I ate extremely well in Alicante. Mainly tapas but a good Sunday lunch as well. You’ll find all these places on this map.
To start the evening, or even the afternoon, do as the locals do and have an aperitif at one of the outdoor terraces along Calle Castaños, a pedestrian street running through the centre of town…
Nic Combinados y Cócteles (Intermediate A), 22 Carrer Castaños, www.nicalicante.com
Nic is one of the best of these bars and has won awards for its G&Ts (there’s six on the menu). I was introduced to the Orange G&T made with Tanqueray Flor de Seville (just then new on the market) and a spoon of Seville marmalade (video here).
Alicante’s seafood tapas are famous throughout Spain and food lovers and chefs from all over make the pilgramage to eat them. This tapas bar is one of the most famous places they go to…
In 2012 top French chef Joel Robuchon said that this was his favorite place to eat in Spain. There’s a restaurant on the top floor but I sat at the more atmospheric tapas bar downstairs. On my visit in 2018 I found it quite easy to get a chair as a single diner, but others had to wait for seats to become free as it’s pretty popular.
I began with a tapa of Quisquillas Hervida (small boiled shrimp) and followed up with Gambas Rojos de Dénia (famous red prawns from a nearby town with scrambled egg, garlic and soft pork sausage) which as a prawn afficionado I could not fault (A). To finish, Milhojas de Crema y Caramelo (‘strudel’ with cream and caramel sauce) and my first introduction to Casta Diva Cosecha Miel, a local sweet moscatel which featured a few times during my visit (A and A+ respecively).
With a beer, two glasses of white wine and another two of Casta Diva, the bill came to just under 75€, which isn’t cheap, but then I have an expensive prawn habit. They have set menus which will make things cheaper. I liked the seafood so much I even sent my Norwegian cousin here with her friends (seafood is in the blood) and they loved it as well. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Nou Manolín is the sister restaurant to Piripi which I review below.
Another really famous tapas bar is…
La Taberna del Gourmet (Advanced B+), 10 Calle San Fernando, www.latabernadelgourmet.com
This posh tapas bar is seen by some (eg the Frommers and Fodors guides) as the main competitor to Nou Manolín. It’s owned by María José San Román who also runs Monastrell, one of the best restaurants in town (one for next time). In 2009 it was voted the best tapas bar in Spain.
I went a bit overboard here if I’m honest! Most of it was good but there was the odd miss. I was a bit disappointed with the presentation of the Navajas (grilled razor clams) but they tasted really good (B+). The Gambas Rojas were fantastic (A) if a bit pricey at €18. Sucking the prawn heads gave me the most intense prawn flavour I’ve ever tasted, and as I say they are one of my favourite things in life, so it was worth the money. Another favourite thing of mine is Tuna Tataki which came here with a bowl of wakame and sesame salad on the side (A). The quinoa was okay too (B+). Still a bit steep at 18€ though. To the waiter’s disbelief I followed up with the Arroz Negro (B+). The final Torrija, bread pudding, was attractively served in a ceramic cow but wasn’t that amazing (C), and a bit of a rip off at 12€. I had different white wines with each dish (Vins del Co, Mar de Frad, Enrique Mendoza, La Cuadrada) and finished with my new friend, a glass of Dona Casta Diva. My final bill was a very greedy 104€.
Overall it was a good experience if a bit expensive. I’d go again with a friend to have one of the tasting menus (9 to 11 tapas) which are available for a minimum of two people.
Restaurante Irreverente (Intermediate B+), 29 Calle Belando, www.irreverentedavidpastor.com
As the name suggests, this restuarant is about innovation and breaking with tradition and is the brainchild of young upstart chef, David Pastor. I’m a fan of Japanese Mediterranean fusion so I began with the Tiradito de Lubina de Estero Macerado en Ponzu Ajipon, Tobiko, Citrico y Lima (seabass sashimi macerated in seasoned soya sauce, with flying fish roe (really?), lemon and lime). I also tried his Latita de Bacalao, saltcod presented in a tuna tin, for which he won the XIII Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía (Best of Gastronomy) award. Everything was great (A).
Irreverente is a bit off the beaten track but worth finding for the food. I’d come back just for the service which was friendly and fun, and very, very camp.
Darsena (High Intermediate B+), Marina Deportivo, 6 Muelle de Levante , www.dersana.com
I came to this posh place down in the marina for my last meal in Alicante, a blow out Sunday lunch. By reserving ahead (recommendable, especially on a Sunday) I managed to get a good table with a great view of the boats. I sat down at 13:15 (the earliest slot you can get for lunch) but as usual was the last to leave.
I started with two media racions (half portions). First was the classic Tomate, Mojama y Encurtidos or tomato; air-dried and salt-cured tuna loin and pickles. The tomatoes were a bit tasteless and let the dish down a bit but it was still good (B). Then came the Nisperos de Callosa con Foie, or foie-stuffed medlars (a member of the plum family) served with a kind of crumble, from the village of Callosa (A). Darsena specialises in classic Alicante rice dishes and seafood so for my main I had Arroz con Gambetas y Calalmar (B+). To drink, I had a bottle of Casta Diva Cha Dorada (B), from the same bodega that produced the sweet Moscatel the two other restaurants had offered me. To finish, Helado de Turron Xiona Casero (ice cream made with homemade nougat from the local town of Jijona).
The best thing however was the (11€) glass of sweet Fondillon Gran Riserva that came with it which was simply mind-blowing (A+).Something like a port or sherry but completely unique in my experience. My good-natured waiter dug the numbered bottle out of the cellar specially for me. He said it was from a local bodega with an ancient history. Further investigation is required.
My final bill came to a gluttonous 93€ with a coffee and glass of Cardenal Mendoza brandy. It was money well spent as I enjoyed every moment.
This next place also has a very good rep…
Piripi (High Intermediate B+), 30 Calle Oscar Espla
This is a great spot for lunch if you’re catching a train as it’s just a five minute walk from Alicante train station. I came here for lunch on a Thurday on my way to Elche. There’s a tapas bar on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first floor. I recommend reserving if you want tapas as it was chockablock when I went. I began with what the restaurant calls a Swarosky; a slice of pan cristal (I think) topped in my case with the classic combo of salmon and mashed avocado (A). The main course was Arroz Seco con Atun y Gambas, which while not a looker, was also very good (B) and with this a bottle of local ‘Essens’ Chardonnay (B). With a Cortado (short milk coffee), a bottle of water and service the bill came to €46€. A good place.
And to start a night on the tiles…
El Coscorrón (Elementary A), 5 Calle Tarifa
I didn’t go out on the town when I was in Alicante so I can’t say that much about the bar and club scene, but I really liked this little dive bar hidden up a side street in the old town. The name means ‘bumped head’ and you have to be careful stepping through the tiny door when you’re coming in from the street. The walls are covered in graffiti from over the years and they play cool jazz. And their famous Mojitos are served out of an old teapot! What’s not to like?
And finally a spot of shopping…
Va de Vins (Intermediate A), 33 Calle Castanos, www.vadevins.com
This is a good independant wine shop (recommended by Conde Naste Traveller) were you can get most of the famous local wines I’ve mentioned above, such as restaurant somellier favourites, the Casta Divas or Enrique Mendoza’s Santa Rosa Cabernet Sauvignon. The internet is probably cheaper but they might have some local specials you can’t find elsewhere.
And now on to Elche…