La Mancha – Talavera de la Reina

Although it may look like one big council estate, there is an old centre in Talavera, although I didn’t see much of it as it was the other end of town from the hotel, and the better restaurants.  I was working at Compania de Maria (one of the best schools in La Mancha) where the nuns gave me a tour of the 500-year-old building. The town is on a large river which I was told would be a good place for a run but I never made it due to an attack of lazyitis.

The Hotel Roma is pretty bog standard, wi-fi (wee fee) in the rooms but you have to sit on the end of the bed to reach the desk, no room for the chair. Basic brekky (coffee, toast, cake in a packet) but I wouldn’t advise having your evening meal there. The meat is good in the area (especially the game apparently) so my pork chops were ok (B) but the chips were swimming in grease (C) and the fried eggs looked like an offering from Eyjafjalljoekull (D).

There is food culture to be found however, you just have to look carefully. All the below came up on Trip Advisor and were further recommended by a local teacher. The first two places are located on the edge of an estate that looks forbidding (graffiti everywhere, some broken glass) but is probably no different from elsewhere in town. With local unemployment running at 25 to 30% however, it might be prudent to be security conscious especially after dark. Bear in mind though living on an estate in Spain doesn’t have the same negative connotations as in the UK and everyone I spoke to was relaxed and friendly.

Taberna Mingote, (Intermediate A?), Plaza Federico Garcia Lorca, Tel. 925 825 633
This place is a bit hard to find but worth the effort. On the other side of the estate from El Esturion (below), it’s on the ground floor (round the back) of the block that runs parallel with Avenida de Juan Carlos 1 which might be the best direction to access it from, although the locals on the estate that I asked were very helpful. It has brown awnings and you can sit outside, under, on and looking at concrete. The interior feels much warmer with lots of wood and small barrels of Vermouth, Cognac, Mistella (punch) and hams hanging behind the bar. The well-dressed clientele chat to an accompaniment of light jazz. I had two chunks of Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding) pinned to toast and scattered with tiny crunchy slithers of fried potato, with two piquant and chubby Pimientos de Padron on the same plate, and a glass of red (all A) for about €5 euro. This might well be a good place for a proper meal but I was only in town for two nights. Wish there was somewhere similar on the estate I live on.

Morcilla de Burgos

El Esturion (Intermediate B), 7 C/Miguel Heranandez, Tel. 925 824 638

A semi-formal place quite near the hotel on the edge of an estate, which although tiled, is quite brash and modern with tacky decor and dodgy objet’s de art on a nautical theme. The piped soundtrack was also rather bizarre with Tijuana brass being followed by melancholic strings, just a bit too loudly. There are two areas, a tapas bar and the restaurant, which was quiet at 9 but rowdy by 10. A sourpuss older waiter treated me like an alien at first (which I suppose I was) but his young counterpart lightened up when I spoke a bit of Spanish. I had Esparragos a la Plancha with a small curl of smoked salmon on the side (B). Thankfully the salt came in a bowl on the side so I could grind it onto my food with my fingers. I’m not fond of the Spanish habit of sprinkling big crunchy chunks onto lettuce hearts and anything grilled. The lamb chops, Chuletillas de Lechal were great (A). I should perhaps have had a red to go with it but pursued my obsession with Spanish rose and got a bottle of ‘Fontal’ 2008, a Merlot/Syrah blend (B). The Tarta de Queso de Idiazabal con Membrillo cheesecake was fine (B). I paid €45.50 but got two complimentary orujos on the house. Would go again but would try other places first.

Restaurante La Rotisserie (Intermediate A/C), 58 Angel Alacazar, 925 801 550,

Located in a more salubrious part of town than the places below, it can have a great atmosphere if you go early. I first came here for tapas before going to El Esturion. The front bar is intimate and everyone knows each other so the place fell silent when I came in with my English accent. Everyone is friendly though and I had a couple of exchanges with my limited personal Esperanto. I had two beers and some delicious tapas of marinated red pepper on toast and tuna in oil with tomato and onion for only €5. The air was heavy with perfume and cohiba smoke and the telly was showing the bullfighting as part of the San Isidro celebrations. It was mostly ignored until a picador narrowly escaped a goring by hanging on to the bulls horns, which had the local Del boys off their seats watching the replays.

I came back the next day to eat in the restaurant which was disappointingly quiet compared to my previous visit, but perhaps everyone was partied out from the previous night. The atmosphere is nicer than El Esturion but I didn’t eat or drink quite as well. The soundtrack is better, 80’s female vocalists, and not quite as loud. Things didn’t start too well with a corked bottle of ‘Pata Negre’ red from the local Valdepenas DOC. The next bottle was ok and went well with the complimentary Camembert, Roquefort and ‘fresh cheese’, although I wasn’t fond of the other dish of macerated tuna mixed with a reddish sauce (C). I love Esparragos a la Plancha so had to have it again. This time the smoked salmon (a local habit?) was laid over it but the combination didn’t impress me much (B-). The main Cochinillo con Salsa (not on the menu) was fantastic (A) if rather heavy. The final complimentary Vodka Caramelo made an interesting change (B) but I couldn’t eat the bizarre liquorish-flavoured heart-shaped shortbread (D). Total cost €35. In short, a strange place, with some great food, but some dodgy dishes too, or maybe I was just unlucky.

Written May 2010

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