The original old part of La Coruna (or A Coruna in Galician) is located on a banjo-shaped peninsula, so you are never more than a few minutes away from the sea. Gusts of fresh salty air hit your nose as you walk around the town centre and the sound of gulls is everywhere.
A classic view of the town is along Avenida de la Marina, down by the harbour, where you will see the “crystal galleries”; the towering town houses covered in glass windows which reflect the sun and provide a sign that home is near for returning mariners.
The square is named after a local heroine who proved her bravery during a sneak attack on the harbour by the famous British pirate, Sir Francis Drake.
There are good bars and restaurants on the square but they looked a bit pricey so I headed for the backstreets.
I liked to start the evening with a tapa and a cana on Calle Barrera, apparently the oldest street in town, which is lined with reasonably priced tapas bars.
I particularly liked Cerveceria del Centro where I had a glass of local Ribeiro white and some Albondigas (meatballs) with square chips for only €2.60.
Just round the corner from Calle Barrera is Rua La Franja which leads to Praxa Maria Pita. The street is lined with marisqueiras and restaurants where you can get the cheapest food in town (though not the best quality).
If there is two or more of you, you can get a Mariscada, (seafood platter), which usually includes Centollo o Buey de Mar (spider crab), Necora (a medium-sized crab), a couple of types of Gambas (prawns), Cigalas (langoustines), and Percebes (goose barnacles) as well as other types of seafood.
I did find one place here, Meson Calexo 1, which would do a mariscada for one person for only €25. In addition to the above on the main plate I got Navajas (razor clams, literally meaning ‘penknife’), Almejas (clams), as well as three starter plates of Berbechos (cockles), Mejillones en Escabeche (tinned mussels in one of my least favourites sauces) (D) and sea snails with Camarones (tiny prawns).
Sadly none of this was particularly good (C) and I had to leave the slimy squid (D) and a lot of the crab which had virtually nothing inside. The saving grace was the bottle of Ribeiro (Casal de Paula 2009) which was pretty decent (B) for €14.
So I relearned the lesson that seafood, like plastic surgery, is something you should never skimp on. They also do a Menu de la Casa for €12 or €8 although I shudder to think what the quality would be like.
On the plus side I had a lovely smiley waitress who recommended a huge slab of cheese cake and gave me a couple of chupitos of Orujo which cheered me up.
According to my friend Desi, whose family are from A Coruna, the town is the best place to try Percebes. The men who gather them risk their lives to pluck them off the rocks while the waves come pounding in. For most British palates it might not seem worth the effort, but they do grow on you. To eat them, bite off the head and split the thick outer skin to get at the soft flesh inside.
The picture below shows some prime specimens and will cost you a pretty penny.
These, from Meson Calexo, are too small, old and dried out.
The video link above will show you what they should look like.. I’ve had a few now and when they’re good it’s like eating a juicy mouthful of the sea, wet and salty.
Coral (Advanced B+), 9 Callejon de la Estacada, a continuation of Avenida de la Marina but set back from the road. Tel. 98 120 0569. Closed Sunday. Open from 9pm.
This upmarket restaurant has a rep for being one of best places in town for seafood due to its close proximity to the harbour. It’s pretty posh with the waiting staff in black suits and grey ties, but no one batted an eyelid when I arrived in jeans and trainers. The decor is unremarkable although it tries to be special: rough stone walls, modern wooden beams and modern lighting with an eclectic but uninteresting art collection covering each length. Sadly I could only afford to eat the shellfish starters (€5-21) as the fish mains (€21-45) were beyond my means.
First, a complimentary amuse bouche of local cheese, on toasted raisin bread with a dash of Jerez vinegar (B).
Next came the Sopa de Mariscos (€7); a murky bowl of hearty broth containing clams, small prawns and diced fish, which was flavourful but not amazingly so (B).
I followed this with Gambas a la Plancha, a plate of twelve prawns, grilled to perfection although their brains weren’t as tasty (A-) as Norwegian ones. Yes, I’m a prawn nationalist! The colder the water; the better the flavour. That’s why Galician seafood from the Atlantic is valued over that from the Mediterrranean coasts in Spain.
To go with the all this seafood I went for a local white Albariño from Bodega Attis (2009)(€18) which was just how I like it, very dry and citrusy (B).
I tried but couldn’t resist a dessert. My friendly waiter (I think I was lucky, the others seemed very stiff) provided me with a slice of three different cakes for the price of one; a soft cheesecake with no crust and nearly the consistency of caramel pudding (B), cherry flavoured chocolate cake with no discernible chocolate taste, so I left most of it (C) and the local classic Tarta di Santiago which can be very dry but this one was slightly moist (B+).
To go with my dessert I had to have an Orujo des Hierbas. I’ve had more fragrant ones but this one was pretty good, and free! So I ordered another.
Conclusion: good food but not really worth the price, although I didn’t really do the kitchen justice. The waiters look pretty stiff and formal but my guy came rushing to pick up everything I dropped and still managed to smile. I don’t tip often outside of the UK because it’s not expected but I did here.
Artabria (Advanced A?), C/Fernando Macias, 28 bajo, 16003 La Coruna, Spain 981 269 646
I really wanted to go to this place but sadly it was closed in July when I was in town. Apparently it’s one of the best restaurants in Galica and many of the local teachers further recommended it. The set menus are supposed to be very good value.
A La Brasa (Advanced B+), 38 Juan Florez, 981 275283.
Came here because Artabria was shut and this was the nearest, but not highest, place on my hit list. As the name suggests, this restaurant specialises in grilled meat and seafood. It’s another posh gaff with waiters in suits and scary prices; upwards of €10 for a starter, €18-27 for mains although, as I found out too late, the portions are huge. My English-speaking waitress was very friendly and knowledgeable and was able to answer all my questions about the food. They have an outdoors area which looks very nice in the photos but it wasn’t open when I was there on a Tuesday in June. They do however have free Wi-Fi which is always a bonus.
With this I received a complementary dish of cod croquettes and super-thin potato fries (B).
Afterwards came Pimiento de Piquillo Rellenos de Merluza y Gambas, a small red pepper stuffed with hake and prawns with a tomato and cream sauce and small portion of plain short grain rice. I’d been craving rice so this went down very well, and the rest was nice too! (B+)
For the main, Caldareida de Pescados, a hearty stew of hake, halibut and monkfish with capsicums, onions, peas and potatoes in a garlic flavoured sauce of oil, vinegar and paprika (B).
The potatoes and fish are boiled separately and the sauce added later. If this was just one kind of fish it would have been called alla Gallega (ga-yay-ga) but caldareida implies a variety. This was a good dish with quality ingredients so it should get a B but I gave it a C due to my personal taste. I like powerful flavours and this dish is super-bland, but that might suit another English palate. You can order this dish for two people but the single portion I ordered was still too much for me (lots of potatoes), so maybe skip the starter if you’re having it.
With this I had a half bottle of Condes de Albarei, the nicest Albariño on this trip so far (B+). The Albariño grape comes from the Rias Baixas (lower river) DO.
I was angling for a free chupito when I asked for an Orujo des Hierbas but instead got a quadruple shot in a brandy balloon with ice for €4, but I wasn’t complaining too much.
I went for the cheapest possible options here and managed to keep the bill down to €43. I can’t fault the place, I just need to find somewhere I can eat well and not break the bank. However this seems to be a tall order as seafood is expensive here wherever you go. Overall it’s probably better to stick with tapas.
Restaurant Mariqueria El-10 (Intermediate B), Plaza de Espana 8, Tel. 981 207 153 or 213 700 www.marisquierael10, open Sunday!
Recommended by the hotel when all the places I wanted to go to were closed on a Sunday. It’s fine but nothing special. I went for the Almejas Marniere (clams in sauce) which was ok (C+) but I keep mistaking it for Almejas al Vapor (steamed) which are much nicer.
For my main, the seafood mixed grill with four kinds of fish, potatoes and salad which again was ok but not something I would order again. With water and half a bottle of house red, the bill came to €30.
I revisited again in 2012:
One of only two places mentioned for A Coruna in my 2011 El Seleccion del Gourmet guide. The other, Coral, is too expensive in my opinion (see above). I stopped off briefly for lunch on my way to the airport. Although it’s a marisquiera I wasn’t too impressed with the seafood last time so went for the meat options on the €12 menu-del-dia.
I braved the Callos con Garbanzos, or tripe with chickpeas and cubes of chorizo and ham. It was really tasty and only slightly slimy on the lips (A-).
The stewed veal was a little dry but full of flavour (A-) and the chips with it were very good too (B+). Service is friendly and good humoured. The unlabeled bottle of house red went down well (B).
Total cost with a glass of Aguadiente Tostado was €18, a bargain.
La Fe Corunesa, 8 Riego de Agua or 7 Franja (the shop has two entrances)There are chocolate shops all over town, but this one is also a wine and spirits shop with a very attractive selection. I bought the best bottle of Orujo des Hierbas they could recommend; Pazo de Valdomino from Pontevedra (70cl of 35% for €16) which is very herby and fragrant.
El Riojano at 47/49 Calle Orzan, just along from the hotel, is a good deli, grocery and off licence (since 1896). I bought some fig jam for putting on grilled goat’s cheese.
Hotel Zenit, 19 Comandante Fontanes, Tel. 981 218 484
Located within 15 minutes walk of the harbour and the old town, this is an ok hotel with relatively simple but spacious and comfortable rooms (€75 a night). The staff are friendly and conscientious and the breakfast buffet is extensive. Ostensibly there is Wi-Fi although it only worked intermittently in the lobby and not in my upper-floor room.
Virtually everyone I met in A Coruna (teachers, taxi drivers, waiters, bar tenders, receptionists) were truly lovely, in fact I can’t recall a friendlier place that I’ve been to. Would definitely recommend it for a visit.