Castile La Mancha – Ciudad Real – eating at the upper end

After three visits to Ciudad Real I’ve had to divide my food posts into two to make them more accessible, so this one is for posher places and the next is for budget eating. That said, many of the upper end places are actually quite cheap as I get the impression that Ciudad Real is not a wealthy town. So ‘upper end’ doesn’t necessarily mean expensive it’s just that the waiters look smarter and the place fancies itself as being a cut above the rest. All the places I mention below, and more, are on this Google map.

For a posher tapeo (tapas crawl) you could start off in Plaza del Pilar which is due south of Plaza Mayor (where the cheapies are).

In 2016 began at the seemingly upmarket Bar Espana (High Intermediate B+) at 9 Plaza del Pilar where I had three complimentary tapas and a caña for a piffling €3. The chewy Torreneos (deep-fried belly pork) and the insipid Asadillo soup were fine (B and B-) but the Tortilla with boiled ham and young fresh manchego knocked my socks off (A+). The tortilla had been cut in half widthways and used to sandwich the thin slices of ham and cheese before being sliced into segments and pinned with together with a toothpick. I was gutted when I came back in 2018 and it was no longer on the menu.

I also had a quick beer next door (9 Plaza del Pilar) at the modern and fairly atmospheric (incense sticks in the loos) Bar Los Faroles (Intermediate B) but was unimpressed by their cold complimentary Patatas Bravas (C+).

From here you should go round the corner to Miami Gastro (Advanced A) at 2 Avenida Rey Santo which is perhaps the best place to eat in town. Although you can have tapas, I came for a multi-course lunch on my first visit in 2016. The have four tasting menus priced between €30 and €45. I opted for the €40 version which began with Pan de Cristal con Paletilla Iberica, Tomate y Aceite de Oliva; light crunchy bread doused with olive oil and tomato pulp and topped with Jamon. It was excellent if rather messy to eat (A-). I love a good Croqueta de Hongos (mushroom croquette) and this one was pretty decent (A+).

It’s hard to go wrong with simply salted Gambas Blancas Cocida, cooked white prawns (A). The Ensalada Templada de Foie con Fresas, or seasonal salad with foie de gras and strawberries, was beautifully dressed and simply stunning (A+). Codos de Bogavante en Tempura (lightly battered lobster) wasn’t available that day so I was given a huge portion of Tataki de Atun (seared sliced tuna), served with a wasabi mayo, instead (B). Carrillada de Cerdo Iberico con Crema de Patate, or beef cheeks with potato puree, will always go down well with me (B+). I can’t remember what the dessert was called but it was a kind of deep-fried crepe filled with vanilla pastry cream (B).

To drink I had three small glasses of Analiva Verdejo (B+) with the seafood and with the meat a glass of Casa Albali Gran Seleccion, a 2014 Tempranillo from the local Valdepenas DO which was fantastic (A). Sadly this vintage was no longer available when I looked on the internet. Both wines were made by Felix Solis Avanti, a winery based in nearby Valdepeñas. With the dessert a glass of 2012 Pedro Ximenez Cosecha from Toro Albala which was also great (A). The amber colouring of this 17% PX was a revelation as it’s always been a very dark brown on the many occasions I’ve had it before. Interestingly they serve Lavazza coffee here which seems like a nod to the superiority of Italian blends, although it wasn’t particularly well served(B).

The final bill came to €45.70 which was fantastic value given the quality and quantity of what I had. The bill also included a beer, a small bottle of water and a croquette and some crisps to eat while I was reading the menu. I thought that the otherwise excellent servers had forgot to add everything on but indeed it was correct.

I came back in 2018 for a couple of drinks at the bar and had a bit of a different experience. The 2013 ‘Caliza’ Syrah from, I think, Valdepenas, was pretty decent as I recall (B) but the ‘Dehesa del Carrizal’ Cab Sauv from Ciudad Real less so (B-). The Jamon with Pan de Cristal wasn’t quite as good as I remember it (B-), and the Croqueta de Jamon didn’t do much for me (C) but then the kitchen was under pressure as there was a festival on. I tried a new brandy called ‘Constitucion’ from Murcia (€8) which was okay (B), although I’m not quite sure why it was necessary to pour it through a funnel! Lost the pics sorry.

Another place I quite like is Vinalia (Low Intermediate B+) at 4 Calle Lanza which is closed Sundays but open from 6pm (!) in the week. It’s a modern, Repsol Guide recommended bar and restaurant with several seating zones including an outside terrace and also a bottle shop with a good selection of modern Spanish wines. It’s the best place in town to drink wine according to one local aficionado. I had the Bro Valero, a Cab Sauv from the La Mancha DO, which was okay (B), and the Dehesa de Luna was fairly bearable too (B-). My informant recommended the Circe white and the Opta red but they weren’t in stock when I went. They serve creative tapas and raciones such as their Churro de Jamon which was decorated with beads of olive oil. Churros are of course normally a sweet breakfast snack but this one was more savoury and topped with melted cheese as well as the ham. Lost the photos sorry. They also have a separate menu of mini hamburguesas (mine were respectively 2.70€ to 3.30€) from which I’ve enjoyed the ‘Continental’ (B+) but not really the ‘India’ (C), made with rather tasteless cordero (lamb). You do get a choice of buns (tomato and curry respectively for me) and sauces though. Service was pleasant but not particularly attentive which, along with their slightly high prices, might be why they’re not very busy. I’d go back though, possibly for the 18€ Menu del Dia or the 45€ Menu de Degustacion (weekend only) which must be pre-ordered. They also have a wine tasting, Cata de Vinos, on Saturdays from midday.

Carmen Carmen Restobar (B+)at 12 Calle de Toledo, closed Monday, is a trendy modern gaff with youthful and friendly English-speaking service. It was ranked #5 but was the most reviewed on TripAdvisor in 2018. After a not particularly nice freebie of Bunelos de Queso Manchego with a sweet strawberry sauce (C-), I had the Parrillada de Verduras, a plate of grilled asparagus, aubergines, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, peppers, boletus and baby red onions, most of which was very tasty (ranging from B+ to C) although I wasn’t keen on the Romesco sauce that came with it (C-). There are a couple of other veggie and vegan items on the menu too. For a change from my preferred nightcap of brandy, I had a glass of caramel vodka (‘dovka’) called La Gaditana from Cadiz which was quite sweet but nice in small amounts (B). The vodka was complimentary so the bill came to €19.50 with a couple of fairly good glasses of red.

Casa Lucio (Low Intermediate B-) at 1 Pasaje de Dulcinea del Toboso is Repsol Guide recommended for its food however I think it suffers in terms of atmosphere. Their restaurant area looked empty and unused although the pleasant terrace outside on the pedestrian street attracted a few people. I sat at the bar and chatted with the pleasant staff. It’s not great for the single diner as they don’t serve anything smaller than a half racion. As a result I didn’t have anything other than free tapas of Pisto, a Murcian ratatouille (B), and a couple of slices of jamon (B). I would go back with a friend to sit outside in a peaceful place on a warm evening.

Pura Cepa (Interemediate A) at 9 Avenida del Alacazar was #1 and the most reviewed on TripAdvisor in 2016, and deservedly so. They don’t do tapas, just raciones to be shared, but fortunately I had my colleague Craig with me so we could share. To begin some Mojama de Barbate, air-dried and salt-cured tuna loin from the coastal town of Barbate which is famous for tuna, served with toasted almonds (B+). The Parrillada de Verduras, grilled veg, was good (B). The Pulpo a la Brasa, perfectly cooked and very tender octopus, served Galician style with sliced boiled potatoes, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of paprika, was excellent (A). To finish, Trio de Quesos Hornado, three cheeses baked individually with mushrooms, fig jam and strawberry jam and served with crackers was quite pleasant (B).

With bread, a coffee, a glass of red, six beers and a brandy, the bill came to a hefty €98 which was okay given the quality.

In September 2018 my colleague Craig and I went to La Casuca (Intermediate B-) at 10 Calle Palma as it was one of the few places open on a Monday evening. We began with the Tostas Anchoas; excellent anchovies served on toast with slices of fresh tomato (A). Next we braved the Revuelto de Sesos, scrambled eggs with pig brains, a favourite dish of Cervantes, which was a little over salted for my taste but still okay (B). For my main I went with the waiter’s suggestion of a local dish called Cochifrito but was disappointed to receive some dry deep-fried chunks of pork with rind and bone still on and some very average chips (C-). My friend Craig had the Bacalao in a pepper sauce which looked and tasted pretty okay (B).

The waiter did get the red wine right though; Laya is an old favourite of mine from nearby Tomolloso (B+). Finally half a racion of local Manchego semi-curado cheese which naturally was really good (B+). The bill with a beer, two bottles of water, a coffee, and doubles of Orujo des Hierbas came to a reasonable €76.60. I’d go again but choose more carefully.

For a G&T after work or a nightcap brandy I went a couple of times to Baston Pub (Intermediate B) at 1 Avenida Torreón del Alcázar, just over the road from La Causca above. It’s a relatively posh bar with friendly service, a terrace overlooking the paseo and a TV screen inside for watching sports. A glass of top quality brandy cost me €8.

And that’s all the good stuff I know so far. I’m sure there’ll be more to add in the future. Off to Alicante next…

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