I came to Cartagena in August, the absolute worst possible month for going to restaurants in Spain because many of them shut up shop for their annual holidays. I did manage to have a couple of good experiences though. You’ll find everywhere I mention on this map, along with lots of other untried suggestions. There’s a key top left.
Cartagena is the home of Licor 43, Spain’s most popular liqueur. They offer a factory tour, Experiencia 43, at their facility on the outskirts of town. The name ‘cuaranta y tres’ comes from the forty three ingredients in the recipe, which is a secret, but certainly includes citrus and other fruit juices, and several aromatic herbs and spices such as vanilla. Personally I find it too sweet even when drunk on the rocks (C) but okay as an ingredient in other drinks.
Which brings me to the highly moreish Cafe Asiático, a drink probably invented at Bar Pedrín in El Albujón, a small town near Cartagena. The recipe consists of coffee with condensed milk, cognac and Licor 43, and in fancy versions a couple of coffee beans, lemon rind and cinnamon may be added. I enjoyed a few of these in different places around town.
So, these were my experiences, in general order of preference…
La Catedral (Intermediate B), 7 Plaza Condesa de Peralta, www.lacatedralcartagena.com, open Monday and Sunday
I came to La Catedral for Sunday lunch because it was Guia Repsol recommended. It’s located right next to the exit from the Roman amphitheatre. Parts of the restaurant have glass floors under which you can see some of the walls of the theatre. The south wall, is actually made with blocks of tabaire stone from the theatre itself. There’s a large terrace if you want to sit outside but as it was August, I preferred to sit in the air-conditioned interior.
The food was good but not amazing. I had the Caesar Salad and the Entrecôte de Buey with chips (all B). The local Lavia red (16.50€ a bottle) did the business but wasn’t something I’d seek out again (B-). To finish, a Café Asiatico and a Gran Duque d’Alba brandy (both B+). The service was very professional and generally friendly so yes, I’d go back (video here).
For tapas, I think the pedestrian streets of Calle Jabonerías, Calle Puertas de Murcia and those on and around Plaza San Sebastian like Calle Jara would be good hunting grounds.
This tapas bar was my favourite…
El Descanso Del Icue (Intermediate B+), 9 Calle Jabonerías
A beautiful bar with friendly service selling good food that’s popular with the locals. What more could you ask for? I had the Micherones, a typical Murcian stew made with broad beans, cured ham, bacon, chorizo, garlic, sweet pimentón and bay leaves. I admit it looks terrible but I love broad beans and it did taste good, very earthy and satisfying (B). There are many other good choices on the menu of course but I’m always on the hunt for things I haven’t tried.
They seem like nice people as well so I’d probably come here a lot for bigger meals if I was in town longer.
And just down the road…
To be honest the croqueta and glass of wine I had here were very average but I came just to have a nosey inside and gaze reverently at the Art Nouveau facade, which you can read more about in my last post on Modernista architecture.
And down the road is another historical bar…
Bar Columbus (Intermediate B), 14 Calle Mayor
An old Art Deco bar on the main street dating from 1936. Guia Repsol recommended it as a place to drink an Asiatico (see first picture) and I found it to be better made (more defined layers) than the one at El Catedral although the brandy and Licor 43 seemed to come from a pre-mix in a machine. Like El Catedral, they didn’t bother with the garnish of lemon peel and coffee beans.
While I was there I eyed up the ancient brandy bottles on the top shelf, most of which were long extinct brands that I’d never heard of.
I couldn’t stop thinking about them so on a second visit I treated myself to an ancient Peinado. Sadly it didn’t provide the amazing experience I was hoping for. As well as costing an arm and a leg, it seems brandies like this one can become a bit thin as they age. Oh well, lesson learned.
Whenever I go somewhere new, I always like to check out the local market…
Mercado Santa Florentina (Intermediate C+), Calle Juan Fernandez, on the corner with Calle Carlos III, www.mercadosantaflorentina.com
Not the most beautiful of markets but it there’s a good selection of products, especially seafood (video here).
If your heading home soon, the market is known for Salazones, salt-cured seafood, which are easily transportable. If it were me, I’d get some Mojama (air-dried and salt-cured tuna loin) or Bonito Seco (dried Albarcore tuna) and Hueva de Mújol (cured mullet roe). Just slice them thinly and have them with some toasted almonds and sherry.
Cartagena is also known for its freidurías or no-frills fried fish restaurants. There’s a clutch of them down by the fishing port in Santa Lucía, the port district of Cartagena. The best of them according to my personal research and the lovely foodie couple Alberto and Inma that I met in El Pasaje in Murcia, is Cofradía de Pescadores de Cartagena at 52 Paseo Alfonso XII.
But wouldn’t you know it, they were closed for a vacation, so I went here instead…
Club Nautico (Elementary D+), Paseo del Muelle, Santa Lucía, cnsantalucia.es
I did like the location of this freiduría, right next to the water, under the cranes.
And that’s the best thing about the experience, there’s nothing else really! I had some of the worst service I’ve ever had anywhere from the young staff who obviously don’t care about doing their jobs well. It took me forever to order and just get basic things like cutlery. I went to the bar myself to get my drinks. The food scores a C but then it was super cheap. Altogether, a portion of chips, some deep-fried Quisquilla prawns, the Pescado Fritura and two pintas of lager came to a quite incredible 16.80€ with bread and service.
It was a fun experience if nothing else. If I was in town again, I wouldn’t come here as there are the others to try. Hopefully Cofradía de Pescadores will be open next time.
And finally, a few more things to see…