Locals joke that the statue of Columbus in Plaza de las Monjas (the central square in the centre) is pointing the way to all the good restaurants. There are others of course but it’s true that there are some very good places along Calle Vazquez Lopez. Google map here.
Portichuelo (High Intermediate B+), 15 Calle Vazquez Lopez www.restauranteportichuelo.com
This place is highly rated by some people on the net and by the Frommers guide. I visited it twice and liked the food but not the atmosphere particularly although they do have a terrace in the square outside, unlike Azabeche below.
On my first night I sat in the restaurant at the back where dishes cost a couple of euros more. I had a decent Rabo de Toro (B+) and two glasses of Rioja for my main.
For dessert I had a slab of the deceptively named Tocino de Cielo (bacon from heaven), a speciality of Jerez, which I think is essentially another member of the flan family. It was much too sweet for me though (C). With a glass of PX the bill came to €27.
On a second visit they were very busy but there was still space at the bar. I had their ‘obligatory’ house speciality, the Revuelto de la Casa (scrambled eggs with potato, jamon and green peppers) which was very good (A-) but served on a cold plate and a bit pricey at €13.
I also had Albondigas de Chocos (cuttlefish balls which were very intense in flavour (B-).
With two glasses of slightly effervescent Verdejo called Melior by Bodega Roble de Matarromera (A), the total came to €20.40, which is a bit on the steep side.
Azabache (High Intermediate A), 22 Calle Vazquez Lopez, www.restaurante.azabache.com
This higher end tapas bar is really hard to get into. I’m not exactly sure when it opens (8pm maybe?) but it would be advisable to get here as soon as it does most nights, and definitely at the weekend. It’s open Monday too but that’s not a good day for seafood so while you’ll easily get a spot at the bar, there’s not much on the menu. I went three times in all.
My favourite dish was the Ensalada de Berenjenas; a puree of roast aubergines and red peppers in olive oil and topped with Jamon Iberico (A).
I ordered some Habas (broad beans) but these somehow became Gambas Rebozadas, battered and deep fried prawns, which were fine (B). If I’m going to eat prawns though I ‘d much rather have the grilled Gambas Blanca for which Huelva is famous.
I also had Taquitos Corvina (chunks of sea bass) a la Plancha (B) and battered and fried Lenguado (sole) which needed boning but was also fine (B).
I also had the Revuelto de Gurumelos, scrambled egg with earthy local wild mushrooms (B+) but it was a bit pricey at €14.
My biggest regret about my visit to Huelva was not having the Huevos de Chocos (cuttlefish roe) at Azabache. I’d never had them before and they are supposed to be really good here. They need to be really fresh and are usually just served a la plancha with a bit of mayo on the side.
Glasses of wine cost €2.20, a little expensive but the quality is good. The local white wine Barredero seems to be the first choice here to go with seafood, as it was in other good places.
You usually get a free chupito (shot) at the end of the meal and everyone seemed to be having something called Gecko which I’d never heard of before, so I ordered a double. It turned out to be caramelised vodka, very sweet and sickly but a good dessert substitute in small amounts (B).
It’s much better to stick to their Limoncello, which seems to be quite popular in Andalucia. The one they have here is made in the province and is surprisingly good (B+).
There’s a restaurant in the back but it seemed to be booked up with groups each night with no tables for single diners. This was the week before Christmas though so it might be different at other times of year. The whole place was still buzzing when I left at 11pm on Saturday night.
Abacería La Abundancia (Intermediate B), 48 Calle Vázquez López
This place is just down the road from Azabache and gets a mention in the Rough Guide. I gave it a try when I couldn’t get in at Azabache. It was half full when I arrived and was a bit lacking in atmosphere. The food is fine though.
And in the parallel street to the east is…
Puro Chup Chup (Intermediate B+), 6 Calle Rábida, www.purochupchup.com
I came here for two reasons, firstly to try their international fusion cuisine for a change from the norm and secondly because they’re open Sunday evening, albeit with a reduced menu. Inside the restaurant is bright and modern and the staff are really very nice.
To start I had their Banh Mi de Cordero, Pina Asada y Encurtida con Pepinos, Chile Fresca y Salsa “Lamb of God” (lamb, roasted pineapple and with pickled cucumbers, fresh chilli and salsa) which was served in a hot dog bun. Although it was nothing like the real thing (it should be pork in a crispy baguette) , it was still tasty (B+). However the sweet “Lamb of God” sauce that was slathered on the top of the bun made it quite difficult to eat without making a mess.
I followed up with the Chateaubriand which arrived looking like a Modernist painting. The bits and pieces you can see in the photo include Apple Chutney, Foie, Pistachio Yoghurt, Apple Pearls and tiny Ice Cream Cones containing Afuega’l Pitu, a cow’s milk cheese from Asturias with a long history.
This all went well with a couple of glasses of a decent Garnacha (B).
For dessert I had the deconstructed Tiramisu as recommended by my excellent waiter. I’m not usually one for coffee based desserts but this one was really good (B+), and very filling.
With this I had a glass of fantastic Muscat dessert wine by Jorge Ordóñez from Malaga. There are four sweet wines in their line and this is called Victoria #2. It’s one of the best muscats I’ve ever had (A+) and I have since ordered a few bottles on the internet from www.decantalo.com for about €17 a half bottle.
However I’d advise against having this Portuguese almond flavoured digestive (C). It tastes like marzipan and I could virtually feel my teeth rotting when it was in my mouth.
Total cost €30.90. Puro Chup Chup is a nice change from the usual and I’d love to go again to try some of the other items on their menu.
If you’re staying at the Hotel Monte Conquero, this place is just over the road.
El Picoteo de la Rocina (Intermediate B+), 5 Calle Pablo Rada, open all day Sunday and Monday (which is unusual).
This place is a Lonely Planet top choice and it was also recommended by a local who said it’s a good spot for Sunday lunch. It’s always rammed so either reserve or get there as soon as it opens (9pm in the evening). Its popularity might explain why the staff seem so stressed, or perhaps they are chronically understaffed. Either way they seem to be running around like headless chickens with little time for pleasantries.
I began with some good Jamon Bellota (B+).
Next I had the gruff waiter’s suggestion of Entrecot de Ternera Gallego, a huge slab of Galician veal (500g I’m guessing) which was excellent (A-). However they were a bit stingy with the chips and I wasn’t that keen on the gloopy sauce on the side.
With this two glasses of an excellent Ribera del Duero (A) called Melior by Bodega Roble de Matarromera who also made the nice verdejo I had at Portichuelo. Finally, with some Manchego Curado, the total came to €45.60.
Garum (High Intermediate A), 4 Avenida Martín Alonso Pinzón, www.garumrestaurantes.es
According to the teachers I worked with, this is the best arroceria (rice restaurant) in town. They were kind enough to invite me for a late lunch to celebrate the end of the Christmas term which was an offer I just couldn’t refuse!
We began with some top quality Jamon Bellota from nearby Jabugo, a town that I’m told has nothing going for it other than the fact the area around it produces some of the best cured ham in Spain.
This can be tested by raising the plate to a vertical position. If the ham sticks to the plate and doesn’t move, it’s a sign that you have the best stuff. It was indeed sublime (A).
After this some nice clams in a garlic sauce (A).
And some of the famous Gambas Blancas de Huelva.
For the main, a seafood paella utilising some of Huelva’s fantastic seafood (A). I just wanted to keep eating it but I had to stop for fear of appearing too greedy.
One of the teachers Carmino was from Galicia and I put it to her that her region of Spain had the best seafood in Spain due to its colder water. She was very diplomatic with her answer, perhaps because her Andalucian husband was sitting next to her, and just said that the species of sea life in the Med and the Atlantic are completely different and so don’t bear comparison (the delicious white shrimp above being a case in point), which of course is completely true. I still think cold water crustaceans have more flavour though.
The wine selected to go with the seafood was a local white called Barredero which at only 12% was soft and light, just what was needed (A). It seems a popular choice in Huelva as I was offered it again at Azabeche.
The pudding of choice for my fellow diners was pineapple which is a typically eaten around Christmas time in Spain.
This is an excellent restaurant and somewhere I’d love to go again. Bear in mind though that you need at least two people to share a rice dish which is rarely made for just one. There is another branch of Garum in Punta Umbria
And one to avoid…
El Ambigú (Intermediate D), 479 Plaza las Monjas
While we were at Garum, the teachers also told me the place next door was good, or at least the meal they’d had was. Unfortunately that wasn’t my experience when I went for lunch a couple of days after the wonderful meal at the arroceria.
To begin with I had really poor service from a young and rather dim member of the staff who responded to my query about what the specialities of the house were by reeling off a list of everything they sold.
The situation was rescued by an older waiter who brought me a menu with the specialties, San Jacobo Casero (deep fried cheese and ham, similar to Flamequin) and Berenjenas Rellenas (stuffed aubergines), clearly displayed. Unfortunately they didn’t have any aubergines and I’m not a fan of Flamequin so I settled for a rack of prawns and a glass of wine. The wine was fine but the prawns weren’t very fresh as their dark head meat showed. Rather than have anything else, I decided to go round the corner to Azabeche to finish my lunch.
I went to the toilet first though and the washroom was a mess as well which was the final turn off for me. In their defence they had only been open a couple of days, the signs on the windows from the previous restaurant were still on the windows, but all the same this was not a good show from a restaurant pretending to better than it actually is. I’d like to say they’ve got their act together now but they’re getting absolutely slated on Tripadvisor.
This past place notwithstanding, I ate very well in Huelva and would happily go back for more. Make sure you check my dedicated post on Acanthum, which is the best restaurant in town.