This post is primarily about the restaurant scene in Algeciras. For tapas, Calle Sevilla in the centre and streets near it seem to have lots of good places.
For high end modern dining: La Sal (A)
For high end trad dining: Las Barcas (B+)
For mid-range trad dining: Montes (B)
For salads: La Carboneria (A for salads, B/C otherwise)
The best of a bad lot by the beach in Getares: Las Olas (C)
The easy option near to the hotel: Meson La Posada de Millan (C)
A simple place I wish I’d been to at Rinconcillo beach: La Esquinita (A?)
I’d never heard of Algerciras, apparently Spain’s largest port, until I was sent here by the job. There’s probably a couple of reasons for this; firstly it’s quite hard for English people to pronounce /al he the ras/ and second it’s not a holiday destination by any stretch of the imagination. Even the local people I worked with described it as ‘not beautiful’ and ‘ugly but comfortable’ as part of their warm but slightly apologetic welcome. It grew on me the longer I was here though, and coming from an underdog city myself, I felt a lot of affinity with the people here.
One great thing about the city is the other places you can get to from it, such as Gibraltar (a bus ride away), the beautiful beaches of neighbouring Tarifa, or inland to lovely Ronda, or perhaps even Tangiers in Morocco, just a short ride on a fast ferry (of which more in the next post). If you can’t be bothered with any of that, there are local beaches at Rinconcillo and Getares.
The only description I found about the local food scene on the net was that Algeciras was ‘gastronomically conservative’. In addition I’d been warned by a good foodie friend, who had also done time here, that the dining situation was completely dire. She had scoured the town and hadn’t nosed anything out, so I didn’t hold out much for my own chances. However, I gave it my best shot, and after a poor start, I think I ate pretty well in the end.
This name came up at two of the schools I worked at so I decided to give it a try. It’s part of a modern club/restaurant complex about forty five minutes’ walk from the A/C Hotel at the other end of the port. The Down Club should probably be given a miss from the looks of things (although the terrace operates as a bar if you arrive before the restaurant opens at 9pm) but they may not necessarily be part of the same business. Another good point is that if you don’t fancy it when you get there, there’s a more traditional looking place on the opposite corner, also with a good rep, called Las Barcas.
Usually I’d choose the trad-ish place but this time I was glad I didn’t as I had the best meal here after spending nearly a week in the city. Also, at La Sal you can sit out on the terrace and if you screen out the oil storage tanks in the middle of the picture, you have a nice view of the boat marina and the mountains beyond, albeit with the odd sniff of sulphurous compounds wafting past from the chemical factories.
After a complimentary canape of cured duck meat on a tiny piece of toasted bread (tostado) I went for the Salmarejo Cordobes, a cold soup similar to gazpacho but with bread and garlic added to the mix and, perhaps in the style of Cordoba, diced Jamon and egg and a splash of olive oil, which was fantastic (A+).
Next I went with my waiter’s suggestion of Lenguado (Sole) for the main and was rewarded with a perfectly grilled fish (A), some of the nicest waxy and best cooked spuds I’ve ever had in Spain (A+) as well as a small portion of sautéed peppers and courgette (B+).
Finally a chocolate truffle with chocolate ice (A) and a large chupito of Orujo des Hierbas, chilled to perfection (A). Total cost €41.70, very good value given that it included a half bottle of Cune Crianza Rioja for €9 and two chupitos which weren’t charged. Contentment at last….
Las Barcas (Advanced B+), Urbanizacion Villa Rosa Carretera a Getares, Te. 956 600 258
This is the trad place over the road from La Sal, also with a top rep. The view from the terrace is the same except for the road in between, so it’s a bit noisier and less secluded. The interior looks nice though if you don’t fancy that.
I love a good waiter and the old boys here are funny, friendly and very attentive. I went with all their suggestions without looking at the menu. I also learned a bit of Andalusian when I explained the fish knife was pointless as I eat right handedly. Apparently I’m ‘segato’ which I think means I’m a leftie.
To drink, the local (Cadiz) dry white Barradillo again (B) to go with my pescados. The complimentary starter was a delicious (B+) Ensalada de Bacalau, with chunks of potatoes and codfish, prawns, sliced onion and squid, as well as codfish, all dressed with some great olive oil and a bit of parsley.
For my primero, Almejas al Ajillo once more, hoping for something better than the red gloopy mess I got at Las Olas in Getares (see below). Thankfully they were great (A); about twenty clams steamed in their own juices with what must have been a whole head of thinly sliced garlic, perhaps with a little bit of wine or stock. The broth was so good I was spooning it out of the dish with the huge serving spoon when the waiters weren’t looking.
The fish for my segundo was sea bass (Lubina), perfectly grilled with olive oil, and came with a tiny portion of perfectly sautéed veg on the side again (A) but I wasn’t sure about the combination with diced jamon (C+). It could have done with a couple of the lovely spuds they have over the road too.
I couldn’t make out the name of the dessert but I’d describe it as a semifreddo with squirty cream and a sprig of mint, made great by the waiter pouring several globs of Pedro Ximenez raisin wine over everything (A). I asked for a local liqueur but apparently Andalusia doesn’t have one, so I went for the usual Orujo des Hierbas (B). For all this, the bill came to €50. I liked the service and relaxed atmosphere so much here that I came back the next night (Plan A, La Esquinita was closed), even though I could probably have eaten better over the road at La Sal.
This time I was here to try the meat, so I had a solid Rioja Crianza (Azpilicueta 2008) to go with my Entrecote, served sizzling on an earthenware platter with some seared slices of courgette, potato and cherry tomatoes on the side. It was fine (B) but I’d been fairly recently spoiled in Argentina, so it was hard to give the local sirloin a top rating.
Marea Baja (Intermediate B+), 2 Calle Trafalgar, NOW CLOSED
A teacher-recommended fish specialist, visible up the hill on a side street from the waterfront, near Placa Alta
From the outside this place looks trad which, along with the price of their brandy, put me off on my initial recce. In fact though, they are quite experimental here, for example by using soya sauce and wasabi in some dishes. I probably went against the grain by asking for local specialities but I was pretty happy with the attentive owner’s recommendations.
He has a good range of whites too and I enjoyed a nice Verdejo (B+) from Palacio de Bornos (2011) in Rueda which was ice bucketed without me having to ask for a change. Apologies for the lack of translations but my food Spanish wasn’t up to the speed of the owner’s descriptions.
The complimentary apertivo was a couple of whitebait dressed in a soya sauce with a chive and olive oil dressing which was great (A). I wasn’t so sure about the green olives with cumin that came with it though (D). The following Boquerones Rellenos (stuffed anchovies) and mashed potato croquettes were sadly tasteless, even with energetic salting (C).
After this, Guiso Marinero, a fish stew with potatoes featuring heavily (B) and a main of Corvina in a sauce with a small portion of nicely cooked veg on the side (A). The name Corvina is used for different fish around the world, but here it’s most likely a large sea bass.
Finally, on the portly waiter’s say so, an almond-flavoured panna cotta (A) and a chupito of Coriander liqueur (‘Cilantro’ from Galician distiller Valdomino Manor) (A), both totally new, but delicious concepts to me.
The small restaurant area is separated from the tapas bar by a frieze so everyone hears everyone else. The decor might put you off but get past that and I think you would really enjoy the food here. The owner is passionate, his staff less so but they were still friendly and attentive. What completely won me over was the free (usually €10) brandy balloon of Cardinal Mendoza (A) that I received with the bill (€55.50). Satisfaction and value-for-money criteria all met.
Montes (Intermediate B), 27 Juan Morrison, Tel. 956 654 207
One of only two recommendations I considered from Trip Advisor, and also the only restaurant featured in the Rough Guide. I came for lunch and had the €9 menu-del-dia .
To start, El Cocido del Dia, or the ‘stew of the day’, was a lentil soup with the usual chunks of chorizo and morcilla, but also with the atypical addition of saffron, giving the murkiness a yellowish tinge. Not sure why this would make it better but I love lentils so I happily slurped it down.
The next dish of two kinds of fried fish were a misorder on my part, unboned and tasteless I could only give them a C.
The final Natillas (custard) came with a soggy digestive in the middle (another first) but tasted amazing; especially with the liberal sprinkling of cinnamon it had received. It’s a bit gloomy place favoured by an older clientele but you could probably eat well here if you make the right choices. The sister tapas bar just down the hill has a terrace on the street. It just goes to show that not all the best places are on TA.
Meson La Posada de Millan (Intermediate C) , 47 Maestro Millan Picazo, Tel. 956 633 394 , mesonlaposadademillan.com
This was the hotel recommendation and is the best option for my work colleagues as it’s nearby, fairly cheap and you can get some ok food if you choose the right things. It looks like it should be part of a chain with paper menus for place mats and decor on the faux Posada theme (like thousands of other similar places around Spain); fake wooden beams on the ceiling, sparkling ‘old style’ ceramic tiles and cast-iron electric chandeliers.
To begin I had the Gazpacho Andaluz, which was fine (B) but nothing special. To follow I had Carrillades en Salsa, described on the menu as Iberian cheekmeat with sauce, but which I would translate as Beef Cheeks in Gravy. The meat was beautifully fibrous as you would expect and the gravy sauce full and rich (B+), while the skinny chips were just ok (B-). This was only a half portion but would have been a full meal in itself.
I went with the Protos Roble (C+) for €14.75 but wished I’d gone for the crianza (two year old) version which was probably much better. I ‘d had a Protos 2006 a few weeks earlier, probably a reserva, which was stunning.
The very gruff waitress tried to whisk my plate away when I was only halfway through my cheeks and replace it with one of those crappy ice cream menus you get when restaurants outsource the dessert course. I wasn’t too happy and let her know it. Not sure if she hates all her customers or just English people.
I still had the Chuletas de Cerdo do Cabezal to come before the sweet. The chops were the cheapest meat item on the menu but were too heavily salted (C), and the accompanying sautéed carrots, peppers and courgette overcooked (C-) as were the square chips (C). The Tocino de Cielo tried to look attractive but was doused in too much honey (B-). A let down after a promising start.
I came here on another day out of sheer laziness to sample the €12 menu-del-dia, for which I got the house mixed salad with lettuce, onion, sweet corn, beetroot, black olives and a chunk of great tuna (B+), followed by ‘Secreto Iberico’ which involved some tiny tasty boneless chops (B) and the same poorly cooked veg (C-) I’d had the previous time. The flan (caramel pudding) to finish was just like anywhere else (B).
La Carboneria (Intermediate C), Edificio Europa, Corner of C/Muro and C/Murillo (the latter coming off Placa Alta), Tel: 956 663738
This is an asador (grill house) so good for meat. They also have a lively tapas bar at the front with waiter who is a bit of a character. I disturbed the kitchen staff from having their pre-service meal at 9.15, so you may want to come a little later. I wasn’t too impressed by the complimentary starter of what seemed to be Kraft cheese between to crackers on a bed off browning sliced red cabbage. Also, I already knew that the bread in Spain generally leaves a lot to be desired, but the anaemic roll on my side plate took things to another sub level.
Things got better with the Ensalada de la Casa (A), a huge bowl of mixed salad, some deep fried balls of cheese and great belly tuna, all nicely dressed. I’d suggest coming here just for this.
The Solomillo Iberico was ok (B) as was the Ribeira (Marques de Caceras) I had with it (B). To finish the Tarta Fina de Mazana (B). Total spend €47.
AC Hotel (Intermediate A-) Ctra. Del Rinconcillo corner of Calle nos. Portilla, Tel. 956 635 060, www.hotelacalgeciras
The best thing about staying here was the hotel , which was the ‘comfortable’ aspect of the stay. The A/C Algeciras is a state-of-the-art hotel (around two years old in 2012) with (usually) friendly and helpful staff, a good breakfast spread (it’s part of the Marriot group who always put on a good brekky). It’s very stylish with lots of stained dark wood , bathrooms with glass sinks and plenty of chrome. And the mini bar is free, unheard of!
The fly in the ointment is that the internet in the rooms is charged and you have to go downstairs to the lounge to get it for free, and even then the connection is a bit slow which is annoying. On the slowness theme, they seem to have skimped on the lifts which are flimsy and small. You can order the taxi from your room and it will be outside the front door before you are. The gym is laughable with a tiny jogging machine, two bikes (one broken) a set of barbells but no mats or stools. You don’t need it though as you can get a good run in along the sea front. People here generally seem to be very sporty and it can get quite busy with joggers along the front in the early evening.
I ate in the hotel (something I never usually do on principle) one night when it was raining stair rods outside. It was quite a funny experience with several other odd bods, some with dubious personal habits (loud nasal evacuations), others not speaking to each other, all overseen by the waitress from hell, sullen, rude and intentionally accident prone. There are only about four options for each course on the menu, none of which particularly inspired me. Trying to be healthy for a change, I ordered the €10 Chicken Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Jerez Vinaigrette, which arrived without the vinaigrette (C). Walk five minutes around the corner to La Posada de Millan and you’ll eat much better.
The small Mercado in the centre of town is worth checking out. You can get tapas and drinks from a couple of places inside. A couple of the stalls specialise in bull meat, and probably other parts of El Toro as well. They have large photographic displays of their wares.
Around the permanent market there are lots of fruit & veg stalls. Other than the huge white salad onions and beef tomatoes, most of it was unremarkable but there are a couple of snail vendors.