Valencia – Ciutat Vella – St Francesc – Places to Eat

San Francesc is one of six barrios in the Ciutat Vella (old town). It’s very centrally located, and is quite a safe area, which is why my employer likes to have us stay here.

I’ve organised this post and all the others on Valencia on a barrio by barrio basis. To help you understand where all the neighbourhoods are, here’s a map of the barrios, and my Google map of Valencia. Please see the previous post for Things to See in St Francesc.

My employer invariably uses the Hotel Catalonia Excelsior (lovely staff, average rooms, ok breakfast). It’s next to a small and very pleasant square where you can sit and drink outside, although the bars there are quite expensive.

However this inexpensive place has good food is just a stone’s throw away too, just what my colleagues need after a hard days graft…

La Utielana(Intermediate B+), The official address is Piazza Picadero de Dos Aguas 3 (between Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas and the next door church) but coming from the hotel it’s easier to use the backdoor on Calle Sam Andres 4. Tel. 963 52 9414 utielana.restaurantesok.com

A bit hard to find the first time you go but well worth the effort. Plain and simple tiled decor, friendly and plump staff (definitely a good sign) and very popular, so get there at 8 to avoid disappointment. The cooking is not haute cuisine by any means but homey comfort food, the kinds of things a Spanish granny would cook.

For me, a very satisfying dish to start with is a bowl of murky Lentejas (lentil soup)(B+). For the main you can’t go wrong with the house speciality of Cordero al Horno (roast lamb) with chips and gravy (B+). They also have Platos Especiales del Dia (daily specials) which are usually classics like Cocido or Fiduea. Feeling daring one night I tried the sheep’s brains but once was enough!(C). The Rinones al Jerez are a bit grim too (C) but it’s all very cheap so I gave them a whirl. The house red (Cabellana) is dirt cheap but drinkability seems to vary by the bottle (C/D). You may want to fork out a bit more for something better. For afters I’d suggest some Frutta de Tiempo (grapes in a plastic cup?) or perhaps the Natillas (custard) or Flan (all B) and a glass of the wonderful local Moscatel (A). Total cost will probably come to around 20 euros which is dirt cheap in comparison to elsewhere. It’s all perfectly fine, just make sure you order the right things.

For something a bit different…

Vuelva Catalina (Intermediate B), 8 Career de Correos, www.vuelvecarolina.com

This is a good place to come and eat modern Spanish tapas. It’s the second tapas bar from famous chef Quique Dacosta who also owns Mercatbar (see Eixample – Gran Via post). I like it but sometimes I think form takes precedence over flavour. Still it makes for a change. Although very busy at other times, there weren’t many customers on the Monday I went. The MD was very nice and spoke English though other staff members didn’t really, not that they should have to. I was just feeling rusty as it was my first day in Spain for a while.

On arrival I received some rather dry bread (C) and cream cheese (B). The ‘Yogur’ de Foie Gras y Frutas Secas, sealed in a glass jar, was different but not amazing (B). The Cebollita Roja com Emulsion de Anguilla, red-stained onion with a dollop of eel emulsion in the middle were visually very attractive and had a fair bit of flavour (B+). Next the Sushi with mango and lemon wasabi mayo was a winner (B+). However the Calderoso was tasteless and had strange crunchy bits which I didn’t appreciate (C). I wasn’t really impressed with any of the wines the sommelier suggested to accompany the first courses. The introductory cava (C+) and the following white (C) had no flavour although the Bobal red was okay (B-). To finish, the almond ice cream (A) and the sponge (B) went well together (A). Final glasses of Madeira (B) and Hierbas (B) sent me home pretty happy.

El Poblet (Advanced B ), 8 Career de Correos (immediately above Vuelva Catalina), www.elpobletrestaurante.com

I came here for lunch to celebrate my 48th birthday with my good friend Nicky. It’s generally seen as one of the best restaurants in town, the kind of place where ladies get a little pillow to put their bag on! It’s the third and poshest establishment in Quique Dacosta’s small group of restaurants, along with Mercatbar and Vuelva Catalina.

We had the ‘Grace Kelly’ tasting menu of six dishes for €38. This began with Cebollita Roja com Emulsion de Anguilla, the same red onion with eel emulsion that I’d had downstairs some days before (B+). And continued with Parmesano con velo de albahacas ,parmesan with a ‘veil’ of basil (B). an oyster served with roe and a soya based sauce (A) , a deepfried cracker with minuscule prawns reminiscent of Cadiz’s Tortas de Camarones (B+), Cubalibre de Foie (a larger version than I’d had at Mercatbar and way too big (B) , La Gallina de los Huevos de Oro, an egg cooked in chicken broth with some gold foil which seemed pretty pointless (C) , Fideua Negra con Ajetes y Aire de All I Oli (short noodles cooked in squid ink and served with a foam of allioli, give me the real stuff anyday (B).

To finish, Helado de Alemendras (almond ice cream with I think lavender ice cream as well (B-) and a few not particularly nice complimentary chocs and sweets to finish (C+). The bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and glasses of sweet Dolc de Mendoza were okay (B). It was all pretty good value really, and visually very appealing but the flavours weren’t there for me. I’d advise people to go to Ricard Camarena’s restaurant in Ruzafa for a better fine dining experience.

Casa Mundo (Elementary B) at Carrer Juan de Austria, a pedestrian street in front of El Corte Ingles.

Described by some as a ‘classic’ Valencian tapas bar it’s quite run down and there’s not much of an atmosphere. However it’s justifiably well-known for its fried squid which, with a caña, cost me €6.20 in 2008. It’s not a place to spend much time but it’s handy for the hotel and the squid is good.

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