Archive for the Castile – La Mancha Category

Castile La Mancha – A Manchego festival in Manzanares

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Manzanares, Spain on February 7, 2019 by gannet39

I had another day off the next day so I passed by the Tourist Information Office (Oficina de Turismo Manzanares, www.turismocastillalamancha.com) at 3 Calle Empedrada where the nice lady informed me there was a tapas festival in a large tent at Músicos Park at Avenida de Cristóbal Colón, just a few minutes walk from the central square. You’ll see this derelict mill looming over it on the next block. My map here.

The festival was sponsored by the town and regional councils and, I presume, some organisation like the Manchego cheese marketing board.

Manchego, as the name implies, originates in La Mancha but has become the default national cheese, rather like Cheddar in the UK, and all the tapas on offer here included it in some way or another.

The festival was an interesting concept for me as it’s something I’d toyed with putting on myself back in the market at home, except with Yorkshire ingredients.

First you queue up at the ticket booth and buy a ticket for each tapa you want to try, at €2 a pop in this case. You buy separate €2 tickets for drinks from the bar.

There were nine different local bars and restaurants who had booths at the fair, each specialising in just one kind of Manchego tapa and serving it on plastic disposable plates.

A good few of them were coated and deep fried slices of cheese. My favourite was this one with fried spring onion which (B+).

Another more visually attractive tapa used a cheese sauce to dress canelones.

Another good one was the cheesecake dessert (B+).

The bar that, according to the judges, made the best tapa was presented with an award on the main stage.

At each stall you would get your card stamped and if you got all nine stamps your card was entered into a prize draw for a free holiday.

You could also get tablas of differently aged and cured cheeses from the half dozen stalls representing individual dairies at the back of the tent, or if you couldn’t face a whole tabla, you could graze on their free samples.

Towards the end a brass band came to entertain the crowd, or at least all the old ladies who got up to strut their stuff. I’d forgotten how much fun they could be. Video here.

So a few hours of cheap and fun entertainment. I’d love to do something similar back home in Sheffield.

As it rained most of the last two days I was in Manzanares and the temperatures tumbled I was glad to leave and head for Barajas Airport in Madrid to catch a flight to sunnier climes in the Canary Islands. Tales of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria coming next!

Castile La Mancha – Eating, Drinking and Walking around Manzanares

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Manzanares, Spain with tags , , , , on February 6, 2019 by gannet39

Manzanares is another wine-producing town in the province of Ciudad Real in Castile La Mancha. It’s just a few kilometres of Tomelloso (see previous post). My map here. It’s smaller than Tomelloso and not as pretty but there were are a few things that caught my eye.

On the way to my hotel from the bus station, I stumbled across the remarkable facade of the Gran Teatro www.manzanares.es at the Plaza del Gran Teatro.

Plaza de la Constitución, the old central square, is quite pleasant.

The town hall sits above the porticos that run around three sides of the plaza.

The main church is in the square; Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, has a nice doorway and tower.

As it was my day off, I spent my first afternoon here trying the local wines and eating tapas in one of the two bars in the square. It was a sunny Saturday so there was a bit of a buzz, especially as there was a wedding in the church that day so there were lots of people strutting about in their glad rags. Fireworks were set off when the happy couple came out of the church.

Cervecería-Cafetería Miguelón (Elementary B-), Plaza de la Constitución

It was a bit too hot to sit outside so I sat at the bar instead and watched Real Madrid scrape a win against Betis on the telly.

A free tapa came with every glass of wine. I liked their Tortilla (B+) and their Migas and Gambas Blanca were both okay (B) but I was less impressed with their fatty Chicharrones (B-) and the overcooked Tortelitas de Camarones were the worst I’d ever had (C-).

I started with the local whites which are better than the reds I think, at least in this bar. The most impressive was a sparkling sweet number called Poetica (B+) which I later found on the internet for about €4 a bottle! Sadly I couldn’t convince the bodega to post me any though.

Next best was the local dry red Senor de Guadianeja (Macabeo 2016) which was okay (B). I’d passed their big wine factory on the bus as it came into town.

The dry Yuntero had a nice flavour although it fell away towards the end and there was little discernible nose (B-).

Onto the reds, I tried the Senor de Guadianeja Macabeo Cab Sauv which was okay on the nose but again the flavour fell away too quickly (C+).

The Finca Antigua, made with four grapes (not a good sign) was also disappointing (C). I think this bottle had been open a bit too long though as I had it a few times elsewhere and it was better.

I got the bill after this and was stunned to only have to pay €9.20 for six small glasses of wine and seven tapas! Not the greatest food and wine but it would be churlish to complain too much at that price.

From Plaza de la Constitución I walked up the street to Plaza de San Blas…

Restaurante Castillo de Pilas Bonas (Advanced B), Plaza San Blas

The old castle, Castillo de Pilas Bonas, www.pilasbonas.com, has been converted to be an upmarket restaurant and hotel.

Having had just tapas in the square, I had no room for a full meal in the restaurant (highly recommended and still at #5 on TripAdvisor in January 2019), so I sat at the bar and had some more tapas and red wines which were much better here.

The young staff, dressed in black tunics and silver buttons, gave me some good suggestions. These included a racion of Lagartijos de Ibéricos, strips of pork, which were very good (B+) but came with those annoying little fries, Patatas Paja, that are nearly impossible to get into your mouth without them going everywhere (C).

The Jarrete de Cordero Lechal, shank of suckling lamb, was good (B) but the sweet potato puree with it was much too sweet and detracted from the meat rather than complementing it (C-).

The reds I tried included one called Quixote which had a good colour but was quite light on the nose (B+).

The La Finca Antigua Syrah had a better nose but a slightly weak finish (B+).

The Epilog was less impressive (B).

The two dishes and three wines came to €21 so more expensive than in the square but much better quality.

El Parador de los Galanes (Intermediate C), Arrabal Sector Pp 2, 18

Made a bit of a screw up with this one! I didn’t realise there are two paradors (hostels) right next to each other, on the ring road, about thirty minutes’ walk from the centre of town, and I went to the wrong one! This one is actually a dingy privately-owned motel by a petrol station. The food and wine scored C-/C/C+ with me i.e. it was all perfectly edible and very cheap (£15 for the set menu) but not somewhere I’d return to.

The nearby Parador de Manzanares www.parador.es is probably much better as it was at #4 on Tripadvisor in 2017 and was also the most reviewed. As it has a swimming pool it might also be a better place to stay than my hotel below, although it is a bit of a walk from town.

Hotel Castellano (High Elementary B), 71 Calle Valencia, www.hotel-castellano.com

This is a nice two star with spacious rooms and comfortable beds. The WiFi was annoyingly erratic in March 2017 though. The café downstairs is a popular meeting place in the mornings for lots of the local blokes, whether retired or on their way to work and there’s a nice courtyard where you can sit outside.

There’s not much on offer for breakfast. I usually just had a Café con Leche and a Tostada with tomato pulp, olive oil and manchego, or maybe just a Magdalena (a pre-packaged cup cake-like bun).

The hotel restaurant is better though, it was actually at #4 on TripAdvisor at the time of writing in March 2017. The menu has quite a few traditional local dishes on it. I had the Sopa Castellano (bread and egg in broth), a half racion of Croquetas, lamb chops with chips and a half bottle of local Finca Antigua Tempranillo with the white label (all B) for only €15.

Off to a Manzanares tapas festival next!

Castile La Mancha – Tomelloso- Eating & Drinking

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Spain, Tomelloso with tags , , , , on February 5, 2019 by gannet39

I ate and drank very well during my time in Tomelloso (Google map here).

This first restaurant was especially good…

La Antigua (High Intermediate A-), 112 Calle Don Victor Penasco, www.facebook.com

This beautiful restaurant and tapas bar in a recently renovated old town house is a new addition to my list of favourite restaurants.

On my first visit I sat downstairs in the back room with its beautifully tiled floor. Before I had ordered any food, a couple of free tapas landed on my table alongside my glass of wine. This Croqueta de Mariscos was to die for (A+).

And this Pincho Moruno was really good too (B+).

I knew this restaurant would be an excellent place to try local wines so armed with research from the internet and with some help from my helpful waiter I tried several of Tomelloso’s more famous wines. To drink I began with a glass of Anil (B) which was recommended by Ana at the bodega I had visited that afternoon.

Next a glass of sparkling Verum Gran Cueva (B+).

The Laminas de Salmon pressed all the right buttons in terms of flavour and presentation (A).

The Verum Airen was okay (B).

But the Verum Malvasia was stunning (A). It had a wonderfully fragrant nose which lingered on, as did the flavours on the palate.

The Foie Frio was okay (B).

The Laya Monastrell I had with it was really good (B+). I later ordered 30 bottles of it for my pop-up restaurant. With tax and delivery charges, it came to under €10 a bottle.

The Allozo Verdejo had an excellent nose (A).

The Tacos de Atun, while being very visually attractive, had no flavour except of some rather overbearing citrus (C).

After eating I went through to the bar for a brandy, my favourite Spanish digestif. Tomelloso produces some of the best Holandas (distilled wines) for the production of brandy in the world and the waiters told me that many of them are sent down the road to be bottled in Jerez (my favourite Spanish wine town). However, there are two famous local names; Brandy Casajuana and Brandy Peinado, both of which mature their brandies in oak barrels using the Solera System.

In the bar I attracted the attention of Patrick, a friendly French guy who turned out to be a professional hunter. He waxed lyrical about the restaurant, the town, and the excellent game that was to be found in the surrounding countryside. Here’s his website showing what he gets up to. We discovered we had a mutual love of Spanish brandy and he encouraged me to try a few chupitos (shots) of different brandies. I had the local Peinado 20 year old (B)…

…Fundador (B) and Fundador Exclusivo (B+).

I’d love to try the Peinador 100 year old, which they had, but a bottle costs £175 and they were charging €20 for a glass!

With the brandies, all of this only came to €43; great value given the level of enjoyment I’d had.

Of course I was back at the first opportunity, this time for lunch upstairs.

They have an interesting gallery of old photos and prints running around the walls up here, including this Picasso print.

This time I tried their cheese selection; three kinds of Manchego cured using different methods. I preferred the Aciete (cured in olive oil) but the Manteca (cured in lard) and the Romano (?) (cured in paprika) were good too. (A, B+ and B respectively). Also a plate of Jamon de Bellota which was top notch (A).

The waiter again recommended the local Laya red wine (B+) to go with the cheese.

To finish a glass of the posher variety of local Casa Juana brandy. It has a very particular flavour but I’m not a fan sadly (C).

Marquinetti (High Intermediate A-), 47 Avenida D. Antonio Huertas, www.marquinetti.com

This pizzeria is considered one of the best in Spain if not the best. It was the most reviewed restaurant in Tomelloso on TripAdvisor when I was there in March 2017, which to me is a more important indicator than its #1 position, and it also received glowing reviews from the locals I spoke to. It has also achieved fame in 2011 for producing the world’s longest pizza but lost that title in 2015.

There were as many staff as customers when I went, about fifteen of each as it was early, but the number of chefs and overseers might be because it also doubles as a pizza making school; the Escuela de Pizzeros Asesoramiento.

The pizzas are all excellent and use inspiring combinations of ingredients. As a pizza purist I’d usually go for a simple Margherita but I decided to push the boat out and had the Nicoletta, made with mozzarella, burrata, San Daniele ham, tomatoes and olive oil. It was really good (B+) but the crust was harder than I was used to and was consistent all the way through, whereas in Naples (see my Home of the Real Pizza post) it would be hard around the rim and soggy with cheese and tomato juices in the middle, which tends to be how I like it.

In Naples a pizza would cost a few euros but I forked out €19 for this and it was one of the cheaper ones, hence the minus in the A- rating.

On the plus side, glasses of Torre de Gazate (B) were only €2…

…and the cheaper version of Casajuana brandy only €3. As with the pricier version, I’m really not a fan as it tastes like they put vanilla in it, not pleasant (C-).

The Marquinetti experience was worth the walk from town but I won’t be spending that much on a pizza again any time soon.

Orbe Kitchenbar (Intermediate B), 148 Calle de Doña Crisanta

This gastro bar was recommended by local teacher for modern Spanish cuisine. I enjoyed it and would happily go again.

I had the colourful house salad which was fine (B).

Their croquettes come in three flavours; Chiperones (baby squid), Jamon (cured ham) and Idiazabal (Basque cheese). They all scored B.

I tried a couple of wines suggested by the school owner I worked with. The Brincho Alba had a great nose (B+) but fell down on flavour (B).

The Allozo Flor was okay (B).

The Verum Roble was very good though (B+). They were my favourite bodega while I was here.

I was more than happy to pay €21.40 for this lunch.

Cervecería Horno de Oro (Intermediate B), 2 Calle Bruselas

A bright, modern, popular place that specialises in roasting meat in a wood fired oven. I had the Codillo al Horno con Patates (roast suckling piglet with potatoes) which pushed all the right buttons (B).

The Torre Gazate Crianza red wine went well with it (B) but beer is more their thing. Total cost €14.20.

Off to Manzanares next!

Castile La Mancha – Tomelloso – walking around a wine town

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real Province, Spain, Tomelloso with tags , , , on February 4, 2019 by gannet39

La Mancha (from the Moors’ word Manxa, which means, “parched earth”) is Europe’s largest winegrowing region, and its most important wine-producing town, Tomelloso, has the largest wine cooperative in Europe and the second largest in the world, in addition to several other wineries which produce high quality wines.

Beneath the towns buildings there are nearly 4000 ‘cuevas’ for the storage of the wine. As you walk around you will notice nearly all the houses have grids outside that lead down into these cellars. These ‘lumbreras’ allow air to circulate and locals jokingly refer to them as air conditioners. Many of the cuevas still have the typical earthenware jars and other utensils necessary for winemaking.

My Google map is here.

After arriving in town my first stop was Posada de los Portales in Plaza de Espana, the central hub of the town. The posada was a former inn, built in 1778, which is now the Cultural Center and Tourist Information for the locality.

The nice lady there made a couple of calls for me to see which cuevas were accepting visitors and made an appointment at Bodgegas Perales, an old bodega founded in 1900.

After lunch I went to the address and was met by a friendly lady, the granddaughter of the original proprietor who, along with her little boy, gave me a personal tour of the winery.

The ground floor had more modern equipment, such as a machine for macerating the grapes…

…and tall concrete silos for holding the must.

It was explained to me that the bodega no longer processes its own grapes and instead they send them to the cooperative factory for bottling.

Down in the cellar…

…which was hand cut out of solid rock…

…were some much older holding jars…

… and barrels.

And at the end of the tour I was shown a small museum room displaying wine testing equipment…

…and some early examples of the bodega’s advertising.

This was an interesting and enjoyable tour that gave me lots of practice in listening to Spanish! I was quite surprised by how much I understood.

Other buildings of interest in town are the bullring, which is just up the road from the bodega…

…and over the road from the tourist information, the town hall is quite imposing.

And on another side of the same roundabout is the unimpressive main church, Parroquia Asunción de Nuestra Señora which has 16th century origins.

It’s a nice town to stroll around looking at the old town houses.

Some are decorated with beautiful ceramics, even under their balconies.

And others have lovely old doors.

What to eat and drink in Tomelloso is next!

Castile La Mancha – Quintanar de la Orden – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Quintanar de la Orden, Spain, Toledo Province with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2019 by gannet39

Don’t expect any culinary sensations in Quintanar. You can eat reasonably well here though. Here are my culinary experiences, not in any particular order. My map is here.

El Almirez (B+), 9 Calle San Juan, elalmirez.eltenedor.rest

This is the best place in town I reckon , one of two Guia Repsol recommendations. It’s modern and bright and they play relaxing music and the service is friendly and efficient.

Unfortunately it was closed on the two evenings I tried to go despite their website saying otherwise (perhaps because Real Madrid and Barcelona were playing in the Champions League on consecutive nights) but I did make it for lunch one day when I had a late start for work.

I had the Menu del Dia for €11 for which I got a hefty salad, a bowl of unnatractive but tasty squid ink black rice and a slice of pineapple, with water and coffee thrown in.

Everything was well prepared and cooked and I’d say it was a B+ experience overall.

Granero (Intermediate B-), 90 Calle San Fernando, restaurantegranero.eltenedor.rest

The second of the two Guia Repsol recommendations in the town, but the first place is better. It’s modern but a bit garish and scruffy. I was only in the tapas bar but they have a restaurant room (never open when I went) which might be nicer.

I came for lunch one day and had the plain and simple Menu del Dia; three courses for a paltry €9. First I opted for the Revuelto de Trighueros y Jamon (scrambled eggs with wild asparagus and ham) which was too salty (C).

Next, Calabacin (pumpkin) stuffed with meat which was quite nice (B).

Finally, a slice of Tarta Manzana (apple pie) which was good too (B).

So the food can be good here but the ambience doesn’t do anything for me, and it’s on the other side of town from the hotel.

I came back one evening but the staff were different and not very welcoming so I didn’t hang about.

Cafeteria Echegaray (Elementary B+), 9 Plaza Miguel Echegaray

A plain ordinary tapas bar in the central square. Not as busy as the bigger place below but the guy running it is nicer in my opinion. It was a good place for me to watch Napoli lose 3-1 at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

As I’d never heard of it, I tried a tapa of Carcamusa, a pork stew from Toledo (see coming post) which was okay but nothing amazing (B-).

I followed up with a Pincho Moruno, grilled lamb on a skewer, also good (B-).

Finally the young Queso Manchego with tomato bread was very good (B+) but there was too much of it so it was a bit pricey for me at €8.

Three glasses of the owner’s best local red, a 2013 Syrah called Finca Antigua (B), brought the bill to €27. A good no frills place, I’d go again.

Las Cuevas de Sancho (Elementary B), 1 Calle Princesa, off Plaza Miguel Echegaray

Another plain ordinary tapas bar on a street off the central square. It’s bigger that Cafeteria Echegaray which might explain why it’s busier but the welcome isn’t as friendly.

I had a hefty sandwich, the Especial #3 with pork loin, ham, cheese and grilled green peppers which was very good (B+).

The glass of local red was okay too (B).

I watched Barcelona win 6-1 against Paris Saint-Germain to go through 6-5 on aggregate in a truly amazing game, although the ref didn’t do the French any favours. I’ve never seen Castillians go so crazy for a Catalan win when the winning goal went it!

Hostal San Francisco (Intermediate B), 24 Calle San Francisco

I came here when most of the places were closed on a Monday night. I didn’t get the friendliest of welcomes but I have come to realise that it might be due to the shock of possibly having to speak English. They needn’t worry, I speak fluent restaurant Spanish.

I ate in the restaurant in the back which is relatively plush and modern. The music they played off the radio was terrible though. Everybody Dance Now!

I had the Ensalada Ventresca to begin. The belly tuna was excellent but the tomatoes had been picked a bit too early in the season to be good (A+C=B overall). Their bread was pretty good too (B).

The following croquettes were edible but overdone (C) and the following Chuletas de Cordero, lamb chops, were rather fatty (B) although the red pepper salsa with it was quite good (B+).

The local red given to me was once again Finca Antigua (B).

The proprietor slowly warmed to me when he realised he could communicate with me in Spanish but he positively loved me for asking for a glass of local Anis de la Asturiana to finish (B+) and he left the bottle on the table.

Hotel Castellano (Low Intermediate C), 24 Calle San Francisco, www.hostalsanfrancisco.eu

A basic hotel but essentially ok, except for the thin walls, vibrating pipes and the occasional beetle in the bathtub! Breakfast in the hotel’s bar consists of a coffee and a Madalena cake in a plastic packet (C-). The people running it are okay and the WiFi works. It’s slightly out of town, the central square is about twenty minutes’ walk, but it is next door to a chocolate factory which could be a bonus!

One day I was working in the next village, Miguel Estaban, and one of the teachers kindly drove me back to Quintanar via a supermarket. With the advice of the supermarket manager I got a bottle of (fairly local) 2009 Valdepenas ‘Pata Negra’ which was very good (B+).

So these were my food and drink experiences in Quintanar. Nothing great but not too bad either. Off to neighbouring Manzanares next where I fared slightly better.

Castile La Mancha – Quintanar de la Orden – Stuff to See

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Quintanar de la Orden, Spain, Toledo Province with tags , , on February 2, 2019 by gannet39

Quintanar de la Orden is a fair-sized town of just over ten thousand souls, about ninety minutes’ drive south of Madrid in Castile La Mancha. “Quintanar” derives from the Latin word Quintana which means ‘one fifth’. This may refer to a tax paid at the local market or the fact that it was five miles from an important place. “Orden” refers to the Order of Santiago who had dominion over La Mancha after the Reconquista.

There is virtually nothing to see or do here so I was fairly thankful to leave after staying four nights. The lack of entertainment was made worse by the fact that two of those nights were a Sunday and a Monday when many places are closed but I did my best to nose out the best aspects of the town.

Here’s my Google map with all these places plotted on.

The oldest buildings I came across were the main church Parroquia de Santiago de la Espada in Plaza del Grano…

…and a couple of pretty little chapels.

There was also Casa de Piedra at 6 Calle Reina Amalia which has some nice stone carvings above and around the door.

It’s also the local museum so it could be worth checking what’s on there. Opening hours were 12.00 till 14.00 and 18.30 to 21.00 Wednesday to Saturday and 12.00 till 14.00 on Sunday.

In Plaza Echegaray, the central square, you’ll find the attractive Casa Pic, built in a Modernist style.

The square is also known as Plaza de los Carros due to some association with carriages, hence the statue in the middle.

In terms of local products the most well-known is probably the local aniseed spirit, Anís de la Asturiana, made by Hijos de Francisco Serrano S.A.

I quite like the clean lines of their Modernista factory building at 56 Calle Valencia which you pass when you walk into town from the Hotel Castellano. You get a powerful whiff of aniseed when you pass in front of their big doors.

The company was founded in 1895 by Francisco Serrano López-Brea, a Quintanar native who moved to Oviedo so that his business could take advantage of the better quality of infrastructure in Asturias.

Later, in order to increase their business, the company decided to leave Asturias and return to their origins. Quintanar is only 120 kilometers from Madrid, and relocating there opened up a significant potential market. The new distillery and factory opened in 1916.

I didn’t have time but I wanted to go to their office and ask if they might be able to arrange a tour. I found this video about their factory which will give you an idea of what it looks like inside.

Places to eat in Quintanar de la Orden next!

Eating Out in Ciudad Real

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real Province, Spain with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2017 by gannet39

All the places I mention below, and more, are on this Google map.

I’ve basically divided them into two; posh and ordinary, although the former does not necessarily mean expensive. My info was garnered from the Guia Repsol and Lonely Planet guides, and the young school staff that I worked with.

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

I 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.

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I also had a 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 www.miamigastro.es (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 one day.

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+).

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It’s hard to go wrong with simply salted Gambas Blancas Cocida, cooked white prawns (A).

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The Ensalada Templada de Foie con Fresas, or seasonal salad with foie de gras and strawberries, was beautifully dressed and simply stunning (A+).

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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).

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Carrillada de Cerdo Iberico con Crema de Patate, or beef cheeks with potato puree, will always go down well with me (B+).

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I can’t remember what the dessert was called but it was a kind of deep-fried crepe filled with vanilla pastry cream (B).

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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.

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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.

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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 it was correct.

The best down-to-earth places are all next to each other in Plaza Mayor, in the centre of town.

Acuario (Elementary B) at 11 Plaza Mayor you get a free tapa with your drink which you choose from a menu of mainly fried items. They are particularly known for their filling Huevo con Béchamel; a croquette with a hard-boiled egg inside (B+). With a large beer the bill came to €3.30.

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At El Portalon de La Casona (High Elementary B) next door at 9 Plaza Mayor they are known for serving good value-for-money tapas. I had their Migas (fried breadcrumbs with or without a fried egg) which was quite simple but tasty (B-). With a beer this came to only €2.10.

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Next door again (8 Plaza Mayor) at El Ventero (Elementary C), the Migas is more varied with chunks of ham and other things, but not particularly nice (C-) and certainly not worth the €9.50 I paid.

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They sell other typical Manchego dishes but I’m not sure I’d come here to eat again. However their tables outside are the best placed to view the Carillion clock which chimes at 6pm and 8pm in the evenings.

In the daytime you could finish with a sweet snack from Confitería La Deliciosa at 5 Plaza Mayor.

A good local wine shop is Vinalia at 4 Calle Lanza. I saw the PX pictured above for €18 there. They are also a wine bar.

Out and about in Ciudad Real

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Ciudad Real, Ciudad Real Province, Spain with tags , , , , on March 1, 2017 by gannet39

Ciudad Real is a small city in Castilla La Mancha, about the fifth largest in the province. The city associates itself heavily with Cervantes and Don Quixote although I understand there is no evidence of any real connection. For tourists there’s very little to see or do but it has a big university which is what brought me here for work.

The city was once fortified by the Moors but the only significant remnants of the walls, which apparently had 130 towers, are a couple of gates at either end of the town which have been preserved as monuments. The more impressive of the two is the Puerta de Toledo which is at the northern end of Calle Toledo.

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Besides this there are a couple of churches that are mildly interesting. The oldest is the Iglesia de Santiago.

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The wooden ceiling of the church has a geometric star pattern, clearly showing a Moorish influence.

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In the ceiling of the apse there is a fresco of eight dragon heads, although they look rather like pigs to me.

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Other than this there is very little of any architectural interest, although the town hall in Plaza Major is quite unusual.

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I stayed for three nights at the Hotel NH Ciudad Real at 25 Avenida Alarcos which was fine but nothing special. Some of the staff exhibit typical Castillian severity but a couple were friendly and helpful. The breakfast is a decent spread of lots of things that very few people eat, so you don’t know how long they’ve been sitting there. The Wi-Fi is good but there are no gym facilities.

However, the hotel is well located for the centre of town and also for a long walking/jogging route out to the countryside called the Via Verde de Poblachuela. To get to it simply turn left out of the hotel and keep walking straight, through the bland Parque Gasset and along the main road. At the second roundabout (just after the Arena Quixote) you’ll see the beginning of the path in front of you. (Google map here).

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The Via Verde is 5km long and will take two hours to complete from the hotel door to where the path meets the railway line, and back again. It’s part of the longer Ruta Don Quijote that goes as far as Almagro, so you could walk for much further (20km?) should you want to. There are exercise stations, picnic areas and a couple of drinking fountains along the way. The sun can be quite strong out here, even in late March, so it’s advisable to put on a bit of sun cream. There’s not much to see, just open fields, although the AVE trains sweeping past are quite impressive.

Please see my next post for places to eat in Ciudad Real.

Talavera de la Reina

Posted in Castile - La Mancha, Spain, Talavera de la Reina, Toledo Province with tags , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Although it may look like one big council estate, there is an old centre in Talavera, although I didn’t see much of it as it was the other end of town from the hotel, and the better restaurants.  I was working at Compania de Maria (one of the best schools in La Mancha) where the nuns gave me a tour of the 500-year-old building. The town is on a large river which I was told would be a good place for a run but I never made it due to an attack of lazyitis.

The Hotel Roma is pretty bog standard, wi-fi (wee fee) in the rooms but you have to sit on the end of the bed to reach the desk, no room for the chair. Basic brekky (coffee, toast, cake in a packet) but I wouldn’t advise having your evening meal there. The meat is good in the area (especially the game apparently) so my pork chops were ok (B) but the chips were swimming in grease (C) and the fried eggs looked like an offering from Eyjafjalljoekull (D).

There is food culture to be found however, you just have to look carefully. All the below came up on Trip Advisor and were further recommended by a local teacher. The first two places are located on the edge of an estate that looks forbidding (graffiti everywhere, some broken glass) but is probably no different from elsewhere in town. With local unemployment running at 25 to 30% however, it might be prudent to be security conscious especially after dark. Bear in mind though living on an estate in Spain doesn’t have the same negative connotations as in the UK and everyone I spoke to was relaxed and friendly.

Taberna Mingote, (Intermediate A?), Plaza Federico Garcia Lorca, Tel. 925 825 633
This place is a bit hard to find but worth the effort. On the other side of the estate from El Esturion (below), it’s on the ground floor (round the back) of the block that runs parallel with Avenida de Juan Carlos 1 which might be the best direction to access it from, although the locals on the estate that I asked were very helpful. It has brown awnings and you can sit outside, under, on and looking at concrete. The interior feels much warmer with lots of wood and small barrels of Vermouth, Cognac, Mistella (punch) and hams hanging behind the bar. The well-dressed clientele chat to an accompaniment of light jazz. I had two chunks of Morcilla de Burgos (black pudding) pinned to toast and scattered with tiny crunchy slithers of fried potato, with two piquant and chubby Pimientos de Padron on the same plate, and a glass of red (all A) for about €5 euro. This might well be a good place for a proper meal but I was only in town for two nights. Wish there was somewhere similar on the estate I live on.

Morcilla de Burgos

El Esturion (Intermediate B), 7 C/Miguel Heranandez, Tel. 925 824 638

A semi-formal place quite near the hotel on the edge of an estate, which although tiled, is quite brash and modern with tacky decor and dodgy objet’s de art on a nautical theme. The piped soundtrack was also rather bizarre with Tijuana brass being followed by melancholic strings, just a bit too loudly. There are two areas, a tapas bar and the restaurant, which was quiet at 9 but rowdy by 10. A sourpuss older waiter treated me like an alien at first (which I suppose I was) but his young counterpart lightened up when I spoke a bit of Spanish. I had Esparragos a la Plancha with a small curl of smoked salmon on the side (B). Thankfully the salt came in a bowl on the side so I could grind it onto my food with my fingers. I’m not fond of the Spanish habit of sprinkling big crunchy chunks onto lettuce hearts and anything grilled. The lamb chops, Chuletillas de Lechal were great (A). I should perhaps have had a red to go with it but pursued my obsession with Spanish rose and got a bottle of ‘Fontal’ 2008, a Merlot/Syrah blend (B). The Tarta de Queso de Idiazabal con Membrillo cheesecake was fine (B). I paid €45.50 but got two complimentary orujos on the house. Would go again but would try other places first.

Restaurante La Rotisserie (Intermediate A/C), 58 Angel Alacazar, 925 801 550, www.laroti.com

Located in a more salubrious part of town than the places below, it can have a great atmosphere if you go early. I first came here for tapas before going to El Esturion. The front bar is intimate and everyone knows each other so the place fell silent when I came in with my English accent. Everyone is friendly though and I had a couple of exchanges with my limited personal Esperanto. I had two beers and some delicious tapas of marinated red pepper on toast and tuna in oil with tomato and onion for only €5. The air was heavy with perfume and cohiba smoke and the telly was showing the bullfighting as part of the San Isidro celebrations. It was mostly ignored until a picador narrowly escaped a goring by hanging on to the bulls horns, which had the local Del boys off their seats watching the replays.

I came back the next day to eat in the restaurant which was disappointingly quiet compared to my previous visit, but perhaps everyone was partied out from the previous night. The atmosphere is nicer than El Esturion but I didn’t eat or drink quite as well. The soundtrack is better, 80’s female vocalists, and not quite as loud. Things didn’t start too well with a corked bottle of ‘Pata Negre’ red from the local Valdepenas DOC. The next bottle was ok and went well with the complimentary Camembert, Roquefort and ‘fresh cheese’, although I wasn’t fond of the other dish of macerated tuna mixed with a reddish sauce (C). I love Esparragos a la Plancha so had to have it again. This time the smoked salmon (a local habit?) was laid over it but the combination didn’t impress me much (B-). The main Cochinillo con Salsa (not on the menu) was fantastic (A) if rather heavy. The final complimentary Vodka Caramelo made an interesting change (B) but I couldn’t eat the bizarre liquorish-flavoured heart-shaped shortbread (D). Total cost €35. In short, a strange place, with some great food, but some dodgy dishes too, or maybe I was just unlucky.

Written May 2010

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