera (Intermediate B+), Calle Alonso Ojeda, Plaza de la Puntilla

This is a big, famous restaurant on a promontory at the end of the strip in Puntilla.

It’s right next to the sea and has great views over the sea.

The food is good, the service less so.

The Canaries have a good rep for cheese I had a media of local Queso, both fresh and semi-cured, to begin (B+).

For the main; grilled Sama a common local fish you’ll see on many menus. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether it should be translated as Red Sea Bream or Pink Dentex but either way it’s a new one on me.

To finish, a stunning sweet called Polvetos de Uruguay which I raved about in the previous post (A). Again, it’s something you’ll see it on the menu of a lot of restaurants here.

With the dessert a shot of best quality Ron Miel, Canarian honey rum, by Aldea. The was my first experience of this nectar and I fell for it straight away (B+).

With a jarra (large beer) the bill came to just under €28, not too bad.

I would recommend coming here for the views and the food is good but you get the distinct impression that the grumpy waiters don’t like tourists. When I requested the Canarian classic grill dish called Casa Carmelo (as recommended at this restaurant by Culture Trip) I was told in a very patronising way that it had never been on the menu but when I finally found it (it’s a big menu) and proved him wrong, the waiter stopped serving me! I didn’t let his lack of professionalism bother me though and I still enjoyed myself here.

By the way, if you want to try Casa Carmelo, whatever it is, it’s served at a restaurant of the same name just a few doors away at 2 Paseo las Canteras, www.restaurantegrillcasacarmelo.com. Sadly I never got the time to go and give it a try.

Amigo Camilo (Intermediate C+), 1 La Caleta

A waterside restaurant in Puntilla that looks lovely from the outside but with plastic furniture and poor service once you get in.

The high parapet makes it hard to see the lovely view.

The exception was the friendly manager who took me to see their fresh fish display and helped me choose one.

I had a very nice grilled Sama again (see notes above) and media raciones (half portions) of Ensalada Mixta and the quintessential local dish Papas Arrugadas, new potatoes served with mojo (see above).

To drink, a Canarian volcanic wine, a dry Malvasia from Lanzarote, called Bermejo for €16 which was really nice(B+), as was every other local white I tasted.

To finish another glass of Ron Miel but an inferior version this time by Artemi called Indias (C).

The total bill came in at just over €42.

La Oliva (Intermediate B), 17 Prudencio Morales

Recommended by a blogger who reckoned they do the best Calamares Fritos locally.

With a G&T each the bill came to €23.50 which was a bit pricey but the Calamares were good (B+).

Ginger (Intermediate B+), 2 Paseo las Canteras

This was my friend Tina’s local as it’s very good for G&Ts (B+). Look at the size of those glasses!

A walk through the neighbourhood of Ciudad Alta to the old town next!

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Playa de Las Canteras – Places to Eat and Drink

Posted in Gran Canaria, Isleta, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Playa de Las Canteras, Spain with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2019 by gannet39

One thing that pleasantly surprised me about Las Palmas was how multicultural it was, as can be seen by the wide variety of restaurants from every region of Spain and every country in the former Spanish empire, as well as many other national cuisines. During my eight night stay I ate Canarian, Galician, Uruguayan, Peruvian, Swedish, Japanese, Korean and Indian food. Here are my favourites in order of preference.

Google map here.

See also the following post on places to eat around La Puntilla, the area at the northern end of the beach, including the market.

Novillo Precoz (High Intermediate A), 9 Calle Portugal, www.novilloprecoz.es

This was one of my favourites during my stay; a completely authentic, old school Uruguayan steak restaurant which has been around a long time judging by the age of the owner; a frail old lady guarding the till.

To begin a Chorizo Parrillero and a Morcilla sausage…

…followed by grilled Provelone.

For the main a medium rare Bife Ancho steak (A) with Papas Fritas (A) and a big Ensalada Mixta (B+).

On the waiter’s recommendation I had this with a local red wine called Caldera (B).

For dessert I again put myself in the hands of my helpful waiter who surprised me with a mixed dessert of Polvitos Uruguayos (a kind of cheesecake with a biscuit crumb base, whipped cream, filled with dulce de leche and topped with pieces of meringue) which in Uruguay is known as Polvitos de Novicia, paired with a Panqueque con Dulce de Leche which combined were heaven on a plate (A+), especially when supported by a glass of PX.

After this excellent meal I had to finish things properly with a balloon of Gran Duque de Alba brandy in a warmed glass (A).

The total came to a greedy €71 which I was happy to pay for such a comprehensive blowout.

Ribera del Rio Mino (Advanced B+), 21 Calle Olof Palme, www.riberadelriomino.com

This is a high end Galician restaurant recommended by Michelin and the Guia Repsol. It’s very popular with posh locals and I was lucky to get a seat at the bar for Sunday lunch, despite arriving early. Reservations definitely recommended at peak times.

My waiter at the bar was very hard-working but he should have had someone else on with him because he was often too busy to serve me as the place started to fill up.

I began with a media of Croquetas de la Casa (B+).

The Gambas a la Plancha were pricey at €21, but they were just what I wanted (B+).

With these I had three glasses of an excellent Albarino (A), called Altos de Torona, at €3 a glass.

For the next dishes I swapped to red which was more pricey at €4 a glass but the first glass of a Ribera del Duero called Pago de Valtarreña was totally worth the money (A).

However the subsequent glasses of Celeste and La Planta, both Riberas, were less so (B).

The Chistorra sausages with chips were good (B). However I felt the local Queso Duro (B+) was a bit pricey at €10.60 and the cheesecake (C) wasn’t worth €7.

But the glass of Carlos I brandy was good value at €6.40.

The total bill for this little lot came to €80. Many things were overpriced in my opinion but there were bargains to be had and I was glad to have experienced their top notch wines.

La Despensa (Low Intermediate B+), 8 Calle Diderot

A place to have Canarian food near the Hotel Astoria. I had the reasonably priced Menu Degustacion for €21 which scored a B overall. This kicked off with Tomates Aliñados, a dressed tomato salad…

… and continued with Garbanzada, a local chick pea stew. Next came a very unusual dish, particular to the Canaries, of Croquetas de Morcilla de Teror which contained sugar, ground almonds, raisins nutmeg and spearmint. While I love black pudding, I’m not sure if I’m a fan of this sweet version (C+) but it was interesting.

The meal concluded with Secreto Iberico, a pork cut with chips. Very good value and nice rustic food.

Bodegon Don Juan Pachichi (Elementary B), 51 Calle Martinez de Escobar

A very popular tapas bar located in an old garage! It has been around for 70+ years apparently. The food scores a B/C with me but the atmos is B+.

I had two glasses of mediocre red, some Queso Semi-Curado con Mojo (in the Canaries mojo means a ‘sauce’ containing olive oil, peppers, garlic, and paprika) and some Jamon Serrano.

Of note is the Chorizo al Inferno, which you get to grill yourself.

It’s fun to do but the results aren’t great and there’s a slight aftertaste of lighter fluid.

To finish; Pan Bizcocho a kind of local cake which I wasn’t too keen on (C-).

The final bill was €11.30 which is very reasonable. A fun place which I’d go to again.

Nomiya (Intermediate B+), 34 Calle Rafael Almeida

A bright, modern place selling Korean and Japanese food, run by Koreans, that has a strong local following. The waitresses were lovely and very efficient and hard working. Two of them were sisters who had lived in Manchester and Belfast but where currently sporting strong US accents as they attended the local American school.

One told me how much she missed the friendly people of Manchester who were quite different in their attitude towards people of other ethnicities in comparison to the Canarians who she felt weren’t very welcoming. Unfortunately I’d have to agree with her due to my general experience. Some locals (not all by any means) don’t seem to like foreigners much.

Anyway, about the food. I had a portion of Kimchi; pickled Chinese cabbage with chilli (B), Bibimbap, a hot rice dish (B+) and feeling greedy I followed up with Pa Jun, a seafood pancake (B).

With a couple of local Tropical beers (C+), the bill came to just over €25.

A good spot if you fancy a change from Spanish food.

Fuji (Intermediate B-), 56 Calle Fernando Guanarteme, www.restaurantefuji.es

Spain’s oldest Japanese restaurant apparently (founded in 1967), but as someone who lived in Japan for a while, I can’t say I was particularly impressed.

I had the Misoshiru (beanpaste soup), the Sashimi de Sama (a common local fish, raw)…

…and the Norimaki Variado (mixed seaweed rolls).

It was all perfectly edible but uninspiring and I was given a replacement for the tuna norimaki without being asked if it was okay, which it wasn’t.. With two Kirin lagers the bill came to €37.50.

Nawabi (Intermediate B), 7 Calle Jesus Ferrer Jimeno

A fairly posh Indian restaurant with tasty, authentic curries (B). Another good place for a change of cuisine.

La Bikina Cantina (Intermediate B), 63 Paseo de las Canteras

I had the Ceviche and a Margarita for €12.50. The ceviche wasn’t very nice C- but maybe other things on the menu are okay.

For more places to eat and drink in the area, seen my next post on La Puntilla.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – Isleta – Walking Around Playa de Las Canteras

Posted in Gran Canaria, Isleta, Las Canarias, Las Palmas, Playa de Las Canteras, Spain on February 8, 2019 by gannet39

This trip in March 2017 was the first time I’d ever been to the Canary Islands but they are definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again, ideally as a cheap escape from the miserable British winter. While not the hottest month by any means in the Canaries, the March weather was usually bright, sunny and warm most days.

Las Palmas is the capital on the biggest island, Gran Canaria and ranks as the tenth largest metropolitan area in Spain.

It’s famous for its urban beach, Playa de Las Canteras which runs for three kilometres along the city’s northern shore.

The neighbourhood is known as Isleta. Please see the two following posts for restaurant suggestions.

Webcam here. Google map here.

The shoreline street, Paseo Las Canteras makes for a very pleasant walk although it can be a bit windy at times.

This statue of a fisherman descaling fish was my landmark on the waterfront that told me to turn inland to my hotel, the Hotel Astoria, www.bullhotels.com. The Astoria, with its small poky rooms and a very mediocre breakfast, is not particularly recommendable but its location near the beach made it preferable to the usual hotel my employer uses; the Hotel Parque en Las Palmas, www.hparque.com which is better located for Veguera and Triana in the old town on the eastern side of the city (see later posts).

Veguera has some fantastic architecture (see future posts) but there are a few nice buildings around Las Canteras as well.

There are some examples of simple Art Deco…

… as well as some interesting post-modern designs…

…some of which have some lovely tiling…

…and others less so.

There’s much more architecture in later posts but Las Canteras restaurants are next.

Castile La Mancha – A Manchego festival in Manzanares

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Manzanares, Spain on February 7, 2019 by gannet39

I had another day off the next day so I passed by the Tourist Information Office (Oficina de Turismo Manzanares, www.turismocastillalamancha.com) at 3 Calle Empedrada where the nice lady informed me there was a tapas festival in a large tent at Músicos Park at Avenida de Cristóbal Colón, just a few minutes walk from the central square. You’ll see this derelict mill looming over it on the next block. My map here.

The festival was sponsored by the town and regional councils and, I presume, some organisation like the Manchego cheese marketing board.

Manchego, as the name implies, originates in La Mancha but has become the default national cheese, rather like Cheddar in the UK, and all the tapas on offer here included it in some way or another.

The festival was an interesting concept for me as it’s something I’d toyed with putting on myself back in the market at home, except with Yorkshire ingredients.

First you queue up at the ticket booth and buy a ticket for each tapa you want to try, at €2 a pop in this case. You buy separate €2 tickets for drinks from the bar.

There were nine different local bars and restaurants who had booths at the fair, each specialising in just one kind of Manchego tapa and serving it on plastic disposable plates.

A good few of them were coated and deep fried slices of cheese. My favourite was this one with fried spring onion which (B+).

Another more visually attractive tapa used a cheese sauce to dress canelones.

Another good one was the cheesecake dessert (B+).

The bar that, according to the judges, made the best tapa was presented with an award on the main stage.

At each stall you would get your card stamped and if you got all nine stamps your card was entered into a prize draw for a free holiday.

You could also get tablas of differently aged and cured cheeses from the half dozen stalls representing individual dairies at the back of the tent, or if you couldn’t face a whole tabla, you could graze on their free samples.

Towards the end a brass band came to entertain the crowd, or at least all the old ladies who got up to strut their stuff. I’d forgotten how much fun they could be. Video here.

So a few hours of cheap and fun entertainment. I’d love to do something similar back home in Sheffield.

As it rained most of the last two days I was in Manzanares and the temperatures tumbled I was glad to leave and head for Barajas Airport in Madrid to catch a flight to sunnier climes in the Canary Islands. Tales of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria coming next!

Castile La Mancha – Eating, Drinking and Walking around Manzanares

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Manzanares, Spain with tags , , , , on February 6, 2019 by gannet39

Manzanares is another wine-producing town in the province of Ciudad Real in Castile La Mancha. It’s just a few kilometres of Tomelloso (see previous post). My map here. It’s smaller than Tomelloso and not as pretty but there were are a few things that caught my eye.

On the way to my hotel from the bus station, I stumbled across the remarkable facade of the Gran Teatro www.manzanares.es at the Plaza del Gran Teatro.

Plaza de la Constitución, the old central square, is quite pleasant.

The town hall sits above the porticos that run around three sides of the plaza.

The main church is in the square; Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, has a nice doorway and tower.

As it was my day off, I spent my first afternoon here trying the local wines and eating tapas in one of the two bars in the square. It was a sunny Saturday so there was a bit of a buzz, especially as there was a wedding in the church that day so there were lots of people strutting about in their glad rags. Fireworks were set off when the happy couple came out of the church.

Cervecería-Cafetería Miguelón (Elementary B-), Plaza de la Constitución

It was a bit too hot to sit outside so I sat at the bar instead and watched Real Madrid scrape a win against Betis on the telly.

A free tapa came with every glass of wine. I liked their Tortilla (B+) and their Migas and Gambas Blanca were both okay (B) but I was less impressed with their fatty Chicharrones (B-) and the overcooked Tortelitas de Camarones were the worst I’d ever had (C-).

I started with the local whites which are better than the reds I think, at least in this bar. The most impressive was a sparkling sweet number called Poetica (B+) which I later found on the internet for about €4 a bottle! Sadly I couldn’t convince the bodega to post me any though.

Next best was the local dry red Senor de Guadianeja (Macabeo 2016) which was okay (B). I’d passed their big wine factory on the bus as it came into town.

The dry Yuntero had a nice flavour although it fell away towards the end and there was little discernible nose (B-).

Onto the reds, I tried the Senor de Guadianeja Macabeo Cab Sauv which was okay on the nose but again the flavour fell away too quickly (C+).

The Finca Antigua, made with four grapes (not a good sign) was also disappointing (C). I think this bottle had been open a bit too long though as I had it a few times elsewhere and it was better.

I got the bill after this and was stunned to only have to pay €9.20 for six small glasses of wine and seven tapas! Not the greatest food and wine but it would be churlish to complain too much at that price.

From Plaza de la Constitución I walked up the street to Plaza de San Blas…

Restaurante Castillo de Pilas Bonas (Advanced B), Plaza San Blas

The old castle, Castillo de Pilas Bonas, www.pilasbonas.com, has been converted to be an upmarket restaurant and hotel.

Having had just tapas in the square, I had no room for a full meal in the restaurant (highly recommended and still at #5 on TripAdvisor in January 2019), so I sat at the bar and had some more tapas and red wines which were much better here.

The young staff, dressed in black tunics and silver buttons, gave me some good suggestions. These included a racion of Lagartijos de Ibéricos, strips of pork, which were very good (B+) but came with those annoying little fries, Patatas Paja, that are nearly impossible to get into your mouth without them going everywhere (C).

The Jarrete de Cordero Lechal, shank of suckling lamb, was good (B) but the sweet potato puree with it was much too sweet and detracted from the meat rather than complementing it (C-).

The reds I tried included one called Quixote which had a good colour but was quite light on the nose (B+).

The La Finca Antigua Syrah had a better nose but a slightly weak finish (B+).

The Epilog was less impressive (B).

The two dishes and three wines came to €21 so more expensive than in the square but much better quality.

El Parador de los Galanes (Intermediate C), Arrabal Sector Pp 2, 18

Made a bit of a screw up with this one! I didn’t realise there are two paradors (hostels) right next to each other, on the ring road, about thirty minutes’ walk from the centre of town, and I went to the wrong one! This one is actually a dingy privately-owned motel by a petrol station. The food and wine scored C-/C/C+ with me i.e. it was all perfectly edible and very cheap (£15 for the set menu) but not somewhere I’d return to.

The nearby Parador de Manzanares www.parador.es is probably much better as it was at #4 on Tripadvisor in 2017 and was also the most reviewed. As it has a swimming pool it might also be a better place to stay than my hotel below, although it is a bit of a walk from town.

Hotel Castellano (High Elementary B), 71 Calle Valencia, www.hotel-castellano.com

This is a nice two star with spacious rooms and comfortable beds. The WiFi was annoyingly erratic in March 2017 though. The café downstairs is a popular meeting place in the mornings for lots of the local blokes, whether retired or on their way to work and there’s a nice courtyard where you can sit outside.

There’s not much on offer for breakfast. I usually just had a Café con Leche and a Tostada with tomato pulp, olive oil and manchego, or maybe just a Magdalena (a pre-packaged cup cake-like bun).

The hotel restaurant is better though, it was actually at #4 on TripAdvisor at the time of writing in March 2017. The menu has quite a few traditional local dishes on it. I had the Sopa Castellano (bread and egg in broth), a half racion of Croquetas, lamb chops with chips and a half bottle of local Finca Antigua Tempranillo with the white label (all B) for only €15.

Off to a Manzanares tapas festival next!

Castile La Mancha – Tomelloso- Eating & Drinking

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Spain, Tomelloso with tags , , , , on February 5, 2019 by gannet39

I ate and drank very well during my time in Tomelloso (Google map here).

This first restaurant was especially good…

La Antigua (High Intermediate A-), 112 Calle Don Victor Penasco, www.facebook.com

This beautiful restaurant and tapas bar in a recently renovated old town house is a new addition to my list of favourite restaurants.

On my first visit I sat downstairs in the back room with its beautifully tiled floor. Before I had ordered any food, a couple of free tapas landed on my table alongside my glass of wine. This Croqueta de Mariscos was to die for (A+).

And this Pincho Moruno was really good too (B+).

I knew this restaurant would be an excellent place to try local wines so armed with research from the internet and with some help from my helpful waiter I tried several of Tomelloso’s more famous wines. To drink I began with a glass of Anil (B) which was recommended by Ana at the bodega I had visited that afternoon.

Next a glass of sparkling Verum Gran Cueva (B+).

The Laminas de Salmon pressed all the right buttons in terms of flavour and presentation (A).

The Verum Airen was okay (B).

But the Verum Malvasia was stunning (A). It had a wonderfully fragrant nose which lingered on, as did the flavours on the palate.

The Foie Frio was okay (B).

The Laya Monastrell I had with it was really good (B+). I later ordered 30 bottles of it for my pop-up restaurant. With tax and delivery charges, it came to under €10 a bottle.

The Allozo Verdejo had an excellent nose (A).

The Tacos de Atun, while being very visually attractive, had no flavour except of some rather overbearing citrus (C).

After eating I went through to the bar for a brandy, my favourite Spanish digestif. Tomelloso produces some of the best Holandas (distilled wines) for the production of brandy in the world and the waiters told me that many of them are sent down the road to be bottled in Jerez (my favourite Spanish wine town). However, there are two famous local names; Brandy Casajuana and Brandy Peinado, both of which mature their brandies in oak barrels using the Solera System.

In the bar I attracted the attention of Patrick, a friendly French guy who turned out to be a professional hunter. He waxed lyrical about the restaurant, the town, and the excellent game that was to be found in the surrounding countryside. Here’s his website showing what he gets up to. We discovered we had a mutual love of Spanish brandy and he encouraged me to try a few chupitos (shots) of different brandies. I had the local Peinado 20 year old (B)…

…Fundador (B) and Fundador Exclusivo (B+).

I’d love to try the Peinador 100 year old, which they had, but a bottle costs £175 and they were charging €20 for a glass!

With the brandies, all of this only came to €43; great value given the level of enjoyment I’d had.

Of course I was back at the first opportunity, this time for lunch upstairs.

They have an interesting gallery of old photos and prints running around the walls up here, including this Picasso print.

This time I tried their cheese selection; three kinds of Manchego cured using different methods. I preferred the Aciete (cured in olive oil) but the Manteca (cured in lard) and the Romano (?) (cured in paprika) were good too. (A, B+ and B respectively). Also a plate of Jamon de Bellota which was top notch (A).

The waiter again recommended the local Laya red wine (B+) to go with the cheese.

To finish a glass of the posher variety of local Casa Juana brandy. It has a very particular flavour but I’m not a fan sadly (C).

Marquinetti (High Intermediate A-), 47 Avenida D. Antonio Huertas, www.marquinetti.com

This pizzeria is considered one of the best in Spain if not the best. It was the most reviewed restaurant in Tomelloso on TripAdvisor when I was there in March 2017, which to me is a more important indicator than its #1 position, and it also received glowing reviews from the locals I spoke to. It has also achieved fame in 2011 for producing the world’s longest pizza but lost that title in 2015.

There were as many staff as customers when I went, about fifteen of each as it was early, but the number of chefs and overseers might be because it also doubles as a pizza making school; the Escuela de Pizzeros Asesoramiento.

The pizzas are all excellent and use inspiring combinations of ingredients. As a pizza purist I’d usually go for a simple Margherita but I decided to push the boat out and had the Nicoletta, made with mozzarella, burrata, San Daniele ham, tomatoes and olive oil. It was really good (B+) but the crust was harder than I was used to and was consistent all the way through, whereas in Naples (see my Home of the Real Pizza post) it would be hard around the rim and soggy with cheese and tomato juices in the middle, which tends to be how I like it.

In Naples a pizza would cost a few euros but I forked out €19 for this and it was one of the cheaper ones, hence the minus in the A- rating.

On the plus side, glasses of Torre de Gazate (B) were only €2…

…and the cheaper version of Casajuana brandy only €3. As with the pricier version, I’m really not a fan as it tastes like they put vanilla in it, not pleasant (C-).

The Marquinetti experience was worth the walk from town but I won’t be spending that much on a pizza again any time soon.

Orbe Kitchenbar (Intermediate B), 148 Calle de Doña Crisanta

This gastro bar was recommended by local teacher for modern Spanish cuisine. I enjoyed it and would happily go again.

I had the colourful house salad which was fine (B).

Their croquettes come in three flavours; Chiperones (baby squid), Jamon (cured ham) and Idiazabal (Basque cheese). They all scored B.

I tried a couple of wines suggested by the school owner I worked with. The Brincho Alba had a great nose (B+) but fell down on flavour (B).

The Allozo Flor was okay (B).

The Verum Roble was very good though (B+). They were my favourite bodega while I was here.

I was more than happy to pay €21.40 for this lunch.

Cervecería Horno de Oro (Intermediate B), 2 Calle Bruselas

A bright, modern, popular place that specialises in roasting meat in a wood fired oven. I had the Codillo al Horno con Patates (roast suckling piglet with potatoes) which pushed all the right buttons (B).

The Torre Gazate Crianza red wine went well with it (B) but beer is more their thing. Total cost €14.20.

Off to Manzanares next!

Castile La Mancha – Tomelloso – walking around a wine town

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Spain, Tomelloso with tags , , , on February 4, 2019 by gannet39

La Mancha (from the Moors’ word Manxa, which means, “parched earth”) is Europe’s largest winegrowing region, and its most important wine-producing town, Tomelloso, has the largest wine cooperative in Europe and the second largest in the world, in addition to several other wineries which produce high quality wines.

Beneath the towns buildings there are nearly 4000 ‘cuevas’ for the storage of the wine. As you walk around you will notice nearly all the houses have grids outside that lead down into these cellars. These ‘lumbreras’ allow air to circulate and locals jokingly refer to them as air conditioners. Many of the cuevas still have the typical earthenware jars and other utensils necessary for winemaking.

My Google map is here.

After arriving in town my first stop was Posada de los Portales in Plaza de Espana, the central hub of the town. The posada was a former inn, built in 1778, which is now the Cultural Center and Tourist Information for the locality.

The nice lady there made a couple of calls for me to see which cuevas were accepting visitors and made an appointment at Bodgegas Perales, an old bodega founded in 1900.

After lunch I went to the address and was met by a friendly lady, the granddaughter of the original proprietor who, along with her little boy, gave me a personal tour of the winery.

The ground floor had more modern equipment, such as a machine for macerating the grapes…

…and tall concrete silos for holding the must.

It was explained to me that the bodega no longer processes its own grapes and instead they send them to the cooperative factory for bottling.

Down in the cellar…

…which was hand cut out of solid rock…

…were some much older holding jars…

… and barrels.

And at the end of the tour I was shown a small museum room displaying wine testing equipment…

…and some early examples of the bodega’s advertising.

This was an interesting and enjoyable tour that gave me lots of practice in listening to Spanish! I was quite surprised by how much I understood.

Other buildings of interest in town are the bullring, which is just up the road from the bodega…

…and over the road from the tourist information, the town hall is quite imposing.

And on another side of the same roundabout is the unimpressive main church, Parroquia Asunción de Nuestra Señora which has 16th century origins.

It’s a nice town to stroll around looking at the old town houses.

Some are decorated with beautiful ceramics, even under their balconies.

And others have lovely old doors.

What to eat and drink in Tomelloso is next!

Castile La Mancha – Quintanar de la Orden – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Quintanar de la Orden, Spain, Toledo Province with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by gannet39

Don’t expect any culinary sensations in Quintanar. You can eat reasonably well here though. Here are my culinary experiences, not in any particular order. My map is here.

El Almirez (B+), 9 Calle San Juan, elalmirez.eltenedor.rest

This is the best place in town I reckon , one of two Guia Repsol recommendations. It’s modern and bright and they play relaxing music and the service is friendly and efficient.

Unfortunately it was closed on the two evenings I tried to go despite their website saying otherwise (perhaps because Real Madrid and Barcelona were playing in the Champions League on consecutive nights) but I did make it for lunch one day when I had a late start for work.

I had the Menu del Dia for €11 for which I got a hefty salad, a bowl of unnatractive but tasty squid ink black rice and a slice of pineapple, with water and coffee thrown in.

Everything was well prepared and cooked and I’d say it was a B+ experience overall.

Granero (Intermediate B-), 90 Calle San Fernando, restaurantegranero.eltenedor.rest

The second of the two Guia Repsol recommendations in the town, but the first place is better. It’s modern but a bit garish and scruffy. I was only in the tapas bar but they have a restaurant room (never open when I went) which might be nicer.

I came for lunch one day and had the plain and simple Menu del Dia; three courses for a paltry €9. First I opted for the Revuelto de Trighueros y Jamon (scrambled eggs with wild asparagus and ham) which was too salty (C).

Next, Calabacin (pumpkin) stuffed with meat which was quite nice (B).

Finally, a slice of Tarta Manzana (apple pie) which was good too (B).

So the food can be good here but the ambience doesn’t do anything for me, and it’s on the other side of town from the hotel.

I came back one evening but the staff were different and not very welcoming so I didn’t hang about.

Cafeteria Echegaray (Elementary B+), 9 Plaza Miguel Echegaray

A plain ordinary tapas bar in the central square. Not as busy as the bigger place below but the guy running it is nicer in my opinion. It was a good place for me to watch Napoli lose 3-1 at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

As I’d never heard of it, I tried a tapa of Carcamusa, a pork stew from Toledo (see coming post) which was okay but nothing amazing (B-).

I followed up with a Pincho Moruno, grilled lamb on a skewer, also good (B-).

Finally the young Queso Manchego with tomato bread was very good (B+) but there was too much of it so it was a bit pricey for me at €8.

Three glasses of the owner’s best local red, a 2013 Syrah called Finca Antigua (B), brought the bill to €27. A good no frills place, I’d go again.

Las Cuevas de Sancho (Elementary B), 1 Calle Princesa, off Plaza Miguel Echegaray

Another plain ordinary tapas bar on a street off the central square. It’s bigger that Cafeteria Echegaray which might explain why it’s busier but the welcome isn’t as friendly.

I had a hefty sandwich, the Especial #3 with pork loin, ham, cheese and grilled green peppers which was very good (B+).

The glass of local red was okay too (B).

I watched Barcelona win 6-1 against Paris Saint-Germain to go through 6-5 on aggregate in a truly amazing game, although the ref didn’t do the French any favours. I’ve never seen Castillians go so crazy for a Catalan win when the winning goal went it!

Hostal San Francisco (Intermediate B), 24 Calle San Francisco

I came here when most of the places were closed on a Monday night. I didn’t get the friendliest of welcomes but I have come to realise that it might be due to the shock of possibly having to speak English. They needn’t worry, I speak fluent restaurant Spanish.

I ate in the restaurant in the back which is relatively plush and modern. The music they played off the radio was terrible though. Everybody Dance Now!

I had the Ensalada Ventresca to begin. The belly tuna was excellent but the tomatoes had been picked a bit too early in the season to be good (A+C=B overall). Their bread was pretty good too (B).

The following croquettes were edible but overdone (C) and the following Chuletas de Cordero, lamb chops, were rather fatty (B) although the red pepper salsa with it was quite good (B+).

The local red given to me was once again Finca Antigua (B).

The proprietor slowly warmed to me when he realised he could communicate with me in Spanish but he positively loved me for asking for a glass of local Anis de la Asturiana to finish (B+) and he left the bottle on the table.

Hotel Castellano (Low Intermediate C), 24 Calle San Francisco, www.hostalsanfrancisco.eu

A basic hotel but essentially ok, except for the thin walls, vibrating pipes and the occasional beetle in the bathtub! Breakfast in the hotel’s bar consists of a coffee and a Madalena cake in a plastic packet (C-). The people running it are okay and the WiFi works. It’s slightly out of town, the central square is about twenty minutes’ walk, but it is next door to a chocolate factory which could be a bonus!

One day I was working in the next village, Miguel Estaban, and one of the teachers kindly drove me back to Quintanar via a supermarket. With the advice of the supermarket manager I got a bottle of (fairly local) 2009 Valdepenas ‘Pata Negra’ which was very good (B+).

So these were my food and drink experiences in Quintanar. Nothing great but not too bad either. Off to neighbouring Manzanares next where I fared slightly better.

Castile La Mancha – Quintanar de la Orden – Stuff to See

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Quintanar de la Orden, Spain, Toledo Province with tags , , on February 2, 2019 by gannet39

Quintanar de la Orden is a fair-sized town of just over ten thousand souls, about ninety minutes’ drive south of Madrid in Castile La Mancha. “Quintanar” derives from the Latin word Quintana which means ‘one fifth’. This may refer to a tax paid at the local market or the fact that it was five miles from an important place. “Orden” refers to the Order of Santiago who had dominion over La Mancha after the Reconquista.

There is virtually nothing to see or do here so I was fairly thankful to leave after staying four nights. The lack of entertainment was made worse by the fact that two of those nights were a Sunday and a Monday when many places are closed but I did my best to nose out the best aspects of the town.

Here’s my Google map with all these places plotted on.

The oldest buildings I came across were the main church Parroquia de Santiago de la Espada in Plaza del Grano…

…and a couple of pretty little chapels.

There was also Casa de Piedra at 6 Calle Reina Amalia which has some nice stone carvings above and around the door.

It’s also the local museum so it could be worth checking what’s on there. Opening hours were 12.00 till 14.00 and 18.30 to 21.00 Wednesday to Saturday and 12.00 till 14.00 on Sunday.

In Plaza Echegaray, the central square, you’ll find the attractive Casa Pic, built in a Modernist style.

The square is also known as Plaza de los Carros due to some association with carriages, hence the statue in the middle.

In terms of local products the most well-known is probably the local aniseed spirit, Anís de la Asturiana, made by Hijos de Francisco Serrano S.A.

I quite like the clean lines of their Modernista factory building at 56 Calle Valencia which you pass when you walk into town from the Hotel Castellano. You get a powerful whiff of aniseed when you pass in front of their big doors.

The company was founded in 1895 by Francisco Serrano López-Brea, a Quintanar native who moved to Oviedo so that his business could take advantage of the better quality of infrastructure in Asturias.

Later, in order to increase their business, the company decided to leave Asturias and return to their origins. Quintanar is only 120 kilometers from Madrid, and relocating there opened up a significant potential market. The new distillery and factory opened in 1916.

I didn’t have time but I wanted to go to their office and ask if they might be able to arrange a tour. I found this video about their factory which will give you an idea of what it looks like inside.

Places to eat in Quintanar de la Orden next!

London – Clerkenwell – Eating and Drinking

Posted in Clerkenwell, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2019 by gannet39

There are some excellent pubs and restaurants in Clerkenwell. As ever, they’re all on my map.

Sushi Tetsu (Advanced A), 12 Jerusalem Passage, sushitetsu.co.uk.

This sushi-ya is a bit hard to find (it’s down a side alley off Clerkenwell Road) and nearly impossible to get into (there’s only seven seats and it’s booked out weeks in advance).

You definitely need to reserve to get in but you can only do it by phone (+44 20 3217 0090) and you can only call on the first and third of the month, between the hours of 11am and 4pm. Good luck!

It took a few weeks and a fair bit of planning for Tom and Karen and I to get in but we made it eventually, and it was totally worth the effort. We received a friendly welcome from the chef’s wife Harumi who seated us with the other customers at the bar. This meant we could easily chat with the chef Tetsu (aka Toru Takahashi) and enjoy watching his knife skills.

I didn’t grade any of the food as I was too busy chatting and having fun but the experience as a whole scored top marks. We started with a classic; Buri Daikon (stewed giant radish and yellowtail amberjack).

Next the Omakase (chef’s sushi selection).

After this we ordered several à la carte Nigiri. These are I think seared tuna, salmon, yellowtail and squid nigiris.

Also a tuna Temaki (hand held roll).

Can’t remember what this fish was, but again super fresh flavours and immaculate presentation.

All washed down with a few flasks of Atsukan (hot sake).

St John Restaurant (High Intermediate A), 26 St John St, www.stjohnrestaurant.com

This is my favourite restaurant for eating offal as it famously specialises in ‘nose to tail eating’. I recommend the bone marrow on toast.

Morito (Intermediate A), 32 Exmouth Market, www.morito.co.uk

This is the tapas bar associated with the famous Moro moro.co.uk next door. The proprietors, Samantha and Sam Clark, are renowned for their renditions of Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean dishes. I’ve never been able to afford the restaurant but I love the more economical tapas bar.

The most famous dish is the Borani; an Iranian dish made with beetroot, feta and walnuts, which has been replicated in small plates restaurants all over the country.

I enjoyed their Negroni, made with Spanish Lacuesta vermouth, as well (B) although perhaps I love the label more than the vermouth.

Granger & Co (Intermediate B), 50 Sekforde St, www.grangerandco.com

Bill Granger is a famous chef from Sydney so when my friend Tom told me he had a place here I wanted to compare it to Caravan, another antipodean chain that does a good breakfast. I had the poached eggs with avocado, and kimchee which was fine (B).

However, the reason I go back though is for their Spiced Bloody Mary (£10) with vodka, Clamato (clam and tomato juice), gochugang, lime and coriander . Although it might more correctly be called a Bloody Caesar, it’s now one of my favourite hangover drinks (A).

Iberica (Intermediate B), 89 Turnmill St, www.ibericarestaurants.com

This is one of a small chain of new breed tapas restaurants where you can try classic as well as more playful examples of Spanish food. The Chorizo Lollipops dipped in Pear Allioli were fun and we enjoyed the Croquetas and the Arroz Negro as well.

Caravan (Intermediate B), Exmouth Market, www.caravanrestaurants.co.uk

This is a top spot for an Antipodean breakfast. I enjoyed the meatballs once for lunch as well.

Terroni (Intermediate B+), 138-140 Clerkenwell Rd, www.terroni.co.uk

Terroni’s is a historic Italian café that has lingered on after the original Italian community has moved away.

They have a great range of artisinal Italian hams and cheeses, amongst many other wares.

I had three small Cannolis (Cannolini) here which were pretty good (B).

The Jerusalem Tavern (Intermediate B+), 55 Britton St, www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk

This is the local pub of Fergus Henderson, the proprietor of St John restaurant above, who was in residence when we visited. He comes for a good reason as it has heaps of atmosphere and a good choice of quality craft ales.

The Crown Tavern (Intermediate B), 43 Clerkenwell Green, www.thecrowntavernec1.co.uk

As I mentioned in my last post, this is one of London’s most historical pubs and doubles as a small theatre used for experimental productions. Lenin used to drink at the Crown and Anchor as it was known then. Engels, Marx, Dickens and many others have all supped a pint here.

See my previous post for walking around Clerkenwell.

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