Archive for October, 2017

Good eating in Utrera

Posted in Andalusia, Seville Province, Spain, Utrera with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2017 by gannet39

Utrera is a fair sized historical town in Seville province that is famous for flamenco and bull fighting. Tourists also come to see the castle but I’m not sure why as there’s not much to see. Personally I spent the day time hours when I wasn’t working inside avoiding the baking heat and this is in mid-June before the summer had started in earnest. Google map here.

The Iglesia de Santiago, next to the castle, is the main church.

You can see storks’ nests on top of some of the highest spires.

The town is also known for the mostachón, a kind of small flattened cake or Arab origin made with sugar and cinnamon. There are two bakeries in Plaza del Altozano that sell them but I was always working during opening hours so I didn’t get to try them.

I spent five nights at the Hotel Veracruz www.hotelveracruz.com which is the best (only?) place in town. Located in a nice old town house, the staff are friendly and the breakfast is okay.

I ate pretty well while I was here…

Besana Tapas (Intermediate B+), 1Calle Niño Perdido, www.besanatapas.com

The bar is tucked down an alley near the main square. It can be a challenge to catch them open as they’re closed all day Sunday and Monday, and only open for lunch Thursday to Saturday.

I think this is the best place in town. It gets recommendations from Michelin, Guia Repsol and a school owner who told me that people travel from Seville to eat the tapas here. I was certainly impressed with the food. Innovation fused with tradition. Great flavours and presentation.

‘Timbal de Habitas con Papada Ibérica, Migas y Menta’ or timbal of broad beans with pig cheeks, breadcrumbs and mint (A).

‘Mollejas Glaseadas con Queso de Cabra y Setas Salteadas’ or glazed sweetbreads with goat cheese and sauteed mushrooms (A+).

‘Cochinillo Asado con Col Lombarda Fermentada’ aka roasted suckling pig with fermented red cabbage (B+).

They have many other better wines but I went for the Andalucian reds by the glass. An old friend from Cortijo Los Aguilares, Ronda was my favourite (B+).

‘Garum’ from Bodegas Luis Pérez in Cádiz is another good one (B).

The ‘Vino Tinto’ from Marcelino Serrano in Jaen was drinkable (C).

The award for the worst wine, both in name and flavour, went to ‘Tetas de la Sacristana’ (D). It was explained to me that the sacristana is the old lady who accompanies the priest during ceremonies. She’s not meant to be attractive as this could divert the attention of the priest, so her ‘tetas’ are probably not the most appealing thing to look at. I think the bottle had been on the shelf for a while as the wine was undrinkable. They didn’t charge me though.

Total cost for three tapas and three glasses of wine €22.

So except for that last blip, I heartily recommend this great tapas bar.

El Arco (Intermediate B+), 35 Calle San Fernando, www.restauranteelarco.com

‘The Arch’ is another very good tapas bar. It’s more traditional than Besana so a good place to try local specialities. I came with my friend Juan, a local school owner, who helped me to choose.

Huevos a la Flamenca‘ are usually fried, but here boiled, eggs with a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes.

‘Croquetas de Pringá’, croquettes made from the leftovers of a local stew, are always a winner with me.

I think this is their ‘Chorizo al Estilo de la Casa’, or chorizo done in the house style (B+). Chickpeas are a very popular ingredient in Andalusia.

The ‘Pastel de Queso de Cabra con Papaya y Mousse de Pato Caramelizado’ or goat’s cheese with papaya and caramelised mousse of duck, was a rare change from tradition (B+).

They have a large selection of wines by the glass. We enjoyed a decent Ribera del Duero called ‘Finca Resalso’ by Emilio Moro (B).

And finally some ‘Queso Romero’, an aged cheese cured in oil from Cuenca, east of Madrid (B+).

On another occasion we had their ‘Cabrillas en Salsa’, big snails in a tomato sauce (B)and the ‘Adobitos’, chunks of vinegared and fried dogfish (B-).

My second favourite spot. Definitely worth the short walk from the centre of town. They have a restaurant in a separate building nearby which I’d like to try next time.

As an aside, Juan recommended one of his favourite red wines ‘Tomas Postigo’ which retails in Spain at about €20.

La Brasa (Intermediate B), 45 Calle Rubén Darío, www.restaurantelabrasa.net

I’m guessing this traditional restaurant is a bit of a local institution as it’s the most reviewed place on TripAdvisor. I came for Sunday lunch of Spanish classics.

I started with a half portion of ‘Croquetas Caseras’ (B).

For the main, the ‘Parrillada de Verduras’ (grilled veg) and the always satisfying ‘Cochinillo Lechal Asado’, or roast suckling pig (B+).

To drink, an okay Ribera del Duero called ‘Melior de Matarromera’ (B).

To finish, ‘Flan de Huevo y Coco’; a caramel pudding with squirty cream, and a complimentary flask of Orujo des Hierbas (B).

Total cost 40€. All buttons were well and truly pressed. Recommended.

La Herradura (Intermediate B), 11 Calle La Corredera

This is a busy tapas bar just over the road from the hotel. You can sit outside on the pavement if you arrive early. Really there needs to be two of you to eat their parrilladas and rice dishes, the former being highly recommended but too much for a single diner like me.

I tried some more local classics like ‘Carrillera de Iberico al Vino Oloroso’ or pig cheeks with aged sherry and whole peppercorns (B+).

Espincas con Garbanzos a la Sevillana’ or spinach with chickpeas in the Sevillian style, is also very typical (B).

‘Tataki de Presa Iberica con Salmorejo de Habas’ or seared pork shoulder with a ‘soup’ of broad beans (B+).

A good spot, recommended.

And a few places to be aware of, or avoid:

La Fábrica de Nieve aka Asador Pinto (Intermediate C+), 27 Calle La Corredera

This is a grill house just over the road from the hotel. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the food, they burned my Parrilla Iberica (C-/D), but you can sit outside in the big courtyard which is a blessing when the weather is hot. I used it as a pub and came to watch England draw nil-nil with Slovakia in the opening game of the 2016 European Championship. Something to note is that Cervezas and Jarras both cost the same, 2€.

Casa Diego (C+), 33 María Auxiliadora

According to TripAdvisor, this place has a good local rep but I wasn’t that impressed. The best thing is the large terrace in the courtyard outside where I watched Spain go down 2-1 to Croatia in the Euros.

I had the ‘Berenjenas con Salmorejo’, ‘Jamon y Huevos de Cordoniz’ (B-)…

… and the ‘Croquetas del Puchero’ (B), ‘Hamburguesita de Buey’ (C+) and a decent bottle of Rueda (B). They tried to charge me for the ‘Pavia de Merluza’ even though I’d sent it back for not being fresh (D) but removed it from the bill when I protested. Total cost was 20€ which is admittedly very cheap.

Cervecería Carlos (Intermediate C), 17 Calle la Corredera, barcarlosutrera.business.site

Another tapas bar near the hotel. They have a few TV screens (the best spot is in the yard out back) so it was busy with football fans when I went. I began with a beer and was maybe going to eat but the guy behind the bar wasn’t very welcoming so I went elsewhere.

So, good food can be had in Utrera if you know where to go. Choose carefully is my advice,,,

Bilbao – Getxo – Algorta – lunch in the Puerto Viejo

Posted in Algorta, Basque Country, Bilbao, Getxo, Puerto Viejo, Spain with tags on October 30, 2017 by gannet39

Getxo is a town located on the estuary of Bilbao. During the period of Bilbao’s industrialisation in the nineteenth century it became a residential area for the local bourgeoisie. The town has many grand buildings as a result, especially in Atxekolandeta neighbourhood, but I didn’t get time to see them.

Google map here.

Originally the town was based on the fishing village of Algorta. One day I was lucky enough to finish work early so I could spend the afternoon exploring the village’s picturesque Puerto Viejo.

From Portuzarra Kalea you get good views over El Abra bay. In this picture you can see Ereaga beach (one of many good local beaches) in the distance with Bilbao behind it.

Nearby, two sculptures pay tribute to the professions which were once the mainstays of the local economy. They show a Sardinera, a female sardine seller, (sculpted by Luis Iñiguez) and an Arrantzale, a fisherman, (by the sculptor José Luis Butrón).

The twisting streets of the Puerto Viejo are quite narrow and many have boat slipways.

The pretty houses have whitewashed façades and brightly-coloured doors and windows.

Naturally such a pretty spot has plenty of tapas bars and restaurants. During my wanderings, this place looked the nicest.

Karola Etxea (Intermediate B+), 22 Aretxondo Kalea, www.karolaetxea.net

This pretty mid-range restaurant is located in an old timber frame building. I’m guessing it’s a family business with the daughter waiting on the tables and the parents in the kitchen.

I had the Menu Karola, three courses for €19.80 which also included a bottle of decent Chardonnay (B).

Bacalao Pil Pil with potato and tomato (A).

Of course I also had to have some Sardines (B).

And Flan to finish (B+).

This was a very good meal for only €20. Definitely a good spot.

And that’s my trip to Bilbao done for this time. Off to Andalusia next!

Bilbao – La Vieja neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, La Vieja, Spain with tags on October 29, 2017 by gannet39

La Vieja, like its neigbouring barrio San Francisco, also hugs the south bank of the river. It’s Bilbao’s oldest neighbourhood (founded 1300), even older than the Casco Antiguo on the other side of the river. Map here.

La Mina (Advanced A-), Muella Mariana (no number), www.restaurantemina.es

This was the hottest restaurant in town on my trip in 2016. There was once a mine nearby, hence the name.

I had the Menu Degustacion for €60 with an added wine matching for €35. The food was beautiful but I was slightly disappointed by the wines. They were okay but nothing out of this world.

I had a Negroni while I was reading the menu (B). It was made with a new vermouth to me, from Casa Pardet.

The service was really good. I quickly made friends with the sommelier, Alex from Murcia, and spent so much time talking to him that I didn’t get to grade the food and some of the wines, sorry!

An amuse bouche of some description.

My first wine was a pure Verdejo called ‘La Banda del Agrilico’, which scores 92 Parker points.

This baked fennel looked amazing.

Alex believes ‘La Panesa’ Especial Fino Sherry from Bodega Emilio Hidalgo is one of the best. I liked it too (B+). It’s one of the oldest finos on the market with an average age of 15 years, so bottles retail at £20 and over.

The oyster with roes and flowers was visually stunning.

Next Alex gave me a glass of French Basque white called ‘Cuvee Hegoxuri’, from Domaine Arretxea in Irouleguy (B).

Next some baby broad beans in a broth. Nurea did something similar (see Guggenheim post).

To drink, a wine called ‘Makila’ 2012, in a very plain bottle, suggesting artisanal production. Alex said it was made in a similar way to orange wine (B).

Langoustine or cigala I would hazard.

Moving on to red; a Côtes-du-Rhône from Domaine Charvin (B).

Scallops I reckon.

‘Malus Mama’ a naturally sweet cider from Astigarragako Sagarrak.

Roast pork I think.

A sorbet cleanser.

Then a glass of sweet ‘Recóndita Armonía’, a 10 year old Monastrell Dulce from Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega in Alicante.

Brownie with a chocolate lattice I think.

Ice creams.

I recall their brandies as being a bit pricey so I went for the cheaper ‘Fernando de Castilla’ from Jerez (B).

A good experience worth the three figure price tag. I’d score it B+ overall.

Bilbao – San Francisco neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, San Francisco, Spain with tags , on October 28, 2017 by gannet39

San Francisco is the barrio to the south of the main train station. It’s bordered by the river to the north, and barrio La Vieja to the east (see next post).

Google map here. Tourist map here.

It’s the main immigrant neighbourhood with a large Muslim community and lots of Africans and South Americans. Security is better now than it was apparently, probably because the area is being rapidly gentrified. It still fell a bit edgy walking down San Frantzisko Kalea but I didn’t let that faze me as I live in a similar place myself.

Bar Restaurante Peso Neto (Intermediate B+), 1 San Frantzisko Kalea, www.facebook.com

I only popped in for a brandy after dinner at La Mina around the corner (see next post) but I like the chilled bohemian vibe straight away. Further investigation is required.

El Perro Chico (Intermediate B+), 2 Arechaga Kalea, www.facebook.com

A pleasant restaurant and tapas bar well located on a raised position by the river. It’s near the Erriberako Zubia, a footbridge that takes you over the river into the Casco Viejo.

Apparently Frank Gehry was inspired by the dark blue paint used in the interior of El Perro Chico, a favourite hangout of his, for the colour of the office block at the Guggenheim. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

From the tapas menu I tried the Mix de Gyozas, served with mayo as well as a soya sauce dip. There were two kinds; Cerdo y Ajetes, pork with young garlic (B+) and Hongos y Parmesana, mushrooms with Parmesan (B+). They were a nice variation on the traditional Japanese fried dumplings which are usually filled with pork or chicken mince. They were good, but a bit expensive at €8.

I’d like to come back and try their menu. They were full on a Saturday night so it’s best to reserve if you go at busy times.

There are lots of other interesting bars and restaurants in this up and coming area. I ended up in a buzzing South American bar along San Frantzisko Kalea one night but blowed if I can remember where! I’ll be back to check on developments next time I’m in town.

Bilbao – Casco Viejo – pintxos in Plaza Nueva

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Plaza Nueva, Spain with tags , , , on October 27, 2017 by gannet39

A pintxo is the Basque word for a piece of bread and its topping being pierced and held together (pinchado) with a cocktail stick. They would be called tapas outside the Basque country but they are usually bread based and are never free as tapas sometimes are in the south. Another difference is that often, but not always, you can help yourself from the display on the bar and tell the waiter what you had later.

Plaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos in Bilbao. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on this map.

Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and help you develop some new ones.

Gure Toki (Intermediate A+), 12 Plaza Nueva (north west corner), guretoki.com

This is my favourite. It’s not as venerable as the others I mention below, but they take a different, more modern approach to pintxos which I find more interesting. International influences, particularly Japanese, are very apparent.

From 2014:

Carpachio de Avestruz (A++). Ostrich carpaccio! The best thing I ate all year! Thinly sliced raw ostrich marinated with parmesan and if I remember correctly soya sauce, although it doesn’t seem so from the picture. I must go back to make sure!

Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction.

The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but is more hype than substance. It sounds good though.

Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again.

With the meat I drank two glasses Juan Gil Monastrell 12 meses (A+) at €2 a glass. This stuff blew my socks off, it’s so different from any other Spanish red. It’s now the house red for my pop-up restaurant. I get it posted to me for about £11 a bottle with postage.

Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which makes his wine taste even better!

I also had a glass of Ribeira del Duero, ‘Nacimiento’ by Avan which was good (B+)…

…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B).

Sold to me by another friendly customer, Sopa de Idiazabal seemed to consist of a quail’s egg with cream, mushrooms and giant kernels of Choclo (maize). The bar won a prize for this pintxo in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I preferred other things on the menu.

The only let down was the lack of decent desserts. They gave me a bowl of dry, flaky mini chocolate croissants which didn’t really do it for me. A chupito of excellent ‘La Gallega’ Orujo des Hierbas (A) cheered me up though.

As you can see, I met a lot of people while I was here, including a big group of Mexicanas on their jollies. With all the good food, wine and company, I rolled out of here a very happy man!

I returned in 2016 and was gutted to discover that the Ostrich Carpaccio was no longer on the menu! The nice lady who served me was impressed that I remembered the pintxo and did her best to suggest other tidbits.

I especially liked the Espárragos.

Gure Toki is still very good I’m happy to report.

Café Bilbao (Intermediate A), 6 Plaza Berria, north east corner of Plaza Nueva (there are two doors, one on Plaza Nueva, the other round the corner on Plaza Berria), bilbao-cafebar.com

Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes.

I had Makailua Pilpilean, or in Castillian, ‘Bacalao al Pilpil’, which was good (B+). Pil pil is a basque cooking technique where a sauce is made from the oil that the fish was cooked in, along with garlic and small hot peppers called ‘guindillas’.

Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A).

And another with black pudding, green pepper and camembert (B+).

In 2016 I tried this chorizo and quail egg creation (B+).

A classic pintxo bar that needs to be visited.

Victor Montes, (Intermediate A), 8 Plaza Nueva, Tel. 944 155 603, www.victormontes.com

For me, this local institution (since 1931) is the most beautiful cafe in town.

The pintxos on the bar top always look very enticing.

Generally they cost €1.90 each.

In 2016 four of us came and had the mixed selection of a dozen pintxos for €22.90. They were all fantastic (A).

They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte at 14 Plaza Nueva which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.

I got some Jerez vinegar, truffles, foie gras and some good Jamon Iberico Bellota from the Jabugo 5 Jotas or ‘Five J’s’ brand from here.

Please see my other Casco Viejo post for more pintxo bars nearby.

Photos uploaded September 2012, February 2014 and October 2017.

Bilbao – pintxos in the Casco Viejo

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Spain with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2017 by gannet39

The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s old town on the east bank of the river. Today it’s Bilbao’s main entertainment district, the place to come for a txikiteo (bar crawl). At the heart of the Casco are Bilbao’s original seven streets, Las Siete Calles, which date from the 1400s. Also here is Plaza Nueva which I have given its own post. You’ll find some of the best pintxo bars in the city here, all marked on this Google map.

Irrintzi (Intermediate A), 8 Santa Maria Kalea, www.irrintzi.es
My favourite place for innovative, modern pintxos. The display on the bar is stunning.

International influences abound. I can recommend the ‘Brocetas de Verdura en Tempura a la Menta’ aka brochettes of vegetable tempura with mint.

‘Crujiente de Manzana con Pato en Salsa de Cacahuete’ or crispy apple with duck in peanut sauce.

‘Nido de Pollo Lacado con Rúcula’ or nests of chicken with rocket.

Gatz (Intermediate A), 10 Calle Santa Maria, www.bargatz.com

Another good pintxo place, right next door to Irrintxi above.

The windows are covered in Michelin Guide stickers dating back to when it opened in 1994.

It’s fairly traditional but everything is top quality.

Xukela (Intermediate A), 2 Calle El Perro, www.xukela.com

One of the most renowned pintxo bars in town.

Quite trad, but all top quality tackle.

Cresta de Gallo, cockscomb, is one of their more unusual pintxos. It was a first for me (B).

After seeing it being made for another customer I ordered a ‘Marianito’, the shop’s own version of a Negroni. As an aficionado I would say it was the best Negroni I’ve ever had made with Martini Rosso (not my favourite vermouth), though they have Martini Gold as well. Aerating the mix before shaking might have made the difference.

Cafe Boulevard (Intermediate C) 3 Calle Arenal, cafemercante.es

A much feted Art Nouveau cafe that has undergone renovation in 2012. I only came in for a coffee in the day time but was left cold by the uninteresting decor and lack of atmosphere. Maybe it’s better at the weekends.

This next place wasn’t too great in 2012 but it might be okay now…

Saibigain (Elementary B-), 16 Calle Barrencale Barrena, www.saibigain.com, closed Sunday

Times have changed since Cadogan guides put this place on their ‘inexpensive’ list. The €8 menu-del-dia has been superseded by a choice of four set menus. I went for the cheapest at €32 which involved a multitude of starters including; foie gras with blueberry jam and tostados (B), a plate of three hams (B-), prawns with a dish of plain mayo (C), codfish croquettes (B), mushrooms with scrambled egg (D).

There were several choices for the main course, the most typical (according to the waitress) being Pequillo red peppers stuffed with salt cod in yellow and red sauces (C). I added a bottle of Txacoli (Aretxaga 2011) to drown my culinary sorrows (B).

With the addition of a slice of apple pie (B) and a glass of Rioja (B+), it was hard to argue about the value, but the food was too mediocre for me to want to return.

The place doesn’t seem to have been redecorated since it opened in the 50s, except for the addition of photos and posters of Athletic de Bilbao from the 70s. The interior is faded and unspecial but the service was fine.

You’ll also find the Mercado de la Ribera www.mercadodelaribera.net in the old town, down by the river.

Here are a few things you might see there.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – Abando – Eating at the Guggenheim

Posted in Abando, Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , on October 25, 2017 by gannet39

The key to Bilbao’s regeneration is the famous Guggenheim museum which has turned the city into a major tourist destination.

Outside the main entrance you’re welcomed by Puppy (pronounced ‘Poopy’) a gigantic flower arrangement of a Scottish terrier by Jeff Koons. 

The museum is based around a large central atrium with galleries on three levels radiating off it in unpredictable directions.

One gallery is given over to the permanent sculpture ‘The Matter of Time‘ by Richard Serra.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to coincide with an excellent exhibition by David Hockney, a fellow Yorkshireman, called ‘A Bigger Picture’. I was never really a fan of his until I saw these paintings of East Yorkshire landscapes, bizarrely painted in lurid colours, all of which further added to the feeling of being in a home away from home.

While I’ve only been to one exhibition, I’ve been here twice to eat, because the Goog is also home to two very good restaurants.

In June 2016 I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of Michelin luxury at Nurea. It’s a little hard to find as it’s round the back of the museum but go down the steps at the side…

…under the legs of the giant spider ‘Maman’ (Louise Bourgeois, 1999)…

…past the shimmering ‘Tall Tree & The Eye’ (Anish Kapoor, 2009)…

…and keep going until you’re virtually under Salbeko Zubia, the huge bridge that crosses the River Nervion.

If you’re early you can kill some time watching the boats on the river. The rowing crews were practicing in their traineras when I was there. Here’s my video.

The restaurant entrance is very discreet but it’s the hole in the wall in this picture.

Nerua (High Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandabarra (around the back of the Guggenheim Museum), www.nerua.com

It’s possible to order a la carte but most people opt for one of the three tasting menus. I had the smallest, ‘9 products’ menu for €105 (the others were €145 for 14 and €175 for 21) with a wine ‘maridaje’ add on for €42.

The food was fantastic, chef Josean Alija was a student of Ferran Adrià, but it was the wines that particularly blew me away.

Don’t recall what the amuse bouches were sorry, but they were very good (A). The green drink might be some kind of plankton concoction which is a thing in contemporary Spanish cuisine at the moment (see my Puerto de Santa Maria post).

The first wine was a Catalan Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon called ‘Taleia’ by Castell d’Encus which was heavenly (A). I’d like to buy a crate but it’s fairly expensive at £15 a bottle before postage.

‘Ostra, Esparrago, Cerveza, Lima y Guindilla’ or oyster, asparagus, beer, lime and cayenne chilli (A).

Then an off-menu dish of fresh baby broad beans in a broth, which was wonderful (A).

The next wine was a volcanic Malvasia from Lanzarote called ‘Canari’ from Bodegas El Grifo (A). It’s actually a sweet dessert wine but it worked with what I was eating. You can get it from Vinissimus at £10 for a 500ml bottle.

‘Alcachofas Confitadas, Praline y Fondo de Hierbas Aromaticos’ aka confit of artichokes with praline in an aromatic herb stock (A).

With this a glass of white Rioja called ‘Tierra Fidel’ from Bodegas Tierra (A). It’s around £30 a bottle from Lavinia.

‘Sopa de Mariscos y Pescado, Navajas y Verduitas’ or seafood and fish soup, razor clams and baby vegetables (A).

‘Anchoas, Enokis Guisados en un Fondo de Berberechos y Salvia’ or anchovies, stewed enoki mushrooms with a sauce of cockles and sage (A+).

To drink, a glass of Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG from Piedmont, Italy (A). The 2000 vintage I had is now £115 a bottle according to Wine Searcher but the 2011 is £25 to £30.

‘Merluza Frita, Hojas Guisadas de Crisantemo’ or fried hake, cooked with chrysanthemum leaves (A).

The next wine was a 2014 Pedro Ximénez called ‘Exceptional Harvest’ from Ximénez-Spínola. Usually PX grapes are dried and made into a very sweet dessert wine (which I love) but here they had just been treated like a normal white wine grape, to good effect (A). This piqued my interest as you’ll see below. You can buy it for about £14 a bottle from Decantalo, or write directly to the bodega as I did…

‘Foie Gras de Pato, Zanahorias y Makil Goxo’ or duck foie gras, carrots and liquorice (A++).

‘Cabello de Angel, Manzana, Limon y Helado de Shiso’ or angel hair, apple, lemon and Japanese mint ice cream (A).

My old friend Itas Mendi ‘Urezti’ made a reappearance for dessert. It’s around £12 a half-bottle from Decantalo or Gourmet Hunters.

‘Aguacate, Helado de Alholva, Aceituna Negra y Café’ or avocado, fenugreek ice cream, black olive and coffee (A).

And some petit fours to finish.

I adore Spanish brandy so for a final treat I had a look at the list of brandies and spotted a new one (for me) by Ximénez-Spínola, the same bodega in Jerez that made the PX above. It was absolutely stunning (A+).

I did a bit of research and discovered that Ximénez-Spínola don’t advertise their products and don’t enter any wine competitions or apply for VOS or VORS labels. Instead they prefer to just do their own thing and sell to a select client base. I wrote to them directly and, as a Xmas present to myself, got a bottle of one of everything from their range (several kinds of sherry and PX, vinegar and two kinds of brandy). The brandy I had at the restaurant, the ‘Tres Mil Botellas’ was spectacular as I say but at £135 a bottle, a bit hard to justify. However I discovered that the lower one in the range, the ‘Diez Mil Botellas’, is nearly as good and ‘only’ £70. I’m now on my third case and get a 10% discount as a regular customer!

So that was the end of a very memorable meal. The food and wine was stunning and the service was exemplary as you’d expect. One of the reasons I come to these fine dining places is to tap into their knowledge and each server was able to talk expertly about the food and wines, in English.

This experience wasn’t cheap, I’m guessing around 150€, but I felt I got good value, not just because I ate and drank very well, but also because I learned a lot. I definitely recommend Nurea if you can stretch to it.

In 2012 I went to…

Guggenheim Bistro (Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandoibarra, www.bistroguggenheimbilbao.com

The Goog Bistro is one of the top picks in many of the guidebooks. In July 2012 went for the lunchtime menu-del-dia (€32) and paid an extra €9.50 for the ‘maridaje’ or wine-matching.

To kick off, a Watermelon Gazpacho (must make this refreshing summer soup when I get home) which came with an interesting combination of chunks of Tuna Tartar and green pepper (B). I wasn’t too sure about the accompanying Aperitif which didn’t go well at all and tasted artificially of strawberries (C).

This came with an excellent glass of Txacoli ‘Itas Mendi’ 2011 (A) which created a bit of an overkill of liquids and I was playing catch up for the rest of the meal.

Next came a delicious Rock Oyster Paella (A) topped with a Mayonnaise Foam (B+), although for me this wasn’t an improvement on a good garlic aioli.

This was matched with an excellent Verdejo ‘Aura’ 2011 (A+).

After this a forme of Roast Lamb with Pumpkin Puree (A) and dried coffee (C) which went very well with a glass of Rioja (Bai Corre Crianza 2008) (A+).

Finally, French Toast (B+) with Vanilla Ice Cream (A) and a shot of homemade Vino Dulce de Naranja (sweet orange flavoured wine) which smelt great but tasted less so (C).

Overall though I felt I got good value for my money at the Goog Bistro and would happily go again, perhaps in the evening next time.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – Abando – midrange places to eat and drink

Posted in Abando, Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , , , on October 24, 2017 by gannet39

Abando is the central area of Bilbao west of the stadium and on the south bank of the Ría del Nervión. It’s opposite the Casco Antiguo (see separate posts), which is on the north bank. This part of the city is also known as the Ensanche (extension) and was once a town in its own right, in competition with Bilbao until it was swallowed up. Barrio map here.

The provincial administration, train stations and CBD can be found here, and also the Guggenheim which I have given its own post. You can find all the places below on this map.

Iruna (Intermediate B+), 5 Calle Berastegui (corner of Calle del Musico Ledesma), www.cafeirunabilbao.net

Iruna doorway

Iruna is a famous old cafe bar dating from 1903 and decorated in the Moorish neo-Mudejar style.

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It’s very atmospheric and seems to be popular with all kinds of people.

They were grilling Pinchos Morunos, Moorish kebabs on a skewer, when I was there, so of course I had to try some (B+).

La Viña del Ensanche (High Intermediate A), 10 Calle Diputacion, lavinadelensanche.com

This local institution (serving pintxos for over eighty years) is a Lonely Planet top pick, and is also recommended by Conde Naste. It’s popular with the locals so if you want to sit on the terrace you should definitely reserve or take a seat in the dark interior as I did.

The food and the service were really good. I had a pintxo of ‘Cabezada Ibérica de Jamones de Joselito cocinada a baja temperatura en su jugo’, that is ‘Joselito Iberian pork, cooked at a low temperature in its own juice (B+).

I also had a glass of an unlabelled house wine, from the Cariñena DO near Zaragoza, which was quite unusual and interesting (B+).

I need to come and eat here again. Next time I’ll try their tasting menu, or go upstairs to the restaurant.

 

Casa Rufo (High Intermediate A), 5 Hurtado de Amézaga Kalea, www.casarufo.com

In 2012, this was my favourite place in the short time I was here. Founded in 1955, it’s a deli and bodega that becomes a restaurant in the evenings. It’s very atmospheric sitting amongst shelves stacked with local produce and bottles of wine. The building dates from the fifties so there’s lots of wood and nice ceramics tiles.

I started with a plate of local leeks, Puerros, dressed in oil and sherry vinegar, and topped with raw onions, peppers and olives. It was pretty good but I’ve had better (B).

The star however was the huge beefsteak (Chuleton) which arrived ready sliced and still sizzling on a thick earthenware platter. It was huge (the next table shared it between two) and the chef came out of the kitchen to egg me on as I started to flag towards the end. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had (A). It’s a speciality of the house, along with codfish.

It was helped down by an excellent half bottle of Rioja Crianza (Senoria de Cuzcurrita), a perfect marriage with the meat (A).

Sadly my ideal desserts of Plums in Brandy and Pears in Txacoli were not available so I went instead for the cheesecake which thankfully was very satisfying (B+).

Finally a glass of ‘Nectar’ Pedro Ximenez which was so nice (A) that I bought two bottles to take home.

The service was a bit dour at first, but they lightened up when sprinkled with niceness. I’d definitely go again.

 

Guria (High Intermediate A), 66 Gran Via, www.restauranteguria.com

This is a somewhat formal place with a good rep. The youthful service was a bit severe but I did get a smile eventually.

I had the Menu Bistrot for €39 which included a bottle of thin-tasting Txacoli (B).

The first course was a soup made of pureed peas (A) followed by a mushroom omelette (B), both very unphotogenic.

Cod is the speciality of the house so I had the Bacalao a la Vacainza, saltcod in a red pepper sauce, also somewhat unsightly, but still tasty (B).

And the classic Basque dish Bacalao Pil Pil, done very well (B+).

This was followed by some tasty Carrilleras, beef cheeks (B+).

For dessert the Brownie was great but would have been better if the chocolate sauce was hot (A-).

Brandies are a bit pricey here so I went for their homemade Pacharan Casero which was pretty good and only cost €3.

So not very pretty food, but well-made and it pushes all the right flavour buttons.

 

And a place to avoid….

Asador Indusi (Intermediate C), 7 Calle Maestro Garcia Rivero

This was the place recommended by a hotel receptionist on a Sunday in 2012 when all other places nearby were closed. There is nothing to recommend it in particular, the food, decor and service are all non-descript (all C). The Rioja and Pedro Ximenez were the only things that made the experience enjoyable.

If you can’t find something better nearer your hotel, you might want to walk the twenty minutes to the old town for a bit more choice.

The Guggenheim next!

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – a home away from home

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , on October 23, 2017 by gannet39

Coming from Sheffield I feel a lot of affinity for Bilbao; a former industrial hell-hole based on steel making that has reinvented itself to be a very liveable and chilled out city. Both cities have similarly sized populations (around half a million) as well as quite similar rainy weather and underachieving football teams that play in red and white stripes.

AC Bilbao

That said, the architecture, both modern and old, is a lot better in Bilbao where the city council seems to be much more forward thinking.

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Bilbao is also the capital of one of Spain’s major culinary regions and eating well is a local obsession, whereas in Sheffield we are more concerned about the contents of our pint glasses.

Art Deco Station front

 

 

 

Bilbao also has a metro. The entrances were designed by Sir Norman Foster. Locals call them ‘Fosteritos’.

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This was my third time in Bilbao. I’ve been in June 2012, July 2013 and June 2016. However, please don’t consider these posts as an exhaustive guide to the best restaurants in this gastronomic mecca. I have been to a lot of good ones, but there are plenty I haven’t had time to try.

Lovely building near Placa Nueva

You’ll find my Google map here and a guide to the neighbourhoods here.

I’ve organised my posts as follows:

Bilbao – General (this post)
Bilbao – Abando
Bilbao – Abando – The Guggenheim
Bilbao – Casco Viejo
Bilbao – Casco Viejo – Plaza Nueva
Bilbao – San Francisco
Bilbao – La Vieja
Bilbao – Getxo

I’ve stayed in two hotels here. In 2016 my employer put me up at the Hotel Zenit Bilbao www.bilbao.zenithoteles.com which was slightly out of the way, but still only twenty minutes’ walk to the Guggenheim or the Casco Viejo. The rooms are modern and the breakfast is quite good.

On previous occasions I stayed at the Abba Parque now known as the Ilunion www.ilunionhotels.com . It was a bit faded but quite handy for the bus station.

A friend likes the Hotel Domine www.hoteldominebilbao.com It’s pricey but the rooftop breakfast bar overlooks the puppy in front of the Gugenheim which makes it worth the money he says.

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Photos uploaded September 2012.
Photos for other posts uploaded February 2014 and October 2017.

A flying visit to Bermeo

Posted in Basque Country, Bermeo, Spain with tags on October 22, 2017 by gannet39

Bermeo is a small town by the sea, about twenty minutes drive from Guernica. It’s the most important fishing port in the Basque country and so it must have an amazing history. I just wish I could have stayed longer to find out more about it. As it was I arrived in the morning, worked all day, ate quickly and got the bus to Bilbao, so I can’t tell you much about it.

I was taken for lunch by the school owners to a place on the waterfront called Kai Alde at 15 Lope Diaz de Haro Kalea and the food was very nice as I recall. A good place to try local seafood tapas that’s for sure. I’ve put it on the Guernica Google map.

I’d love to come back. The island of Gaztelugatxe is a famous local sight.

Guernica – eating out

Posted in Basque Country, Guernica, Spain with tags , , , on October 21, 2017 by gannet39

As I say I was only in town for two days, a Sunday and a Monday, which is when many places are closed, so please don’t consider this to be a guide to the dining scene in Guernica. There are other places, like Zallo Barri www.zallobarri.com, that I didn’t get to try that are probably better, but these two are definitely good spots. The first is trad, the second is modern.

Restaurante Boliña El Viejo (Intermediate B+), 1 Calle de Adolfo Urioste, www.restaurantebolinaelviejo.com

I love this kind of old school comedor as it’s like being transported back in time. Don’t expect haute cuisine, just good, honest home-cooked food. It’s a local institution, hence the nickname ‘El Viejo’, so you shouldn’t have any problems finding it.

I came once for Sunday lunch and again on Monday evening when most other places are closed.

To eat a proper sit-down meal, pass by the terrace and go through the boisterous bar to the separate dining room at the back. There you will be cared for by a slightly frail but very lovely old lady. Your best food Spanish will be required as she may go off menu when suggesting things to eat.

On one occasion I had the Menu del Dia (€20) and got Sopa de Pescado; a fish, maybe tuna?, stew (B+).

Then, fluffy and sweet Bacalao Bizkaiaya (B); saltcod baked in tomato sauce in the Biscay style.

The Itsas Mendi Blanco Txakoli was cheap at €9 but okay (B).

Some Leche Frita to finish (B).

Another time I tried the local Gernikako Piperrak, fried green peppers (A), which have their own DOP.

Followed by the Solomillo de Ternera (B).

And finishing with Manchego cheese with Membrillo quince paste (B).

The coffee is surprisingly good too (B+).

On Sunday the comedor gets very busy but on Monday evening after dessert it was so quiet I had to gently wake up my server who was sitting upright having a nap.

For a livelier atmosphere you only have to step back into the busy bar, swapping one character for another. When I was there the funny bartender was communicating with his co-workers through whistles and coarse expressions in English that kept everyone amused.

I had a Pacharan from neighbouring Navarre (B+)…

… and gazed at the pictures on the wall showing Pelota stars and farmers with huge bulls.

My interest was piqued when I saw the bartender making a similar aperitif to a Negroni. As my regular readers will know I love a good cocktail so I had to try it.

The ingredients were ‘Yzaguirre’ Catalan vermouth (an old friend from Oviedo), Campari, Angostura bitters and something unknown from an unlabelled bottle. It wasn’t bad at all (B) but I prefer a gin in there.

On a Monday night when most places were closed the hotel receptionist suggested that I try Restaurant 1000 Azul (same company as below?) or Hiru Saku, both on Calle Pablo Picasso, but the former looked too pricey, albeit very good, and the latter a bit boring, so I went back to Bolina El Viejo instead.

1000 Coloraos (Intermediate A), 9 Plaza San Juan Ibarra

This modern pintxos bar was TripAdvisor #3 when I was in town, and #1 at the time of writing in 2017.

I dined here three times in all, twice in the evening, and again for lunch. I ate very well each time but admittedly I also came so that I could watch Euro 2016 in the bar area. The small restaurant area is more secluded should you not be a fan.

All the pintxos and raciones I ate here were ‘muy rico’ and very reasonable. I can recommend the Hamburguesita Buey, the Solomillo Foie Hongos and the Arroz Cremoso (all A). Can’t remember what this was but it was undoubtedly very good and more photogenic than the others!

I ate well in Guernica but I’m aware I just scratched the surface of this little town. I’m sure there’s much more to it.

Guernica – walking around

Posted in Basque Country, Guernica, Spain with tags , on October 20, 2017 by gannet39

Although quite a small town, Guernica (or Gernika in Basque) is the political and spiritual home of the Basques. The national assembly for the Basque country is here as is the Gernikako Arbola, an oak tree that is the symbol of their democracy, which is one of the oldest in the world.

The town is also known for being the subject of Picasso’s famous painting Guernica which hangs in the Reina Sofia in Madrid. The picture depicts the horrors of the bombing raid on the town inflicted by German aircraft on behalf of the Francoists during the civil war. 1,654 civilians were killed and much of the town was destroyed as these pictures show.

There is a tiled mural copy of Picasso’s painting called ‘Mural del “Guernica” de Picasso
which you can see on Pedro de Elejalde Kalea, at the top of San Juan Kalea.

I’ve seen the original hanging in the Reina Sofia in Madrid. It’s a huge work and very moving, it made me weep when I saw it. Here’s an informative video about the painting.

The guerniqueses named a street in the centre of town after the famous Catalan painter. There are a few good bars and restaurants along here so it’s a good place to come in the evening.

There is also a statue here for José María Iparraguirre, the Basque bard, who wrote a famous anthem for the Gernikako Arbola.

There are a few attractive buildings nearby, along Carlos Gangoiti Kalea, probably built since the bombing.

The town was founded by Count Tello in 1366 as his statue attests.

As there wasn’t much else to do, I spent my Sunday walking around, taking in the scenes of everyday life.

Rain is a frequent occurrence so it makes sense to take precautions.

These kids going down a suicidally steep hill on anything with wheels reminded me of my own childhood!

Other things that caught my eye included the local council’s attempts at skimping on fountain repairs…

…and all the shop signs were written in Basque-style lettering with its distinctive As.

I was put up at the Hotel Gernika at 17 Carlos Gangoiti www.hotel-gernika.com which was fine if a bit dated but otherwise unremarkable.

There’s lots more to see and do no doubt, I was just unlucky to be here on the two quietest days of the week when everything was closed, I would happily have stayed on a bit longer though. Please see my next post for eating and drinking.

Oviedo – cheap and medium range eating

Posted in Asturias, Casco Antiguo, Oviedo, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by gannet39

Everywhere mentioned in this post, and more are on this Google map.

For fine dining (tasting menus etc) please see my previous post.

All the places reviewed below are in the Casco Antiguo except for this first one which is just to the north-west of San Francisco park and is well worth the short walk.

Gloria Casa de Comidas (High Intermediate A), 24 Calle Cervantes

This ‘casa de comidas’ (food house – think tapas bar and restaurant) was one of my favourite places to eat in Oviedo. It’s the creation of two-starred Michelin chef Nacho Manzano but everything is very reasonably priced.

On my visit everything was perfect; good quality, innovative cuisine, friendly, attentive service, modern, atmospheric décor and a cool soundtrack of Afro Reggae and Roy Ayers. I loved it and didn’t want to leave, which explains the bill (€61.65).

To drink I went with my server’s recommendation of ‘Vinas de Monte’ by San Esteban, a red wine for €22 that scored well with me (B+).

To start I couldn’t resist trying a tapa of ‘Llampares a la Sidra’, or limpets in cider, a first for me. They were interesting but nothing amazing (B).

Then a tapa of the critically-acclaimed Croquetas de Jamon. The accolades are deserved, they were some of the most delicate I’d ever eaten, almost liquid inside (A).

Then a half racion of ‘Corte de Cerdo Iberico con Berenjenas y Eumulsion de Guindillas’; an unphotogenic but very tasty (A) sliced pork chop with aubergines and an emulsion of small hot peppers.

The tapa of ‘Panceta Crujiente con Pure de Fabada y Verduras Alinadas’, or crispy pancetta with a puree of white bean stew and marinated vegetables served in a lettuce leaf, was excellent (A).

I also loved the ‘Bocata Gochu Asturcelta y Encurtido de Verduras Asiaticas’; pulled pork sandwiched in a soft Taiwanese bun with pickled Asian vegetables (A), with some superior crisps on the side (A). Gochu Asturcelta is an Asturian rare-breed pig.

I also loved their ‘Tarta de Queso y Galleta con Dulce de Membrillo y Helado de Frambuesa’; cheesecake and biscuit with sweet quince paste and raspberry ice cream ‘ (A).

With dessert, a glass of cider liqueur called ‘Diamantes de Hielo’ (B).

And with my coffee (B), a chupito of ‘Los Serranos’ Licor de Avellana, hazelnut liqueur.

A great spot, I’d definitely come again.

El Asador de Aranda “Casa Campanes” (High Intermediate B+), 19 Calle Jovellanos, www.asadordearanda.com

This roast meat restaurant is a part of a chain with locations in several major cities. I’ve been to a few of them and have always enjoyed the experience.

This particular branch, Casa Campanes, has a spacious terrace which would come into its own in the summer, but it was a bit too chilly in late May so my friend Peter and I sat inside the beautifully decorated main room. We were the only customers on a Wednesday night, a reflection on the time of year and Spain’s economic condition rather than the quality of the food which is very good.

To begin we had half raciones of Morcilla de Burgos (B+), grilled slices of a famous black pudding from Burgos that is made with rice…

… and Torreznos (B) aka pork scratchings.

The house specials are roast Cochinillo (suckling pig) and roast Lechazo (suckling lamb). We shared a platter with a quarter of piglet and it was great (B+) but having been recently spoilt by Los Galayos in Madrid (see my Plaza Mayor post), the best place I’ve ever eaten Cochinillo, I couldn’t give it top marks.

With a mixed salad, water and four glasses of wine, the bill came to €77 between two which was pretty reasonable.

El Fontan (Elementary C), 2 Calle Fierro, www.restauranteelfontan.com

I’ve got nothing against cheap restaurants, and this is probably the cheapest in town, but I was very disappointed with this place. It’s highly recommended by both the Frommer’s and the Guia Repsol guides, but the food was terrible when I went, which it shouldn’t be, given that it literally overlooks the fresh produce market of the same name.

I had the Menu Fin Semana which at €16 was unarguably incredibly cheap, given that it included a bottle of unlabelled red (C), but it was cheap for a good reason.

I started with the Fabada which was really quite horrible although not inedible (C). I’m not sure why as it’s pretty easy to make a good one given half-decent ingredients. The bacon was really hard in this one and the chorizo and morcilla tasted very cheap. The sauce was a really light colour for some reason. I could have done a better job myself. The following Entrecote was tough and flavourless (C).

To finish the famous local dessert Arroz con Leche didn’t have its usual caramelised glaze so it reminded me of my Norwegian mum’s rice pudding as it was just simply sprinkled with cinnamon. Hers was better than this though (C).

I quite liked the cup the coffee (B) was served in though. And the waitress was lovely.

Another saving grace, as so often, was the excellent Milenario brandy (B+) from Caballero in Puerto de la Santa Maria which the owner told me was quite hard to get hold of.

Come here if you’re on a budget by all means, but personally I’d rather spend a bit more and get better quality.

Here’s a shortlist of bars that I enjoyed:

Calle Gascona has more cider pubs than any other street in the world!

Tierra Astur, 1 Calle Gascona, www.tierra-astur.com

Recommended by local teachers so I came in briefly one night. It’s very atmospheric, and popular with locals.

La Finca Sidreria, 4 Calle Gascona, www.sidrerialafinca.es

This was the Lonely Planet pick along Calle Gascona so I popped in for a night cap to check it out. If you wanted to drink cider and eat cheese, this would be a good place to come.

El Patio de los Naranjas (Intermediate B+), 4 Calle Jovellanos

Nice low lit bar playing jazz, good for a night cap.

Sidreria Gato Negro, 5 Calle Mon, www.sidreriaelgatonegro.com

This cider bar in the old town seems very popular. It’s very near Married, my favourite restaurant (see previous post).

This final place is closed now, I just wanted to remember it…

Casa Conrado (High Intermediate (B+), 1 Calle Arguelles, NOW CLOSED!

This local institution had a big rep getting accolades from Michelin, Guia Repsol, Frommers and a local foodie teacher that I worked with. It was quite a traditional and formal experience although I never let that phase me.

The service wasn’t great; the head waiter didn’t seem happy and wasn’t very welcoming. Looking back at the dates of the last TripAdvisor reviews, it seems the restaurant’s closure was already on the cards when I went so that might explain his attitude.

Not sure why such a long-standing restaurant closed but ordering a la carte was quite expensive and not always on point according to the reviews. Personally I had the Menu del Dia which was very reasonable at only €25 and the quality was pretty good.

Upon sitting down, a complementary tapa of marinated crab salad (A).

For my starter I opted for the ‘Muslitos de Cordoniz, Crujientes con Salsa de Soja’ or quail thighs friend in a soya sauce batter (B+).

For my main course; ‘Carrileras de Iberico con Pure de Patata’, or unphotogenic pork cutlets in gravy with mashed potato (A).

To drink a bottle of Ramon Bilbao Rioja (B+ for nose, B for flavour).

After this some local ‘La Peral’ blue cheese (B+) and a glass of decent PX (B+).

According to my research, a famous local cake is the Carbayon de Almendra, so I grabbed the chance to try it when the waiter said they had it. It looks like what we in the UK would call an iced bun, something very simple, but the Spanish recipe is a bit more complex, involving puff pastry filled with a mixture of egg, ground almonds, brandy or sweet wine and sugar and covered with an icing made of water, lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon. This one was very nice (B+), especially with ice cream (A).

Continuing the hunt for things I’ve never had, I went to the bar and asked to see their selection of brandies. They had quite a few, as a good old place like this should, and I was excited to find an untried brand called ‘Conde de los Andes’ by Bodegas Diez Merito.

It looked the business and tasted it too (B+). I loved the bottle for its bling factor and was going to buy one online, but sadly they’ve changed the name now to Marques del Merito. It doesn’t look as good, but I’ll drink it again if I see it.

And that’s it for Oviedo, a town I’d definitely like to visit again. The dining scene is fantastic, and very competitive, hence the good value. A general impression is that newer, more innovative places are winning out over the traditional, stuffier restaurants. I enjoyed it all though.

Oviedo – Casco Antiguo – eating at the high end

Posted in Asturias, Casco Antiguo, Oviedo, Spain with tags , , on October 18, 2017 by gannet39

Oviedo is the capital city of Asturias, a region famous throughout Spain for it’s food. Taking advantage of this, plus the fact that fine dining in Spain is generally much better value than at home in the UK, I visited three of the best places and had their tasting menus. You’ll find them all on this Google map along with the cheaper places in the next post.

Married (Advanced A), 19 Trascorrales, www.marriedcocina.eu

This was my favourite out of all the fine dining places I went to. The food is quite simply stunning, both in terms of flavour and presentation. It’s hard to imagine the huge hands of the big jovial chap in the kitchen making such beautifully delicate food but César Fernández Casado is an artist of the finest calibre. He has worked at some of the best restaurants in northern Spain, including El Bulli, Arzak, Mugaritz and Martín Berasategui, and it shows.

I had the tasting menu (€45) and wine pairing (€65) but was too busy enjoying myself and chatting to the friendly waitress to make notes or grade the food and drink, sorry! Suffice to say it was all wonderful. I’ll just let the photos do the talking.

The first drink was an Asturian cider, perhaps the best so far, called 1947 by Vilda de Angelón.

‘Bocarte Marinado sobre una Olivada con Matices de Ibéricos’ or a fried (?) and marinated anchovy on a tapenade with hints of Iberian ham.

Language note! Common Spanish words for anchovies include ‘anchoa’, ‘boquerón’ and ‘bocarte’. In Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria a fried anchovy is a ‘bocarte’ whereas in the whole of Spain a ‘boquerone’ is in vinegar and an ‘anchoa’ is a fillet from a tin.

‘Lámina Crujiente de Tinta de Calamar, Emulsión Tibia de su Guiso, Azafrán y Ajo Asado’ or a sheet of crispy squid ink with a warm (?) emulsion of its stew, saffron and roasted garlic.

With it, a glass of Estelado, a very pleasant Chilean sparkling Rosé.

It might not look like it but I think this was the ‘Carpaccio de Hueso de Jamón con Yogur, Cilantro, Regaliz y Remolacha’ or ham bone carpaccio with yogurt, coriander, licorice and beetroot.

To drink, another Asturian cider called Prau Monga which won the Pomme d’Or in 2014.

‘Vizcaína de Callos de Bacalao, Cremoso de su Pilpil, la Piel Crujiente y Tartar de Boletus al Ajo y Perejil’ aka cod ‘tripe’ Vizcaina style with cream of pilpil, crispy skin, tartar of Boletus mushrooms, garlic and parsley.

With this, a glass of 2014 Albarino called ‘Pazo das Bruxas’.

Cooking notes! ‘Vizcaína’ refers to a food (typically bacalao or chicken) prepared with a pulp of peppers, onion and, sometimes, tomato. ‘Pilpil’ is an emulsified Basque sauce served with Bacalao or prawns (usually) that’s made with olive oil, garlic and very small, hot peppers (guindillas).

‘Lomo de Cabracho Asado, Coca de Frutos del Mar y Caldo Ácido de Sus Espinas (Versión de una Sopa de Pescado)’ or roast loin of scorpionfish with seafood Coca bread and an acidic soup made from the fish’s spines. The seafood included shelled langostines, Goose barnacles (percebes ) and a clam studded with fish roe that made it look like a piece of jewellery.

For the meat dish, a copa of 2007 Rioja called ‘Murua’.

‘Pieza de Ternera Cocida y Glaseada, Verdures Jóvenes de Temporada en Diferentes Cocciones y Texturas’, or glazed veal with seasonal young vegetables with different textures and cooking methods.

To drink with dessert a late harvest Txakoli di Bizkaia called ‘Urezti ‘ (honeyed water) from Bodegas Itsasmendi which I remember as being exceptional (A).

‘Soufflé Frío de Chocolate Blanco, Arenas de Caolín, Cítricos y Chocolate Negro’ translates as a cold soufflé of white chocolate, Kaolin sands (sic), citrus and black chocolate. My understanding is that the bushy ingredient is a local seaweed dipped in chocolate. Que rico!

With coffee a 20-year-old brandy by Torres called Miguel Torres. It was decent, but I’ve had better.

I really enjoyed my meal here and would happily come again. It helps that they are nice people too, and that everything was good value. I’ll definitely be back next time I’m in town.

Mestura (Advanced B+), first floor of Gran Hotel Espana, 2 Calle Jovellanos, www.mesturarestaurante.es

This is a modern, formal hotel restaurant but I didn’t find it at all stuffy. I got good friendly service from the waiter and sommelier and the Menu Fomento de la Cocina Asturiana was very reasonable at €39.

Rather than a wine pairing I went with the somelliers recommendation of a single bottle of a 2014 Verdejo Rueda called ‘Tramoya’ by Bodegas Don Diego. It gave me a lovely buzz (B+ flavour, nose A) and was only €12. I tracked it down for only £5 a bottle on the internet and I’m awaiting an order now.

Things began with a Horchata Amuse Bouche (B).

The following Anchovy on Focaccia was stunning (A). I need to try and make this at home!

The ‘Fried Octopus with Humus and Green Asparagus Sprouts’ that followed was also very good (B+).

I wasn’t so wowed by the ’65 degree cooked Egg, Porcini, Cheese Foam & Fresh Winter Truffle’ that followed (C+).

The Seabass in Cider was also wonderful (A).

I can’t remember what the dessert was so it can’t have made much of an impression. The photo doesn’t look great.

However, a glass of Taylor’s Late-Bottled Vintage Port is never going to be bad (B+).

The highlight was the fantastic (A-) glass of Gran Duque d’Alba XO brandy that I got with my coffee. I’d never had the XO before (I’m a big fan of the ordinary Gran Duque) and I was so impressed that I later bought a crate of six from Uvinium for about €50 a bottle.

The total bill was €53.80 which included the port and brandy for free, so good value was had. In conclusion this is a good place for food and a great place for drinks! A definite recommendation from me.

Fermin (Advanced B+), 8 Calle San Francisco, www.casafermin.com

A long standing institution (since 1924) considered by many (Guia Repsol, Frommer’s) to be the best place in town. It was very good, but I enjoyed myself more at Married above.

I had the €65 Menú Degusatción and a wine ‘maridaje’ once again for a very reasonable €28.

Upon arrival I was given a freshly poured Villacubera cider which was sadly still and lifeless (C).

To begin, a quartet of starters. The ‘Melón Mojito’ was interesting (B) but the ‘Foie con Lenteja Negra Frita’, foie with fried black lentils, was tasteless (C). However I enjoyed the ‘Caramelo de Morcilla’, black pudding caramel (B+), and the ‘Croqueta Cremosa de Jamon Ibérico’ aka creamy Ibérian ham roquette, was always going to be a winner (A).

The ‘Ostra con Tocino y Caldo de Jamón’ or oyster with bacon and ham broth didn’t cut it (C).

I forgot to grade the ‘Tartar de Atún Rojo con Helado de Wasabi’ or Bluefin tuna tartar with wasabi ice cream, but I’m sure it was good.

Ditto the Gramona Cava but I know it’s good from past experience.

Also ungraded, the ‘Navaja, Alga Ramallo y Berza’ aka razor clam, Ramallo seaweed (from Galicia) and kale.

The ‘Cigala, Guisante y Tomate Asado’, or Norwegian lobster, peas and roasted tomato, was tops (A).

Then some bland Lubina (seabass) (B).

With the fish, an Albarino called ‘Terras Gauda’ which I’d had before in Gijon (B+).

‘Longaniza Ibérica, Yema y Patata Morada’ or Longaniza sausage with egg yolk and purple potato, according to the menu, although it looks like normal potato to me (B).

‘Tendón de Ternera, Bearnesa de Chocolate Blanco y su Jugo’ or veal tendon with its juices and a white chocolate Bearnaise (B+).

With the meat, a half decent Ribera del Duero called ‘Conde de San Cristobal’ (B).

‘Cochinillo Confiato, Tubérculos y Ras Al Hanut Crujiente’ confit of suckling pig, tubers and crispy Ras Al Hanut (B).

Feeling greedy I added a cheeseboard before dessert, all three of which were top notch (A+).

This necessitated a glass of Rioja Crianza called ‘Ostato’.

The ‘Sorbete de Gintonic, Sopa de Citricos y Enebro’ or a gin & tonic sorbet, with a soup of citrus juniper, was good but a bit too sweet for me (B+). It didn’t photograph well either.

‘Milhojas de Yogur y Chocolate Blanco y Helado de Frambuesa’ aka yogurt filled puff pastry with white chocolate and raspberry ice cream scored A and B+ individually but I don’t think they went so well together (B-).

Finally a PX called 1986 which was fantastic (A+) and a decent coffee (B+).

In conclusion this was a very good meal, and well worth the money, but not quite enough top marks to make it my favourite. It was a quiet night but I found the atmosphere to be a bit tame as well. I’d still go back though.

Except for maybe San Sebastian, I don’t think I’ve been to a small town with quite as many good restaurants. I heart Oviedo!

Oviedo – street sculpture in the Casco Antiguo

Posted in Asturias, Casco Antiguo, Oviedo, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2017 by gannet39

Another wonderful think about Oviedo is that the extent to which it has embraced street sculpture. There are statues everywhere in the Casco Antiguo (over one hundred in the city) and the ones in my post are just a fraction of what there is to see.

These are links to two maps (here and here) showing walking tours of the centre with an option for an audio guide via a downloadable app. And here’s my usual Google map.

My favourite is “La Maternidad” (Maternity) in Plaza de la Escandalera. It was sculpted by Fernando Botero in honour of mothers.

Botero is beloved by many, including myself, for his humourous, often political, over-sized sculptures. The only other one I’ve seen is “Woman with Mirror” in Madrid (see my Plaza de Colón post).

A short distance away, at the top of Calle Alonso de Quintanilla is what at first glance looks like more ‘Boterismo’ but is in fact a work by Eduardo Úrculo called “Culis Monumentalibus“. Any city that has a large bum on their main shopping street is alright by me!

El Diestro” (The Right-Handed) by Miguel Berrocal (1998) depicts the torso of a bullfighter with an exaggerated roundness. It’s located a stone’s throw away on Calle Palacio Valdés.

La Bailerina” (The Ballerina) by Santiago de Santiago (2011) is also close by, outside the Teatro Campoamor on Calle Diecienueve de Julio.

Another Santiago de Santiago called “Amigos“ (1993) can be seen in Plaza Juan XXIII.

Woody Allen is a big fan of Oviedo and they’ve repaid the complement by putting a statue of him on Calle Milicias Nacionales

Another nice statue is “Pescadera” (Fishwife) by Sebastian Miranda Ovetense in Plaza Trascorrales.

El Vendedor de Pescado” (The Fish Seller) by Jose Antonio Garcia Prieto is next to it.

La Lechera” (The Milklady) by Manuel García Linares is just a short distance away in Calle Adolfo Álvarez Folguer. It’s a tribute to the women who brought milk to the city.

A very popular sculpture is “El Viajero” (The Traveller) in Plaza Porlier. It’s actually called “The return of Williams B. Arrensberg” (1993), the subject being a friend of Eduardo Úrculo the sculptor.

“Las Alfareras” (The Potters) in Plaza de Daoíz y Velarde.

So that’s a small sample as I say. There are another ninety or so waiting to be found.

Oviedo – Modernista Architecture

Posted in Asturias, Oviedo, Spain with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by gannet39

Here’s a little Modernista architecture tour, coming from the Ayre Hotel Ramiro I where I was staying. I’ve marked them as stars on this Google map.

There are many more buildings, like Casa del Cuito, that I didn’t manage to include. There are some beauties here though!

Viviendas Marqués de Santa Cruz (1914), 11-12 Calle Marqués de Santa Cruz

Círculo Mercantil, 5 Calle Marqués de Santa Cruz

Casa Garcia Conde (Juan Miguel de la Guardia,1904), Plaza de La Escandalera

Junta General del Principado de Asturias (Nicolàs Garcìa Rivero, 1904), 13 Calle Fruela

Banco Herrero, 11 Calle Fruela (1911)

Calle Principaldo, on the corner of Calle Suarez de la Riva

Casa Simeon (Julio Galàn Carbajal, 1915), 4 Calle San Francisco

Casa del Arco Iris (Manuel del Busto, 1922), Plaza de la Constitución

Plaza de la Constitución

Basílica de San Juan El Real (Luis Bellido, 1902-09), Calle Dr. Casal

And several others I can’t remember the location of…

For older architecture please see my ‘Oviedo – walking around the Casco Antiguo’ post.

Oviedo – walking around the Casco Antiguo

Posted in Asturias, Casco Antiguo, Oviedo, Spain with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2017 by gannet39

I really like Oviedo. It has a fantastic food culture and lots of nice buildings to look at, so it’s the perfect place for me.

I’ve broken my posts down as follows:

Casco Antiguo Architecture (this post).
Modernista Architecture.
Street Sculpture.
Eating at the high end.
Cheap and mid-range dining.

You’ll find everywhere mentioned and more on this Google map.

The narrow streets of the Casco Antiguo are pedestrianised so you can wander around staring upwards, with no danger of being run over.

Notable buildings include the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) at Plaza de la Constitución.

Also in the square are a couple of nice Modernista buildings (see separate post) and the Iglesia de San Isidoro.

The Catedral de Oviedo, while not particularly a beauty, is very imposing.

The finest features to my eye were the heavily adorned archways and the doors themselves which are intricately carved with unusual characters. Click on the photos to see a full-screen slideshow.

Nearby, you’ll find these old relics on the corner of Calle Rua and Calle San Antonio.

There are a couple of bars here should you want a pit stop.

To the east of the cathedral, in Plaza Carrada del Obispo and along Calle San Vicente, there are several old quasi-governmental buildings with imposing doorways.

One of these is the Museo Arqueologico de Asturias museoarqueologicodeasturias.com. Entrance is free, and it’s very modern and plush inside but there are no explanations in English sadly. There are a few nice pieces but nothing that excited me particularly. Again, click on the photos to see them full-screen.

There are lots of little squares that are worth checking out. Plaza Daoiz y Velarde has some nice old buildings. Casa Ramón at 1 Plaza Daoiz y Velarde is a good place to eat tapas and drink cider.

Plaza de Trascorrales has some nice bars and street sculpture. Married, my favourite restaurant, is near here at 19 Plaza de Trascorrales. La Mezquita in the picture looks fun.

As usual one of my favourite places was the market (the low building on the left in the picture, Iglesia de San Isidoro is in the background). I didn’t get a chance to see it in action due to work getting in the way but on my last day I managed to catch the last stall to buy the ingredients for a Fabada, the famous Asturian stew. I also ate here at El Fontan, which overlooks the market (see my post on Mid-range and Cheap Eating).

Just opposite the market at 9 Calle Fierro is an excellent deli called Aramburu www.aramburu-asturias.es. It’s another good place to stock up on goodies to take home…

…or grab a snack.

Street sculpture in the Casco Antiguo next!

Gijón – Cimavilla – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Asturias, Cimavilla, Gijón, Spain with tags , on October 14, 2017 by gannet39

There are lots of great places to eat and drink in Cimavilla, these are just a couple I went to. They’re both on the map.

Auga (Advanced B+), Calle de Claudio Alvargonzález, www.restauranteauga.com

This is a high end restaurant, perhaps the best in town, located on a pier in the harbour. It used to be the fish market but the building has been given a modern makeover. It gets solid recommendations from Guida Repsol, Frommer’s and Fodor’s.

I had the tasting menu (73€) with wine matching (25€) . To save time I’ve just given marks in brackets. Some dishes have double marks to show flavour/presentation, or for wines, nose/palate. Some got past me without being marked, apologies.

To start, a glass of Manzanilla (B+).

Then an amuse bouche of anchovy and roe on a celery and turnip mousse (B/A).

After this a glass of champagne from Perrier-Jouet.

‘Manzana Caramelizada , Rey Silo y sardina Marinada’ or caramelized apple, Rey Silo cheese and marinated sardine (B+/A+).

Asparagus (B/B+).

Langoustine (A/A).

With the seafood, an excellent Albarino (A/B+) from Zarate.

‘Viera Gallega, Manzana Verde, Champinon y Placton’ or Galician scallops with green apple, mushroom and plankton (A/A+).

‘Huevo con Pies de Cerdo y Trufa’, or a slow-cooked egg, with pig trotters and truffle (A/A).

A boring Torres Riesling (B).

Can’t remember what this was sorry but I’m sure it tasted as good as it looks.

‘Carre de Cordero Asado en su Jugo con Orejones’, or lamb chops with their juices and a sauce of dried apricots (B+/B).

The ‘Celeste’ Ribera was another disappointment from Torres (B).

Chef Gonzalo Pañeda is famous for his desserts. This is ‘Sopa de Queso de Cabra con Avellanas y Miel’ or goat cheese ‘soup’ with hazelnuts and honey.

The ‘Yogur, Chocolate Blanco y Coco’ looked great but didn’t have the flavours for me (C).

Not sure what these were sorry, something chocolatey obviously.

Naturally a glass of Noe PX went well with the sweets (B+).

So overall a good experience and good value for money as I recall. It made for a nice treat on my last day in town.

On an earlier occasion I came here…

La Planeta (Intermediate B+), 4 Tránsito de las Ballenas, www.el-planeta.net

The teachers told me this down-to-earth Sideria is one of the best places to come for fish. It has a great view of the harbour, especially from the top floor.

The 2015 ‘Terras Gauda’ Albarino was pretty decent (B+). I found it for about £9 on the web.

The Sea Urchin Croquettas were a new one on me but didn’t really float my boat (B-).

The Almejas Plancha were more enjoyable (B+).

The best dish was the Lomos de Merluza garnished with fried garlic (B+), but it was a bit too oily and overcooked for my taste.

The Orujo de Manzana de Asutrias put hairs on my chest (B).

So a good spot for reasonably priced and cooked seafood. The bill came to €53.

And that was Gijón. Off to Oviedo next!

Gijón – Cimavilla – Walking Around

Posted in Asturias, Cimavilla, Gijón, Spain on October 13, 2017 by gannet39

Cimavilla (or Cimadevilla in Castellano) is Gijón’s old town which can trace it’s origin to Roman times. It corresponds to the area north of Calle Melquiades Alvarez; a small peninsula which separates San Lorenzo beach from the marina and port area.

It’s just a short distance from the Hotel Alcomar, so if you like bracing walks by the sea, this is the place to go. Map here.

First stop is the portico lined Plaza Major. There are a few nice bars on the square and on the side streets off it.

You’ll also find the Ayuntamiento de Gijón here.

Heading east you’ll come across the Iglesia de San Pedro.

It was built in 1945 in a pre-Romanesque style.

Behind the church is the yacht club, Real Club Astur de Regatas Gijón, located in a striking pre-war building with fantastic views of the bay. Shame it’s not open to the public.

Continuing along the coast to the headland you arrive at an old gun bastion which is now crowned with this brutalist sculpture by Eduardo Chillada.

Elogio del Horizonte’ (Eulogy to the Horizon) celebrates the wonderful panoramic views you get from this high point.

This lovely mid-1930s Rationalist building near the bastion caught my eye.

Fundacion Honesto Batalon was a charitable foundation set up by a rich philanthropist to provide free primary education for poor girls and this building was part of the school.

Continuing along the west side of the peninsula you soon come to the ‘Puerto Deportivo‘ (leisure harbour). There are some good bars and restaurants here too, some of which I mention in my next post, ‘Eating in Cimavilla’.

There’s an impressive sculpture on the quayside; ‘Árbol de la Sidra‘ (The Cider Tree) made of hundreds of empty cider bottles.

You’ll pass by the neo-Renaissance Casa Paquet on Calle de Claudio Alvargonzález.

In Plazuela del Marques (just to the west of Plaza Mayor where we started) you’ll find Palacio Revillagigedo, built in the Baroque style with medieval features.

The palace has a couple of nice old neighbours.

From here you could explore the narrow streets of the interior of Cimavilla.

This former fisherman’s district suffered a lot of damage in the civil war but there are still some nice old buildings to be seen.

Right, time to eat methinks!

Gijón – Centro – Architecture

Posted in Asturias, Centro, Gijón, Spain with tags on October 12, 2017 by gannet39

Gijón is a paradise for architecture buffs like me. There are heaps of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernista masterpieces dotted around.

I’ve indicated them as best I can with the yellow stars on this Google map.

My favourite building is Chalet de Ladislao Menendez in Plaza Europa.

It was designed in Modernista style by Manuel del Busto, a famous local architect.

Built in 1907 it could do with a bit of TLC.

If I had the money I’d love to buy it and do it myself.

 

Another favourite is at 43 Calle Cabrales.

It was designed in 1901 by Mariano Marin in an Art Nouveau style.

The ‘rejeria’, wrought iron work, is one of it’s finest features.

Marin was responsible for many other buildings in the town, all in a variety of styles.

Further down the same street at 43 Calle Cabrales is a nice Modernista number…

… which also houses the Tourist Information.

More beautiful iron work.

Nearby Plaza San Miguel has a few impressive piles.

As does Calle Jovellanos

Although I’m not that keen on Basílica-Santuario del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús at 6D Calle Jovellanos, although I haven’t been inside yet.

There are many other fine buildings dotted around town.

 

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