Archive for the Spain Category

Málaga – Centro – Rooftop Bars

Posted in Andalusia, Centro, Malaga, Malaga Province, Spain with tags , , , on November 14, 2017 by gannet39

On a sultry summer evening in Málaga, the best place to be is catching the breeze on a roof terrace with a cold drink in your hand. There are many roof top bars in the town. These are my favourites.

You’ll find them all, and more on this Google map.

In the interests of research I tried a few rooftop bars around the centre and each time had a G&T made with Bombay Sapphire gin (although there are many gins to choose from on most bars). Here are the results in order of preference:

Alcazaba Premium Hostel, 12 Calle Alcazabilla, www.alcazabapremiumhostel.com

I like this place because it has the best view of the Alcazaba and the Castillo Gibralfaro that I know of. It’s especially nice at night when the castle is lit up. There’s a restaurant (Batik, untried) and two bars on different levels. A G&T costs a fair 8€.

La Piscina Lounge, Molina Lario Hotel, 20 Calle Molina Lario, www.hotelmolinalario.com

This split level bar is on the rooftop (eighth floor) of the hotel I usually stay in. There’s no view to speak of really but there’s a small swimming pool and a few sun loungers which make it a great spot for chilling in the day time. The loungers are very popular so you might have to go before lunch to snag one, especially at the weekend. A G&T costs 8€ and you usually get a little pot of ‘frutos secos’ (nuts, raisins etc) with each drink.

Ático, Hotel Marriot, 1 Calle Cortina del Muelle, www.marriott.com

The Marriot is directly opposite the Hotel Molina Larios and towers above it. Ático, the hotel’s bar is on the fifteenth floor so you can look down on La Piscina Lounge next door (hence the picture above). In fact you look down on most things and you can see for miles which makes this one of the best views in the city. This height superiority comes at a price however as a G&T costs 12€, a euro for each extra floor. That doesn’t stop it being a popular spot though, especially at the weekend.

Terraza Club Chinitas, Chinitas Urban Hostel, 3 Pasaje Chinitas, www.chinitashostel.com

A pleasant split level roof terrace that doesn’t seem to get too crowded as it’s off the beaten track down a side street. There’s no view to speak of, although you can see the cathedral, but a G&T only costs 7€ and they play chilled house music, or at least they did when I was there.

To sum up then, G&Ts and presumably most other cocktails, cost about 5€ at ground level whereas rooftop bars charge between 7€ and 12€ depending how high they were. The average (in 2016) seems to be around 8€.

And while we’re here…

In Málaga back in 2013 I had my first taste of Licor 43 (aka Cuarenta y Tres), Spain’s best-selling liqueur. The secret recipe has forty three ingredients (hence the name) but the main flavours are orange and vanilla. The latter dominates, too much so for my taste (C+), although it might be better mixed with other things.

A similar southern tipple is Ponche, a brandy-based liqueur that has been infused with Andalucian oranges, dried fruit and spices. I know there’s more than one brand but Caballero is the only one that the bars ever seem to have. It’s ok, like a weak spiced brandy (B), but there are several other Spanish digestifs I’d rather drink.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of drinks and cocktails in Spain. Please tell me your stories in the comments section below.

Málaga – Centro – where to drink local wines

Posted in Andalusia, Centro, Malaga, Malaga Province, Spain with tags , on November 13, 2017 by gannet39

Wine production in Málaga province started in the eighth century BC with the Phoenicians and the industry was later developed by the Greeks, Romans, Moors and more recently, by the British.

Málaga has three DOs (Denominaciones de Origen):

DO Málaga (mainly sweet white wines)
DO Sierra de Málaga (white, rose and red wines)
DO Pasas de Málaga (raisins).

The province is most famous for its sweet fortified dessert wines from the DO Málaga which are made from the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel white grape varieties.

The three main growing areas are: La Axarquia, Montes de Málaga , and Zona Norte (the hills north of Antequera).

I know of two bodegas in the Centro where you can try local wines; one quite central, and the other (my favourite) slightly off the beaten track.

For more contemporary drinking experiences, please see my post on Rooftop Bars. All these bars and others can be found on my Google map
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Antigua Casa de Guardia (Intermediate A-), 18 Alameda Principal, www.antiguacasadeguardia.net

This ancient tavern has sold famous local wines on draught since 1840. It’s just a single large room spanned across its width by a long bar and barrels with signs on along the back wall. My favourites are the Málaga Virgen and Moscatel.

In traditional style, the bartenders chalk up your bill on the bar as you go along. They serve simple tapas too which probably haven’t changed since the place opened.

Casa de Guardia is a good place to start your night out as it has heaps of atmosphere and cheap, though not amazing wines (B/C).

La Odisea (Intermediate A), 2 Subida a la Coracha, www.vinosdemalaga.com

This is a favourite spot of mine and I have my friend Nicky and a local blog to thank for making me come here. I love the old world charm of ‘The Odyssey’ and would totally recommend it over the more famous and touristy Antigua Casa de Guardia.

There are about twenty small barrels of different local wines inside and customers can buy wines to take out by the bottle. They sometimes also put on wine tastings and live music.

The location isn’t ideal (on a main road right by the entrance to the tunnel that goes under the castle) but it’s still nice to sit outside on the small terrace.

If you want more peace and quiet there’s an internal patio out the back, complete with a small bomb shelter from the Second World War. Or you could sit in the dark interior by the barrels, but it can be a bit stuffy in the summer, even with the doors open.

I tried two local sweet wines at €2 a glass; the Pajarete (B+) and the Málaga Cream (A), which has notes of coconut to my palate. I liked the Cream so much that I got a bottle to take home for a mere €12. I also tried their brandy which was just okay (B) but good value at €3 a glass.

They also serve tapas which I also need to try next time, along with their acclaimed homemade vermouth. A favourite spot, do go.

Málaga – Eating in the Centro

Posted in Andalusia, Centro, Malaga, Malaga Province, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2017 by gannet39

I’ve put my favourites first and a few to avoid at the end. Old bodegas and rooftop bars have been given their own posts. You’ll find everything on this Google map.

El Pimpi (Intermediate A), 62 Calle Grande, www.elpimpi.com

A local institution, centrally located near the amphitheatre on Calle Alcazabilla. It’s a big place with two entrances, a sizable terrace out front and a couple of seating areas inside. It was very busy when I went, mainly with tourists.

The building is very intriguing; attractively decorated inside with ceramic tiles, old bodega barrels and climbing plants.

The name comes from the colourful characters who would help disembarking ship passengers get what they wanted, although whether they were tour guides or flesh-peddlers seems a little unclear.

In 2013, wanting a healthy lunch, I had the ‘Ensalada Malaguena con Salmorejo, Naranja y Bacalao Asado’; a Malagan salad of cold tomato and bread soup, oranges and grilled salt cod, which was excellent (A).

With a bottle of water the bill was €8.80. The food was beautifully presented and everything looked and tasted great.

Meson Cervantes (Intermediate B+), 11 Calle Álamos, www.elmesondecervantes.com

The original and largest member of the small Cervantes chain (three locations all nearby) which feature highly in the TripAdvisor rankings. Although only at #8 at the time of writing in 2016, it easily has the most reviews, which is what I tend to look for on the rare occasions I use TripAdvisor.

My friend Terry and I ran up a bill of only €41 between us (I know, I wasn’t very hungry). We shared three tapas (salmon, jamon iberico, piquillo peppers), a half portion of seared tuna…

…four medium beers and two glasses of Legaris Crianza, the latter quite expensive at €6 a pop. I was too busy chatting to take notes but everything was good.

El Tapeo de Cervantes (Low Intermediate B+), 8 Calle Carcer, eltapeodecervantes.com

This is the much smaller, and more cramped, sister bar of Meson Cervantes above, just around the corner. It was at #6 in 2016, it easily and had the second most reviews. Again, it’s very popular so reservations are recommended.

In 2016 I came here on my first night with a hunger for Spanish food and wine that took a bit of sating. After a beer to quench my thirst I had glasses of three different Riberas and six tapas, all of which was very good (A/B).

The grilled Atun Rojo with cauliflower puree (see pic above) was a winner and these Mollejas (sweetbreads) from the specials board were also a favourite.

Despite my gluttony, the bill came to a reasonable €31.50.

El Marisquero (Elementary B+), 7 Calle Olozaga

This marisqueria, out the back door of the market on Calle Atarazanas, was recommended by a local food blog. It’s a down-to-earth, basic kind of tapas place with standing areas both inside and out so you can catch the shade or the sun as you like. The grilled prawns I had were very good (B+) and it was bliss to slake my thirst with a couple of ice cold canas.

La Cosmopolita Malagueña (Intermediate B), 3 Calle Jose Denis Belgrano

Recommended by the Guia Repsol, this is a tapas bar and restaurant located in the busy part of town but with surprisingly few customers, despite having a terrace on a quiet side street. I’m sure the items on the main restaurant menu are excellent but there seems to be a limited choice of tapas.

I had tapas of the Albondigas and Croquetas de Puchero which, along with three canas, brought the bill to €12. The quality was good so I would go back to try their mains.

El Jardín (Intermediate B+), 1 Calle Cañón, www.eljardinmalaga.com

I come to this beautiful old café just for the décor (Belle Epoque fittings, lots of cut glass lampshades and lace tablecloths).

According to the barman the building dates from 1927 and it’s called ‘The Garden’ because it’s right next to the lovely garden behind the cathedral.

I haven’t eaten but I know G&T made with Beefeater (they didn’t have Bombay) costs a mere €5, much cheaper than the rooftop bars I review elsewhere. Although I love the interior, I wouldn’t mind sitting on the big pavement terrace outside. There’s Tango dancing on Thursdays for more energetic people.

La Esquinita del Chupa y Tira (Elementary B), 31 Calle Victoria

This is an old grocery shop that has had its storeroom converted into a tapas bar. They sell wine, cheese and ham, both Spanish and Italian, and the prices are very cheap. The friendly young waitress was Italian by birth so perhaps there are some family connections. It’s nothing out of this world but makes a nice stop on the way to this next place.

Montana (Intermediate B+), 5 Compas de la Victoria

This is a very nice spot as at the back as they have a covered courtyard terrace and a garden with palm trees and a pond with carp and terrapins.

According to the blog they do a tasting menu but you have to order ahead. I had a half portion of Rabo de Toro Croquetas which were nice (B).

Also,‘Huevos Rotos al Estilo Candido con Ajada y Secreto Iberico Confitado’, basically shreds of good quality sautéed pork artistically placed atop a fried egg and potato. The bloggers raved about this although for me it was fine but nothing special (B).

On the other hand I really enjoyed a couple of glasses of excellent an Ribera del Duero from Lopez Cristobal (B+).

The bill came in at €18.50. Service was pleasant.
This is a good place for a romantic date, especially if you snag a table under the palms.

 

El Refectorium (Advanced B+), 8 Calle Cervantes, elrefectorium.es

For some reason I thought this Frommers recommended place would be quite down to earth due to its location by the bullring but it’s actually fairly posh. Apparently it’s very popular with the matadors and their fans, so it’d probably impossible to get in when there’s a bullfight on. I went at a quiet time so I managed to get in without a reservation.

I had some I had some high quality local fare (B/B+) but I wouldn’t go back due to the fairly high prices, although the adjoining tapas bar might be more affordable.
Embarrassingly I forgot my wallet and had to go back to the hotel to get it. When I came back I was treated like a returning hero, with a ponche on the house and lots of cheers from the waiters!

These last few aren’t bad as such, just non-descript…

La Camapana (Elementary B+), 35 Calle Grande

A well-known and very popular tapas bar selling typical seafood dishes. I didn’t really explore the menu on my visit in 2013 but my squid rings, bravas and two large beers for €11.60 filled a hole.

El Chinitas (Intermediate C), 4-6 Calle Moreno Monroy

Another Frommers and Seleccion del Gourmet recommended restaurant.

It’s old school and atmospheric but I wasn’t particularly impressed by their tapas tasting menu (mainly C except for the cured ham).

La Farola de Orellana (Intermediate C), 5 Calle Moreno Monroy, www.lafaroladecervantesmalaga.es

Over the road from El Chinitas and once owned by the same people although I’m not sure that’s still the case. I had a cana and a tapa of some cheese concoction which I’ve since obliterated from my memory. I didn’t like the food or the atmosphere so I doubt I’ll go back.

Okami (Intermediate C+), 18 Calle Cister, www.okamirestaurante.es

Entirely edible Japanese food, but nothing special.

The ‘Pollo Teriyaki’ looked great but was a bit too salty for me, and I like lots of soya sauce.

The ‘Uramaki Atun’ and ‘Uramaki Salmon Mango’ were okay but amazing (B-).

For Mediterranean/Japanese fusion you’d be better off going to Ba (see my coming Malagueta post).

Málaga – Centro – Architecture along Avenida de Cervantes

Posted in Andalusia, Centro, Malaga, Malaga Province, Spain with tags , , on November 11, 2017 by gannet39

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I do like me a bit of fancy brickwork and Málaga has some nice examples along Avenida de Cervantes which, along with Parque de Málaga alongside it, was built on reclaimed land near the waterfront. You’ll find them on this Google map.

At 4 Avenida Cervantes is the Neo-Baroque Ayuntemiento de Málaga, the work of architects Guerrero Strachan and Rivera Vera, opened to the public in 1919.

At 3 Avenida Cervantes is the Art Deco Banco de España, completed in 1936 by architect Jose Yarnoz.

Finally, next door at 2 Avenida de Cervantes is the rectory of the Universidad de Málaga which used to be the Casa de Correos (post office). The architect of the building was Teodoro de Anasagasti y Algan and the Neo-Mudejar construction was finished in 1923.

A smidgen of Málaga

Posted in Andalusia, Centro, Malaga, Malaga Province, Spain with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2017 by gannet39

I’ve been to Málaga three times; once in October 2013 for two days, once in early August 2016 when I stayed for ten nights and another occasion lost in the mists of time. So, please don’t think of these posts as an authoritative guide to this ancient and fascinating city, they are just my brief experiences.

I’ve organised my posts as follows:

Málaga – Introduction (this post)
Málaga – Centro – Eating
Málaga – Centro – Old Bodegas
Málaga – Centro – Rooftop Bars
Málaga – Centro – Architecture along Avenida de Cervantes
Málaga – Centro – Soho Art District
Málaga Este – places to eat around Malagueta beach
Málaga Este – places to eat around Pedregalejo beach
Málaga Este – places to eat around El Palo beach

Google map here.

I’ve always stayed at the Hotel Molino Lario www.galleryhoteles.com which is very comfortable. It’s in a prime location just opposite the cathedral and there are heaps of restaurants in the streets around the hotel. The staff are helpful, the breakfast is varied, and my rooms have always been a good size with functioning Wi-Fi. On the roof terrace there’s a postage stamp sized pool that’s a godsend in the summer heat.

I’ve not been inside the Renaissance style Catedral de Málaga but I quite like the entrance with the orange trees outside.

The most noticeable monument is the Castillo Gibralfaro www.malagaturismo.com on the top of the mount of the same name that dominates the skyline of the old town. Gibralfaro comes from Jabal-Faruk which means ‘Mount of the Lighthouse’. Although it was used by the Phoenicians and the Romans, it was the Nasrids who turned it into a fortress.

I worked climbing the steep slopes into my morning exercise routine as you can get some great views of the port and the rest of the city.

At the western foot of the mountain you’ll find the entrance to the Alcazaba www.malagaturismo.com, an earlier Moorish citadel that’s connected to the castle via long zig zagging walls.

Next to the entrance you’ll find the Anfiteatro Romano www.andalucia.com. Bits of it (columns, capitals) have been nicked to build the Alcazaba but it still retains its basic form and plays are still held here on certain nights.

I’ve also visited the Museo Picasso www.museopicassomalaga.org (€9 entry) All the guides have it as a must-do but it’s not really worth the cost of entrance in my opinion. The exhibitions I saw were just of his early stuff and not particularly interesting works by other artists.

I was more impressed by the building itself; a wealthy Moor’s town house. I particularly liked the peaceful courtyard and the beautiful, ornately carved wooden ceilings.

You can also see some archaeology pre-dating the house down in the basement level.

There is of course a very modern side to Málaga as well, as epitomised by ‘El Palmeral de las Sorpresas‘ (The Palm Garden of Surprises); the shaded promenade along Muelle Dos down by the waterfront.

More architecture in the next post…

Carmona – where and what to eat

Posted in Andalusia, Carmona, Seville Province, Spain with tags , , on November 8, 2017 by gannet39

I was only in Carmona for two nights so, as ever, please don’t consider this a complete guide to the food scene, just a snapshot of my experiences. I’ve put everywhere on this map.

In terms of ingredients the area around the town is known for producing olive oil and good quality pork. Wild meats such as venison also feature frequently in the local diet.

I picked up a bottle of local oil from this shop next to the Puerto Sevilla. The tourist information office next door also sells it, but I think it costs a bit more.

La Yedra (High Intermediate B+), 6 Calle General Freire, www.restauranteleyedra.es

I think this is the best place in town, recommended by both Michelin and Guia Repsol. I liked the food but the best aspect for me was sitting outside in the pretty courtyard. Reservations might be a good idea as it’s quite popular with tourists.

I began with a glass of Oloroso and a tapa of Queso (B+).

The ‘Arroz Cremoso’, a risotto with boletus mushrooms, spinach and white truffle essence, was quite nice (B).

And I enoyed the ‘Paletilla de Cordero con Patatas Panadera’ (lamb shoulder with baked potatoes) too (B).

A bottle of Beronia Rioja went well.

With a final glass of Carlos III brandy, the bill came to €64.

The service was efficient and English speaking, although they could be a bit more welcoming. A good experience overall but make sure you book a table outside.

La Almazara de Carmona (Upper Intermediate B+), 33 Calle Santa Ana

This is another Michelin and Guia Repsol recommendation, located in an old restored mill. It’s slightly formal, with waiters in white tunics with silver buttons, but not stuffy.

The décor in the restaurant was a bit too chintzy for me so I opted for the less fancy tapas bar where I could get smaller portions and try more things.

I started with a glass of Oloroso sherry and a tapa of Jamon Iberico de Bellota (B+) from Sanchez Romero Carvajal, a producer from Huelva with over 130 years of history.

The ‘Chiperones de Anzuelo, Callos de Ternera y Manitas con Alioli de su Tinta’ or line-caught baby squid stuffed with veal tripe and pigs trotters served with an alioli made with its ink, was interesting even if it didn’t look great (B).

Also the ‘Cordero Guisado a Nuestro Estilo con Cous Cous Primaveral y Salsa de Yogurt y Menta’ or lamb stewed in the house style with a Spring couscous with yogurt and mint sauce (B).

My favourite tapa was the ‘Arroz Crujiente Cola de Toro’ or crunchy rice with bull’s tail (B+).

‘Beso de Vino’, a Syrah/Garnacha blend, was okay (B).

I really liked their Ribera by Lopez Cristobal (B+).

Feeling the need for a sweet I had their acclaimed ‘Torrija de Brioche Caramelizada con Helado de Tres Sensaciones’ or French toast made with caramelised brioche and served with ‘three sensations’ ice cream (B+) and a glass of PX.

Finally, a glass of Luis Felipe Licor (B+) which, along with normal Luis Felipe brandy (A+), is only €8 a glass here. You can often expect to pay double elsewhere.

Total cost €45 which was fine given the quality. I’d come again.

Bar Goya (Intermediate B), 2 Calle Prim, www.goyatapas.com

This is an ordinary, everyday place located in a pleasant ceramic tiled building on the main square (just a few minutes’ walk from the Hotel Descalzas). It was recommended by the local school owners I was working with, and generally seems to be the people’s choice.

I came for lunch and had tapas of Jamon Bellota (B) and some very powerful cheese (B-) followed by half portions of grilled peppers (B) and Albondigas (B) with chips (B+).

With three medium beers the cost came to €26. Everything was cheap and good. This is the easy everyday choice that my colleagues would probably favour.

So a very brief stay during which I ate well but not amazingly so. It would have been nice to stay longer and become more familiar with the local cuisine.

Carmona – walking around the old town

Posted in Andalusia, Carmona, Seville Province, Spain with tags , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2017 by gannet39

Carmona is a beautiful historical town 33km north-east of Seville. Believed to be founded by the Tartessians, the town was later inhabited by the Carthaginians (Phonecians), Romans and Moors, all of whom have left their imprint.

Perhaps the first thing you’ll see when arriving by road is the bell tower of the Iglesia de San Pedro. The church is also known as the Giraldilla due to its similarity to the Giralda of Seville (my Giralda post is here).

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Over the road from the church, perhaps a more famous sight is the Puerta de Sevilla, originally constructed by the Carthaginians but with Roman and Moorish modifications. I think I read somewhere the arch was already 500 years old when the Romans arrived!

The gate is part of the wall of the Alcázar de Abajo, the lower fort built by the Moors.

The tourist information is located here, and if you go in you can purchase a 2€ ticket to get into the Torre del Oro, the tower above the gate. You can click on these photos to go full screen. I particularly like the ones that caught the swallows.

 

I took this short video up there as well to capture the atmosphere created by the swallows.

You can get great views over the town and surrounding countryside from up here. Click on them to enlarge.

 

In the tower there’s a banner depicting a griffin which has become a symbol of Carmona. The image was originally found on a sixth century BC Tartessian vase, ‘El Vaso de los Grifos’, that can be seen in the local museum Museo De La Ciudad De Carmona www.museociudad.carmona.org.

From here narrow streets lead upwards to the centre of the town.

Plaza de los Abastos, the market square, is pretty, but I think I missed the market as it was very quiet.

At the top of the hill on the highest point is the Alcázar del Rey Don Pedro which is now a parador (government owned hotel in a historic building) www.parador.es.

The fort has its own imposing gate.

Many other impressive doorways are dotted around town (click to enlarge).

 

In the central courtyard of the town hall, the Ayuntamiento de Carmona, you can see (from a distance, behind glass) a large Roman mosaic depicting the gorgon Medusa which is in excellent condition. This blog post from the web has a better picture and some interesting archaeological information.

There are a lot more sights that I didn’t have time to check out, so another visit is required!

I was put up at the Hotel El Rincon de las Descalzas www.elrincondelasdescalzas.com, a beautiful fifteenth century palace that’s a short walk from the central square. Definitely recommended.

El Puerto de Santa Maria – chilling at Playa de la Puntilla

Posted in Andalusia, Cadiz Province, El Puerto de Santa Maria, La Puntilla, Spain with tags , on November 5, 2017 by gannet39

As I mentioned earlier, a major attraction of El Puerto for tourists is its wonderful beaches. I only went to La Puntilla as it was the nearest one to my hostel but this webpage will give you more information about the others. My Google map is here.

La Puntilla is huge; you could fit thousands of people on it.

It’s not the most beautiful of beaches, it’s right next to the industrial Puerto Sherry, but you can see the bay bridge on the horizon and Cádiz over the other side of the bay.

I went over to the west side as it was nearer this place…

El Castillito (Intermediate B), 0 Paseo Marítimo de la Puntilla

The ‘Little Castle’ is a chiringuito, so no haute cuisine or social frills here, but for me it was everything I need from a beach bar (good cheap seafood and cold beer). The building is an old ‘polvorín’, a defensive construction that protected the town from sea attack by pirates.

After being frustrated by bad timing in Huelva, I finally got to try the local speciality of ‘Huevos de Choco’; boiled cuttlefish eggs dressed here with parsley and scallions. They were interesting but I didn’t like them enough to finish them (C). I think I need to try them again elsewhere.

I followed up with a tuna salad (B) but the main event was the ‘Dorado Frito’; a nicely cooked sea bream served with chips (B+).

Total cost with two beers, 25€.

And that was my weekend in wonderful El Puerto. Infinitely better than being in the truckers’ motel in Lora del Rio where my employer originally had me. Back to work on Monday though…

Eating at Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa Maria

Posted in Andalusia, Cadiz Province, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain with tags , on November 4, 2017 by gannet39

El Puerto is also home to Aponiente, the best restaurant in the south of Spain. Owner Ángel León studied at Arzak and for his efforts was named Spain’s best chef at the Royal Academy of Gastronomy’s awards in 2013.

Aponiente (Advanced A), Calle Francisco Cossi Ochoa, www.aponiente.com

His restaurant inhabits an old 19th-century tide mill in a once derelict industrial area just south of the train station. Google map here.

Built in 1815, the Caño Mill was located in the salt marshes of the river estuary to produce energy from the wave power generated by the four daily tides.

For 150 years it milled sea salt, in addition to grinding flour for bakeries to make biscuits and cakes. However, after the mechanisation of the flour industry and the salt crisis of the 1970s, the building was abandoned until León repurposed it in 2005.

Entering the restaurant, one of the first things you see are these large glass tubes containing phytoplankton, the new buzz ingredient in modern Spanish cuisine which León is popularising. The plankton are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, so health obsessives are all over it.

Next you come to the fish display where you can see what you are about to eat. The menu is heavily weighted towards seafood as befits León’s popular moniker as’ the chef of the sea’ (video here).

The portholes for windows make you feel like you are inside a ship.

Next you come to the open kitchen which seems very small in comparison to the wide expanse of the dining room after it. There are fifty staff for a maximum of thirty five diners (about twenty when I went for lunch), and while the high ratio is apparent, I think there must be a another main kitchen with more staff behind the scenes.

I had the eighteen course Menú ‘Mar en Calma’ (‘Calm Sea’ Menu) for 175€ with an added wine pairing for 70€. It’s the most I’ve ever spent in a restaurant but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was going to experience the best wines and ingredients in the region. There was also the Gran Menú ‘Mar de Fondo’ (‘Groundswell’ Menu) at 205€ and 90€ for wine but, while I hate to deny myself any experience, I couldn’t quite justify it on my wages.

Forgive me but I didn’t grade any of these wines and dishes as the staff were hovering around me constantly but suffice to say it was all fantastic (A/B+). Given the price tag is was nice to just relax and let the photos do the talking.

Upon being seated I was served a glass of Manzanilla ‘Maruja’ from Bodega Juan Pinero.

Then, and throughout the evening, the in-house baker came round with a basket containing a variety of wonderful, still-warm breads.

The next wine was a Fino en Rama (‘en rama’ means unfiltered; a current trend in Sherry production) which had been bottled specially for the restaurant by Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia.

A trio of starters arrived. As the ‘fishpig’ logo on the grease proof paper implied, the ‘Lomo en Caña’ was actually cured fish masquerading as pork loin, and they were remarkably similar.

With it, ‘Sobrasada de Pescado Azules’ (Blue Fish Sobrasada). Usually a Sobrasada is a raw, spreadable Balearic pork sausage, so not sure what the idea was here.

The ‘Patatas, Camarones y Limón’ (Potatoes, Shrimp and Lemon) was a take on the local dish ‘Tortillitas de Camarones’; a deep fried chickpea flour pancake containing tiny shrimp.

Here we have ‘Sardinas Asadas’ (Grilled Sardines), although I only count one sardine. Call me finicky but it’s false advertising to use a plural, not that I cared at the time.

Next the over-presented ‘Taco de Almendra y Salazones’ (Almond and Salted Fish Taco).

Lustau ‘Red Vermouth’ from Jerez.

With this, some fishy cakes. Clockwise they are a ‘Berlina de Choco’ (Cuttlefish Doughnut), a ‘Bollito de Calamares’ (Small Squid Bun) and a ‘Brazo de Gitano’ de Plancton (Plankton Roll). A ‘Gypsy Arm’ is the Spanish name for what we in the UK would call a Swiss roll.

Reverting back to the sherry theme; a Manzanilla en Rama called ‘Saca de Invierno’ by Bodegas Barbadillo.

Next came a Plankton dish which I think was additional to the menu as I don’t know what it was called. For me it was very interesting to taste the intense seaweedy flavour but it wasn’t great to look at!

Not sure what these things were sorry! Another off-menu experiment perhaps…

Then ‘Tres Formas de Comer una Caballa’ (Three Ways to Eat a Mackerel).

 

A glass of Champagne Brut Nature ‘Cuvée Solessence‘ from Jean-Marc Sélèque.

The ‘Royal de Erizos’ (‘Royal’ of Sea Urchins) was very pretty…

… but the ‘Sopa Fria de Aguaviva en Adobo’ (Cold Soup of Pickled Jellyfish) wasn’t particularly photogenic. I do like me a bit of crunchy jellyfish though.

The ‘Ostra Café de París‘ (oyster in a sauce of herbs, spices and butter) was presented in a barnacled bowl.

‘Cazón en Amarillo’ (Dogfish with Amarillo Chilli).

After this a glass of Fino ‘Perdido’ from Sanchez Romate. I want to buy a crate of this just for the beautiful label (£8 a bottle approx).

Descartes en Arcilla al Pan Frito (Fish in Clay with Fried Bread). León likes to use lesser known kinds of fish and I think the one in question here is Borriguete which has the great English name of Rubberlip Grunt.

Popieta de Morena en Grenobloise (Pieces of Moray Eel in the Style of Grenoble).

Amontillado ‘1830 Vors’ from El Maestro Sierra. A gem but very hard to get and retails at not less than £48 a bottle.

Pepino, Sandía, Hierbas (Cucumber, Watermelon, Herbs).


Vino de Licor ‘Tintilla de Rota’ from Bodegas El Gato. Rota is a town between Sanlúcar and El Puerto that is now home to an American military base. Many vinyards were destroyed during the construction of the base which is why the wines are quite rare. Tintilla has records longer than Rioja, over 500 years.

And with my coffee…

…Cereza y Chocolate (Cherry and Chocolate) served on an old anchor.

And finally a balloon of ‘Juan Sebastian Elcano’ a Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez from Gutierrez Colosia. Bottles sell for upwards of £70.

With the bill you get a copy of the menu to take home.

This was unarguably an amazing meal but was it worth the money? The answer to that is how much you get paid I guess. On my wages 250€ is a bit too hard to justify (two days of work) but I’m glad I did it if only to see how the other half live. Once in a lifetime is enough for me though.

El Puerto de Santa Maria – eating out in the Centro

Posted in Andalusia, Cadiz Province, Centro, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain with tags , , , , on November 3, 2017 by gannet39

El Puerto has lots of great places to eat. I’ve put the ones I’ve been to in the three days I was here, and a few more recommended by various guides, on this Google map. I’ve given Aponiente (the best place in town) its own post.

El Rincón del Jamón (Intermediate B+), 19 Avenida Micaela Aramburu de Mora

In Spain I generally find that the best breakfast joint is where all the pensioners go and El Rincón is that place in El Puerto. My hostel didn’t serve breakfasts so I came to this busy bar every day for the ‘Completo’; un café con leche, un jugo de naranja y una tostada con aciete y pulpa de tomate (a coffee with milk, an orange juice and a piece of toasted French stick with olive oil and tomato pulp).

El Faro del Puerto (Advanced A), 0 Avenida Fuenterrabía, www.elfarodelpuerto.com

After Aponiente, ‘The Lighthouse’ is the best place in town, certainly for seafood. I’m a big fan of their outpost in Cadiz (blog post here) so I was eager to try the original in Puerto. It’s located in an old casa señorial (manor house); a beautiful old building with several rooms and a nice terrace outside, which makes it seem a bit posher than the Cadiz branch. The location is on the edge of the centre but still walkable.

Sadly I forgot to charge my battery so I have no pictures of the food but I remember I began by comparing the ‘Ostiones de Cádiz’ (2€ each) and the ‘Ostras Especiales Nº3 de Daniel Sorlut’ ostrasorlut.com from France (3.60€ each) with the French oysters winning. The local ones were still pretty good though.

After this I had the ‘Tartar de Atún Rojo de Almadraba‘, diced raw Bluefin tuna caught using traditional methods (17€ for a 1/2 ración). It was sublime which it should be as it’s probably some of the best Bluefin available.

I followed up with Sashimi de Pez Limon, assorted raw fish, for which they even provided me with soya sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger and chopsticks to complete the aesthetic, just as they had in Cadiz. Any seafood restaurant in Spain that caters for Japanese diners has to be good.

With the addition of a bottle of decent Barbazul Blanco, I remember the bill being fairly hefty but that’s because the seafood really is top quality and the service is excellent. I’ll definitely be back again next time I’m in town.

Mesón del Asador (Intermediate B+), 2 Calle Misericordia, www.mesondelasador.com

After all that fish I needed a change so I came to this grill house for lunch on my last day and had the Parrillada Mixta which was pretty good (B+). I liked the fact that they bring you your own little grill to the table so you can cook the meat how you like it. I’m a big fan of proactive dining.

La Ponderosa (Intermediate A) 6 Avenida de la Constitución

On the Saturday night I had a big night out with my buddy John who lives in nearby San Fernando. As is traditional for Spanish clubbers, the night finishes with a breakfast of Chocolate con Churros; long star-shaped fritters that are dipped in a cup of hot, thick choclate. Popular wisdom has it that this the best churreria in town and I’m unable to disagree.

Heladería y Yogurtería Artesanal Da Massimo (Intermediate B+), 22 Calle Luna, www.heladeriaartesanaldamassimo.com

Walking around in the hot sun being a tourist definitely requires an ice cream, and this Italian-owned ice cream shop in the city centre seems to be the best one.

I had the Helado de Tejas, an ice cream made with crunchy ‘tiles’ of candied almonds, which I understand is unique to El Puerto.

The next restaurant gets its own page…

El Puerto de Santa Maria – walking around the Centro

Posted in Andalusia, Cadiz Province, Centro, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2017 by gannet39

The first thing I want to say is I love El Puerto! It has everything I want in a town; good restaurants, traditional wines, nice beaches and lots of things to see and do. What’s more, it’s just over the bay from Cadiz which is another favourite place of mine.

It gets very busy in the summer but mainly with Spanish rather than international tourists which is a good sign in my book. It sure as hell beats spending the weekend in a truckers’ motel which is what my work itinerary had me doing (see my previous post on Lora del Rio).

I only stayed for two nights so this is not a comprehensive guide by any means, just a brief snapshot of what I got up to. I need to go back and get to know it more. Everywhere I know, and many more places I didn’t get time to check out, are on this Google map.

I’ve written four posts on Puerto:

Walking Around (this one)
Eating & Drinking
Eating at Aponiente
Puntilla Beach

El Puerto is a sherry town, which is another reason I like it so much. The town is home to Bodegas Osborne www.bodegas-osborne.com Spain’s second oldest company was founded by the Englishman Thomas Osborne Mann in 1772 (Catalan winemaker Codorniu, established in 1551, is the oldest). The company logo is the famous silhouette of the black bull which has also now become a symbol of Spain.

The Osborne bodega is beautiful, and open to the public.

Guided tours of the bodega in English start at 10am every day. Various tours and tastings are offered and range in price from 8€ for no tour and self-guided wine tasting, to 55€ for a guided tour, VORS wine tasting and samples of Cinco Jotas hams (an associated company?). I just popped in for a look as I was short of time.

By the way, old sherries are described by the Latin acronyms VOS and VORS. VOS stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum (the unofficial English equivalent is Very Old Sherry) and is used for wines over 20 years of age. VORS stands for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (or Very Old Rare Sherry) and indicates wines over 30 years old.

There are several other bodegas in town, Terry being the next largest. Some of them have shops where you can buy in bulk such as Despacho de Vinos de Grant bodegasgrant.com which sells the ‘La Garrocha’ label amongst others.

The town’s castle, Castillo de San Marcos, is owned by Bodegas Caballero. Tours and wine tastings in English are available from 11.30am each day.

The old fish market, El Resbaladero, is another nice building.

I stayed at the Hostal Costa Luz www.hostalcostaluz.com, near the Plaza de Toros, for about £30 a night without breakfast. The room was spacious, modern, quiet and walkable from the centre.

Eating in El Puerto coming next!

Not a lot in Lora del Río

Posted in Andalusia, Lora del Río, Seville Province, Spain with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by gannet39

Lora del Rio is a small town in Seville province. There’s nothing to see or do and I didn’t eat particularly well but the people are really lovely and friendly.

Originally I was supposed to stay at the Hotel El Alamo www.hotel-elalamo.com which on paper seems to be the best place in town. A bit of research on Google Earth however showed it to be a truckers’ motel way out in the outskirts. Further investigations couldn’t find any pavements along the road to town, making walking anywhere rather dangerous.

Thankfully I persuaded my employer to let me stay in a small pension in the town centre called Pension La Portuguesa hostalportuguesa.blogspot.com. It has no stars but it’s within walking distance of the train station and just three minutes’ walk from the school I was working at. The breakfast is just a tostada and coffee and the WiFi is very temperamental but at least I had places to go in the evenings.

You could also stay at Hostal Restaurante Vera Cruz www.facebook.com which is very handy for the station. It’s also a tapas bar which seemed okay when I popped in for a drink. The neo-Mudejar construction was the nicest building I saw during my stay.

Google map here.

In terms of places to eat…

Taberna Javi Garcia (Intermediate B+), 21 Calle Marcos Orbaneja

This is the best place in town by a mile and I would have eaten here every night if I’d known but I didn’t discover it until quite late. It has a pleasant terrace outside, next to a fountain, which separates it from the road.

The service was efficient and friendly and the tapas recommended to me were simple but good. I enjoyed the Jamon Iberico (A) and their chips are pretty decent (A).

This is ‘Presa Ibérica con Queso de Cabra y Cebolla Caramelizada’ or pork shoulder with goat cheese and caramelized onion (B+).

Here we have ‘Solomillo Wellington con Salsa de Queso’ or sirloin with cheese sauce (B+). Not sure what the Wellington connection is as there’s no pastry involved.

I tried a couple of kinds of Anis here and decided I prefer the dry to the sweet versions. It seems they vary in strength as well. This ‘El Clavel’ Anis Seco by Cazalla was 49% whereas the Dulce by the same distillery is only 35%.

Los Alemanes (Intermediate B), 1 Avenida de la Cruz

This was the first choice of the students and teachers at the school I was working at, not sure why. I bumped into them all drinking here and was quickly roped in for a couple of jars! The food is okay (the Presa Iberica was pretty good) but it’s probably popular because the owner is a nice guy. Plenty of space to sit outside too.

And a couple to avoid…

Taberna de Currito (Intermediate C), 11 Calle Fuenfría

This place was virtually empty but I came in because they were showing the Euoropean Championship on telly. There’s no other reason for coming here that I’m aware of. I wouldn’t come again as the service wasn’t very friendly, although Spain losing one-nil to Italy probably didn’t help. I had some Jamon Bellota which was fine (B).

Restaurante Medieval (Intermediate C), 2 Calle Sierra de Andújar, www.restaurante-medieval.com

I ate here a couple of times as it’s opposite the school I was working at. The food was fine but nothing special. The medieval concept is just a gimmick although it suits the cavernous interior of the restaurant.

La Bicicleta (Intermediate B), 21 Avenida Prim, NOW CLOSED!

This gastrobar had pretensions but obviously didn’t live up to them as it has closed since I ate there. They had some nice ideas, like these Capirotes de Langostinos, but they weren’t that amazing (B). Their Croquetas were too salty and had no structural integrity so I returned them (D).

I was supposed to stay in Lora for three nights but I sloped off to Puerto de Santa Maria for the weekend as it’s a much nicer place to be (see next post). It’s easy to get to as it’s on the same train line.

Good eating in Utrera

Posted in Andalusia, Seville Province, Spain, Utrera with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2017 by gannet39

Utrera is a fair sized historical town in Seville province that is famous for flamenco and bull fighting. Tourists also come to see the castle but I’m not sure why as there’s not much to see. Personally I spent the day time hours when I wasn’t working inside avoiding the baking heat and this is in mid-June before the summer had started in earnest. Google map here.

The Iglesia de Santiago, next to the castle, is the main church.

You can see storks’ nests on top of some of the highest spires.

The town is also known for the mostachón, a kind of small flattened cake or Arab origin made with sugar and cinnamon. There are two bakeries in Plaza del Altozano that sell them but I was always working during opening hours so I didn’t get to try them.

I spent five nights at the Hotel Veracruz www.hotelveracruz.com which is the best (only?) place in town. Located in a nice old town house, the staff are friendly and the breakfast is okay.

I ate pretty well while I was here…

Besana Tapas (Intermediate B+), 1Calle Niño Perdido, www.besanatapas.com

The bar is tucked down an alley near the main square. It can be a challenge to catch them open as they’re closed all day Sunday and Monday, and only open for lunch Thursday to Saturday.

I think this is the best place in town. It gets recommendations from Michelin, Guia Repsol and a school owner who told me that people travel from Seville to eat the tapas here. I was certainly impressed with the food. Innovation fused with tradition. Great flavours and presentation.

‘Timbal de Habitas con Papada Ibérica, Migas y Menta’ or timbal of broad beans with pig cheeks, breadcrumbs and mint (A).

‘Mollejas Glaseadas con Queso de Cabra y Setas Salteadas’ or glazed sweetbreads with goat cheese and sauteed mushrooms (A+).

‘Cochinillo Asado con Col Lombarda Fermentada’ aka roasted suckling pig with fermented red cabbage (B+).

They have many other better wines but I went for the Andalucian reds by the glass. An old friend from Cortijo Los Aguilares, Ronda was my favourite (B+).

‘Garum’ from Bodegas Luis Pérez in Cádiz is another good one (B).

The ‘Vino Tinto’ from Marcelino Serrano in Jaen was drinkable (C).

The award for the worst wine, both in name and flavour, went to ‘Tetas de la Sacristana’ (D). It was explained to me that the sacristana is the old lady who accompanies the priest during ceremonies. She’s not meant to be attractive as this could divert the attention of the priest, so her ‘tetas’ are probably not the most appealing thing to look at. I think the bottle had been on the shelf for a while as the wine was undrinkable. They didn’t charge me though.

Total cost for three tapas and three glasses of wine €22.

So except for that last blip, I heartily recommend this great tapas bar.

El Arco (Intermediate B+), 35 Calle San Fernando, www.restauranteelarco.com

‘The Arch’ is another very good tapas bar. It’s more traditional than Besana so a good place to try local specialities. I came with my friend Juan, a local school owner, who helped me to choose.

Huevos a la Flamenca‘ are usually fried, but here boiled, eggs with a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes.

‘Croquetas de Pringá’, croquettes made from the leftovers of a local stew, are always a winner with me.

I think this is their ‘Chorizo al Estilo de la Casa’, or chorizo done in the house style (B+). Chickpeas are a very popular ingredient in Andalusia.

The ‘Pastel de Queso de Cabra con Papaya y Mousse de Pato Caramelizado’ or goat’s cheese with papaya and caramelised mousse of duck, was a rare change from tradition (B+).

They have a large selection of wines by the glass. We enjoyed a decent Ribera del Duero called ‘Finca Resalso’ by Emilio Moro (B).

And finally some ‘Queso Romero’, an aged cheese cured in oil from Cuenca, east of Madrid (B+).

On another occasion we had their ‘Cabrillas en Salsa’, big snails in a tomato sauce (B)and the ‘Adobitos’, chunks of vinegared and fried dogfish (B-).

My second favourite spot. Definitely worth the short walk from the centre of town. They have a restaurant in a separate building nearby which I’d like to try next time.

As an aside, Juan recommended one of his favourite red wines ‘Tomas Postigo’ which retails in Spain at about €20.

La Brasa (Intermediate B), 45 Calle Rubén Darío, www.restaurantelabrasa.net

I’m guessing this traditional restaurant is a bit of a local institution as it’s the most reviewed place on TripAdvisor. I came for Sunday lunch of Spanish classics.

I started with a half portion of ‘Croquetas Caseras’ (B).

For the main, the ‘Parrillada de Verduras’ (grilled veg) and the always satisfying ‘Cochinillo Lechal Asado’, or roast suckling pig (B+).

To drink, an okay Ribera del Duero called ‘Melior de Matarromera’ (B).

To finish, ‘Flan de Huevo y Coco’; a caramel pudding with squirty cream, and a complimentary flask of Orujo des Hierbas (B).

Total cost 40€. All buttons were well and truly pressed. Recommended.

La Herradura (Intermediate B), 11 Calle La Corredera

This is a busy tapas bar just over the road from the hotel. You can sit outside on the pavement if you arrive early. Really there needs to be two of you to eat their parrilladas and rice dishes, the former being highly recommended but too much for a single diner like me.

I tried some more local classics like ‘Carrillera de Iberico al Vino Oloroso’ or pig cheeks with aged sherry and whole peppercorns (B+).

Espincas con Garbanzos a la Sevillana’ or spinach with chickpeas in the Sevillian style, is also very typical (B).

‘Tataki de Presa Iberica con Salmorejo de Habas’ or seared pork shoulder with a ‘soup’ of broad beans (B+).

A good spot, recommended.

And a few places to be aware of, or avoid:

La Fábrica de Nieve aka Asador Pinto (Intermediate C+), 27 Calle La Corredera

This is a grill house just over the road from the hotel. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the food, they burned my Parrilla Iberica (C-/D), but you can sit outside in the big courtyard which is a blessing when the weather is hot. I used it as a pub and came to watch England draw nil-nil with Slovakia in the opening game of the 2016 European Championship. Something to note is that Cervezas and Jarras both cost the same, 2€.

Casa Diego (C+), 33 María Auxiliadora

According to TripAdvisor, this place has a good local rep but I wasn’t that impressed. The best thing is the large terrace in the courtyard outside where I watched Spain go down 2-1 to Croatia in the Euros.

I had the ‘Berenjenas con Salmorejo’, ‘Jamon y Huevos de Cordoniz’ (B-)…

… and the ‘Croquetas del Puchero’ (B), ‘Hamburguesita de Buey’ (C+) and a decent bottle of Rueda (B). They tried to charge me for the ‘Pavia de Merluza’ even though I’d sent it back for not being fresh (D) but removed it from the bill when I protested. Total cost was 20€ which is admittedly very cheap.

Cervecería Carlos (Intermediate C), 17 Calle la Corredera, barcarlosutrera.business.site

Another tapas bar near the hotel. They have a few TV screens (the best spot is in the yard out back) so it was busy with football fans when I went. I began with a beer and was maybe going to eat but the guy behind the bar wasn’t very welcoming so I went elsewhere.

So, good food can be had in Utrera if you know where to go. Choose carefully is my advice,,,

Bilbao – Getxo – Algorta – lunch in the Puerto Viejo

Posted in Algorta, Basque Country, Bilbao, Getxo, Puerto Viejo, Spain with tags on October 30, 2017 by gannet39

Getxo is a town located on the estuary of Bilbao. During the period of Bilbao’s industrialisation in the nineteenth century it became a residential area for the local bourgeoisie. The town has many grand buildings as a result, especially in Atxekolandeta neighbourhood, but I didn’t get time to see them.

Google map here.

Originally the town was based on the fishing village of Algorta. One day I was lucky enough to finish work early so I could spend the afternoon exploring the village’s picturesque Puerto Viejo.

From Portuzarra Kalea you get good views over El Abra bay. In this picture you can see Ereaga beach (one of many good local beaches) in the distance with Bilbao behind it.

Nearby, two sculptures pay tribute to the professions which were once the mainstays of the local economy. They show a Sardinera, a female sardine seller, (sculpted by Luis Iñiguez) and an Arrantzale, a fisherman, (by the sculptor José Luis Butrón).

The twisting streets of the Puerto Viejo are quite narrow and many have boat slipways.

The pretty houses have whitewashed façades and brightly-coloured doors and windows.

Naturally such a pretty spot has plenty of tapas bars and restaurants. During my wanderings, this place looked the nicest.

Karola Etxea (Intermediate B+), 22 Aretxondo Kalea, www.karolaetxea.net

This pretty mid-range restaurant is located in an old timber frame building. I’m guessing it’s a family business with the daughter waiting on the tables and the parents in the kitchen.

I had the Menu Karola, three courses for €19.80 which also included a bottle of decent Chardonnay (B).

Bacalao Pil Pil with potato and tomato (A).

Of course I also had to have some Sardines (B).

And Flan to finish (B+).

This was a very good meal for only €20. Definitely a good spot.

And that’s my trip to Bilbao done for this time. Off to Andalusia next!

Bilbao – La Vieja neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, La Vieja, Spain with tags on October 29, 2017 by gannet39

La Vieja, like its neigbouring barrio San Francisco, also hugs the south bank of the river. It’s Bilbao’s oldest neighbourhood (founded 1300), even older than the Casco Antiguo on the other side of the river. Map here.

La Mina (Advanced A-), Muella Mariana (no number), www.restaurantemina.es

This was the hottest restaurant in town on my trip in 2016. There was once a mine nearby, hence the name.

I had the Menu Degustacion for €60 with an added wine matching for €35. The food was beautiful but I was slightly disappointed by the wines. They were okay but nothing out of this world.

I had a Negroni while I was reading the menu (B). It was made with a new vermouth to me, from Casa Pardet.

The service was really good. I quickly made friends with the sommelier, Alex from Murcia, and spent so much time talking to him that I didn’t get to grade the food and some of the wines, sorry!

An amuse bouche of some description.

My first wine was a pure Verdejo called ‘La Banda del Agrilico’, which scores 92 Parker points.

This baked fennel looked amazing.

Alex believes ‘La Panesa’ Especial Fino Sherry from Bodega Emilio Hidalgo is one of the best. I liked it too (B+). It’s one of the oldest finos on the market with an average age of 15 years, so bottles retail at £20 and over.

The oyster with roes and flowers was visually stunning.

Next Alex gave me a glass of French Basque white called ‘Cuvee Hegoxuri’, from Domaine Arretxea in Irouleguy (B).

Next some baby broad beans in a broth. Nurea did something similar (see Guggenheim post).

To drink, a wine called ‘Makila’ 2012, in a very plain bottle, suggesting artisanal production. Alex said it was made in a similar way to orange wine (B).

Langoustine or cigala I would hazard.

Moving on to red; a Côtes-du-Rhône from Domaine Charvin (B).

Scallops I reckon.

‘Malus Mama’ a naturally sweet cider from Astigarragako Sagarrak.

Roast pork I think.

A sorbet cleanser.

Then a glass of sweet ‘Recóndita Armonía’, a 10 year old Monastrell Dulce from Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega in Alicante.

Brownie with a chocolate lattice I think.

Ice creams.

I recall their brandies as being a bit pricey so I went for the cheaper ‘Fernando de Castilla’ from Jerez (B).

A good experience worth the three figure price tag. I’d score it B+ overall.

Bilbao – San Francisco neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, San Francisco, Spain with tags , on October 28, 2017 by gannet39

San Francisco is the barrio to the south of the main train station. It’s bordered by the river to the north, and barrio La Vieja to the east (see next post).

Google map here. Tourist map here.

It’s the main immigrant neighbourhood with a large Muslim community and lots of Africans and South Americans. Security is better now than it was apparently, probably because the area is being rapidly gentrified. It still fell a bit edgy walking down San Frantzisko Kalea but I didn’t let that faze me as I live in a similar place myself.

Bar Restaurante Peso Neto (Intermediate B+), 1 San Frantzisko Kalea, www.facebook.com

I only popped in for a brandy after dinner at La Mina around the corner (see next post) but I like the chilled bohemian vibe straight away. Further investigation is required.

El Perro Chico (Intermediate B+), 2 Arechaga Kalea, www.facebook.com

A pleasant restaurant and tapas bar well located on a raised position by the river. It’s near the Erriberako Zubia, a footbridge that takes you over the river into the Casco Viejo.

Apparently Frank Gehry was inspired by the dark blue paint used in the interior of El Perro Chico, a favourite hangout of his, for the colour of the office block at the Guggenheim. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

From the tapas menu I tried the Mix de Gyozas, served with mayo as well as a soya sauce dip. There were two kinds; Cerdo y Ajetes, pork with young garlic (B+) and Hongos y Parmesana, mushrooms with Parmesan (B+). They were a nice variation on the traditional Japanese fried dumplings which are usually filled with pork or chicken mince. They were good, but a bit expensive at €8.

I’d like to come back and try their menu. They were full on a Saturday night so it’s best to reserve if you go at busy times.

There are lots of other interesting bars and restaurants in this up and coming area. I ended up in a buzzing South American bar along San Frantzisko Kalea one night but blowed if I can remember where! I’ll be back to check on developments next time I’m in town.

Bilbao – Casco Viejo – pintxos in Plaza Nueva

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Plaza Nueva, Spain with tags , , , on October 27, 2017 by gannet39

A pintxo is the Basque word for a piece of bread and its topping being pierced and held together (pinchado) with a cocktail stick. They would be called tapas outside the Basque country but they are usually bread based and are never free as tapas sometimes are in the south. Another difference is that often, but not always, you can help yourself from the display on the bar and tell the waiter what you had later.

Plaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos in Bilbao. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on this map.

Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and help you develop some new ones.

Gure Toki (Intermediate A+), 12 Plaza Nueva (north west corner), guretoki.com

This is my favourite. It’s not as venerable as the others I mention below, but they take a different, more modern approach to pintxos which I find more interesting. International influences, particularly Japanese, are very apparent.

From 2014:

Carpachio de Avestruz (A++). Ostrich carpaccio! The best thing I ate all year! Thinly sliced raw ostrich marinated with parmesan and if I remember correctly soya sauce, although it doesn’t seem so from the picture. I must go back to make sure!

Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction.

The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but is more hype than substance. It sounds good though.

Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again.

With the meat I drank two glasses Juan Gil Monastrell 12 meses (A+) at €2 a glass. This stuff blew my socks off, it’s so different from any other Spanish red. It’s now the house red for my pop-up restaurant. I get it posted to me for about £11 a bottle with postage.

Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which makes his wine taste even better!

I also had a glass of Ribeira del Duero, ‘Nacimiento’ by Avan which was good (B+)…

…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B).

Sold to me by another friendly customer, Sopa de Idiazabal seemed to consist of a quail’s egg with cream, mushrooms and giant kernels of Choclo (maize). The bar won a prize for this pintxo in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I preferred other things on the menu.

The only let down was the lack of decent desserts. They gave me a bowl of dry, flaky mini chocolate croissants which didn’t really do it for me. A chupito of excellent ‘La Gallega’ Orujo des Hierbas (A) cheered me up though.

As you can see, I met a lot of people while I was here, including a big group of Mexicanas on their jollies. With all the good food, wine and company, I rolled out of here a very happy man!

I returned in 2016 and was gutted to discover that the Ostrich Carpaccio was no longer on the menu! The nice lady who served me was impressed that I remembered the pintxo and did her best to suggest other tidbits.

I especially liked the Espárragos.

Gure Toki is still very good I’m happy to report.

Café Bilbao (Intermediate A), 6 Plaza Berria, north east corner of Plaza Nueva (there are two doors, one on Plaza Nueva, the other round the corner on Plaza Berria), bilbao-cafebar.com

Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes.

I had Makailua Pilpilean, or in Castillian, ‘Bacalao al Pilpil’, which was good (B+). Pil pil is a basque cooking technique where a sauce is made from the oil that the fish was cooked in, along with garlic and small hot peppers called ‘guindillas’.

Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A).

And another with black pudding, green pepper and camembert (B+).

In 2016 I tried this chorizo and quail egg creation (B+).

A classic pintxo bar that needs to be visited.

Victor Montes, (Intermediate A), 8 Plaza Nueva, Tel. 944 155 603, www.victormontes.com

For me, this local institution (since 1931) is the most beautiful cafe in town.

The pintxos on the bar top always look very enticing.

Generally they cost €1.90 each.

In 2016 four of us came and had the mixed selection of a dozen pintxos for €22.90. They were all fantastic (A).

They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte at 14 Plaza Nueva which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.

I got some Jerez vinegar, truffles, foie gras and some good Jamon Iberico Bellota from the Jabugo 5 Jotas or ‘Five J’s’ brand from here.

Please see my other Casco Viejo post for more pintxo bars nearby.

Photos uploaded September 2012, February 2014 and October 2017.

Bilbao – pintxos in the Casco Viejo

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Spain with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2017 by gannet39

The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s old town on the east bank of the river. Today it’s Bilbao’s main entertainment district, the place to come for a txikiteo (bar crawl). At the heart of the Casco are Bilbao’s original seven streets, Las Siete Calles, which date from the 1400s. Also here is Plaza Nueva which I have given its own post. You’ll find some of the best pintxo bars in the city here, all marked on this Google map.

Irrintzi (Intermediate A), 8 Santa Maria Kalea, www.irrintzi.es
My favourite place for innovative, modern pintxos. The display on the bar is stunning.

International influences abound. I can recommend the ‘Brocetas de Verdura en Tempura a la Menta’ aka brochettes of vegetable tempura with mint.

‘Crujiente de Manzana con Pato en Salsa de Cacahuete’ or crispy apple with duck in peanut sauce.

‘Nido de Pollo Lacado con Rúcula’ or nests of chicken with rocket.

Gatz (Intermediate A), 10 Calle Santa Maria, www.bargatz.com

Another good pintxo place, right next door to Irrintxi above.

The windows are covered in Michelin Guide stickers dating back to when it opened in 1994.

It’s fairly traditional but everything is top quality.

Xukela (Intermediate A), 2 Calle El Perro, www.xukela.com

One of the most renowned pintxo bars in town.

Quite trad, but all top quality tackle.

Cresta de Gallo, cockscomb, is one of their more unusual pintxos. It was a first for me (B).

After seeing it being made for another customer I ordered a ‘Marianito’, the shop’s own version of a Negroni. As an aficionado I would say it was the best Negroni I’ve ever had made with Martini Rosso (not my favourite vermouth), though they have Martini Gold as well. Aerating the mix before shaking might have made the difference.

Cafe Boulevard (Intermediate C) 3 Calle Arenal, cafemercante.es

A much feted Art Nouveau cafe that has undergone renovation in 2012. I only came in for a coffee in the day time but was left cold by the uninteresting decor and lack of atmosphere. Maybe it’s better at the weekends.

This next place wasn’t too great in 2012 but it might be okay now…

Saibigain (Elementary B-), 16 Calle Barrencale Barrena, www.saibigain.com, closed Sunday

Times have changed since Cadogan guides put this place on their ‘inexpensive’ list. The €8 menu-del-dia has been superseded by a choice of four set menus. I went for the cheapest at €32 which involved a multitude of starters including; foie gras with blueberry jam and tostados (B), a plate of three hams (B-), prawns with a dish of plain mayo (C), codfish croquettes (B), mushrooms with scrambled egg (D).

There were several choices for the main course, the most typical (according to the waitress) being Pequillo red peppers stuffed with salt cod in yellow and red sauces (C). I added a bottle of Txacoli (Aretxaga 2011) to drown my culinary sorrows (B).

With the addition of a slice of apple pie (B) and a glass of Rioja (B+), it was hard to argue about the value, but the food was too mediocre for me to want to return.

The place doesn’t seem to have been redecorated since it opened in the 50s, except for the addition of photos and posters of Athletic de Bilbao from the 70s. The interior is faded and unspecial but the service was fine.

You’ll also find the Mercado de la Ribera www.mercadodelaribera.net in the old town, down by the river.

Here are a few things you might see there.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – Abando – Eating at the Guggenheim

Posted in Abando, Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , on October 25, 2017 by gannet39

The key to Bilbao’s regeneration is the famous Guggenheim museum which has turned the city into a major tourist destination.

Outside the main entrance you’re welcomed by Puppy (pronounced ‘Poopy’) a gigantic flower arrangement of a Scottish terrier by Jeff Koons. 

The museum is based around a large central atrium with galleries on three levels radiating off it in unpredictable directions.

One gallery is given over to the permanent sculpture ‘The Matter of Time‘ by Richard Serra.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to coincide with an excellent exhibition by David Hockney, a fellow Yorkshireman, called ‘A Bigger Picture’. I was never really a fan of his until I saw these paintings of East Yorkshire landscapes, bizarrely painted in lurid colours, all of which further added to the feeling of being in a home away from home.

While I’ve only been to one exhibition, I’ve been here twice to eat, because the Goog is also home to two very good restaurants.

In June 2016 I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of Michelin luxury at Nurea. It’s a little hard to find as it’s round the back of the museum but go down the steps at the side…

…under the legs of the giant spider ‘Maman’ (Louise Bourgeois, 1999)…

…past the shimmering ‘Tall Tree & The Eye’ (Anish Kapoor, 2009)…

…and keep going until you’re virtually under Salbeko Zubia, the huge bridge that crosses the River Nervion.

If you’re early you can kill some time watching the boats on the river. The rowing crews were practicing in their traineras when I was there. Here’s my video.

The restaurant entrance is very discreet but it’s the hole in the wall in this picture.

Nerua (High Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandabarra (around the back of the Guggenheim Museum), www.nerua.com

It’s possible to order a la carte but most people opt for one of the three tasting menus. I had the smallest, ‘9 products’ menu for €105 (the others were €145 for 14 and €175 for 21) with a wine ‘maridaje’ add on for €42.

The food was fantastic, chef Josean Alija was a student of Ferran Adrià, but it was the wines that particularly blew me away.

Don’t recall what the amuse bouches were sorry, but they were very good (A). The green drink might be some kind of plankton concoction which is a thing in contemporary Spanish cuisine at the moment (see my Puerto de Santa Maria post).

The first wine was a Catalan Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon called ‘Taleia’ by Castell d’Encus which was heavenly (A). I’d like to buy a crate but it’s fairly expensive at £15 a bottle before postage.

‘Ostra, Esparrago, Cerveza, Lima y Guindilla’ or oyster, asparagus, beer, lime and cayenne chilli (A).

Then an off-menu dish of fresh baby broad beans in a broth, which was wonderful (A).

The next wine was a volcanic Malvasia from Lanzarote called ‘Canari’ from Bodegas El Grifo (A). It’s actually a sweet dessert wine but it worked with what I was eating. You can get it from Vinissimus at £10 for a 500ml bottle.

‘Alcachofas Confitadas, Praline y Fondo de Hierbas Aromaticos’ aka confit of artichokes with praline in an aromatic herb stock (A).

With this a glass of white Rioja called ‘Tierra Fidel’ from Bodegas Tierra (A). It’s around £30 a bottle from Lavinia.

‘Sopa de Mariscos y Pescado, Navajas y Verduitas’ or seafood and fish soup, razor clams and baby vegetables (A).

‘Anchoas, Enokis Guisados en un Fondo de Berberechos y Salvia’ or anchovies, stewed enoki mushrooms with a sauce of cockles and sage (A+).

To drink, a glass of Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG from Piedmont, Italy (A). The 2000 vintage I had is now £115 a bottle according to Wine Searcher but the 2011 is £25 to £30.

‘Merluza Frita, Hojas Guisadas de Crisantemo’ or fried hake, cooked with chrysanthemum leaves (A).

The next wine was a 2014 Pedro Ximénez called ‘Exceptional Harvest’ from Ximénez-Spínola. Usually PX grapes are dried and made into a very sweet dessert wine (which I love) but here they had just been treated like a normal white wine grape, to good effect (A). This piqued my interest as you’ll see below. You can buy it for about £14 a bottle from Decantalo, or write directly to the bodega as I did…

‘Foie Gras de Pato, Zanahorias y Makil Goxo’ or duck foie gras, carrots and liquorice (A++).

‘Cabello de Angel, Manzana, Limon y Helado de Shiso’ or angel hair, apple, lemon and Japanese mint ice cream (A).

My old friend Itas Mendi ‘Urezti’ made a reappearance for dessert. It’s around £12 a half-bottle from Decantalo or Gourmet Hunters.

‘Aguacate, Helado de Alholva, Aceituna Negra y Café’ or avocado, fenugreek ice cream, black olive and coffee (A).

And some petit fours to finish.

I adore Spanish brandy so for a final treat I had a look at the list of brandies and spotted a new one (for me) by Ximénez-Spínola, the same bodega in Jerez that made the PX above. It was absolutely stunning (A+).

I did a bit of research and discovered that Ximénez-Spínola don’t advertise their products and don’t enter any wine competitions or apply for VOS or VORS labels. Instead they prefer to just do their own thing and sell to a select client base. I wrote to them directly and, as a Xmas present to myself, got a bottle of one of everything from their range (several kinds of sherry and PX, vinegar and two kinds of brandy). The brandy I had at the restaurant, the ‘Tres Mil Botellas’ was spectacular as I say but at £135 a bottle, a bit hard to justify. However I discovered that the lower one in the range, the ‘Diez Mil Botellas’, is nearly as good and ‘only’ £70. I’m now on my third case and get a 10% discount as a regular customer!

So that was the end of a very memorable meal. The food and wine was stunning and the service was exemplary as you’d expect. One of the reasons I come to these fine dining places is to tap into their knowledge and each server was able to talk expertly about the food and wines, in English.

This experience wasn’t cheap, I’m guessing around 150€, but I felt I got good value, not just because I ate and drank very well, but also because I learned a lot. I definitely recommend Nurea if you can stretch to it.

In 2012 I went to…

Guggenheim Bistro (Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandoibarra, www.bistroguggenheimbilbao.com

The Goog Bistro is one of the top picks in many of the guidebooks. In July 2012 went for the lunchtime menu-del-dia (€32) and paid an extra €9.50 for the ‘maridaje’ or wine-matching.

To kick off, a Watermelon Gazpacho (must make this refreshing summer soup when I get home) which came with an interesting combination of chunks of Tuna Tartar and green pepper (B). I wasn’t too sure about the accompanying Aperitif which didn’t go well at all and tasted artificially of strawberries (C).

This came with an excellent glass of Txacoli ‘Itas Mendi’ 2011 (A) which created a bit of an overkill of liquids and I was playing catch up for the rest of the meal.

Next came a delicious Rock Oyster Paella (A) topped with a Mayonnaise Foam (B+), although for me this wasn’t an improvement on a good garlic aioli.

This was matched with an excellent Verdejo ‘Aura’ 2011 (A+).

After this a forme of Roast Lamb with Pumpkin Puree (A) and dried coffee (C) which went very well with a glass of Rioja (Bai Corre Crianza 2008) (A+).

Finally, French Toast (B+) with Vanilla Ice Cream (A) and a shot of homemade Vino Dulce de Naranja (sweet orange flavoured wine) which smelt great but tasted less so (C).

Overall though I felt I got good value for my money at the Goog Bistro and would happily go again, perhaps in the evening next time.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – Abando – midrange places to eat and drink

Posted in Abando, Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , , , on October 24, 2017 by gannet39

Abando is the central area of Bilbao west of the stadium and on the south bank of the Ría del Nervión. It’s opposite the Casco Antiguo (see separate posts), which is on the north bank. This part of the city is also known as the Ensanche (extension) and was once a town in its own right, in competition with Bilbao until it was swallowed up. Barrio map here.

The provincial administration, train stations and CBD can be found here, and also the Guggenheim which I have given its own post. You can find all the places below on this map.

Iruna (Intermediate B+), 5 Calle Berastegui (corner of Calle del Musico Ledesma), www.cafeirunabilbao.net

Iruna doorway

Iruna is a famous old cafe bar dating from 1903 and decorated in the Moorish neo-Mudejar style.

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It’s very atmospheric and seems to be popular with all kinds of people.

They were grilling Pinchos Morunos, Moorish kebabs on a skewer, when I was there, so of course I had to try some (B+).

La Viña del Ensanche (High Intermediate A), 10 Calle Diputacion, lavinadelensanche.com

This local institution (serving pintxos for over eighty years) is a Lonely Planet top pick, and is also recommended by Conde Naste. It’s popular with the locals so if you want to sit on the terrace you should definitely reserve or take a seat in the dark interior as I did.

The food and the service were really good. I had a pintxo of ‘Cabezada Ibérica de Jamones de Joselito cocinada a baja temperatura en su jugo’, that is ‘Joselito Iberian pork, cooked at a low temperature in its own juice (B+).

I also had a glass of an unlabelled house wine, from the Cariñena DO near Zaragoza, which was quite unusual and interesting (B+).

I need to come and eat here again. Next time I’ll try their tasting menu, or go upstairs to the restaurant.

 

Casa Rufo (High Intermediate A), 5 Hurtado de Amézaga Kalea, www.casarufo.com

In 2012, this was my favourite place in the short time I was here. Founded in 1955, it’s a deli and bodega that becomes a restaurant in the evenings. It’s very atmospheric sitting amongst shelves stacked with local produce and bottles of wine. The building dates from the fifties so there’s lots of wood and nice ceramics tiles.

I started with a plate of local leeks, Puerros, dressed in oil and sherry vinegar, and topped with raw onions, peppers and olives. It was pretty good but I’ve had better (B).

The star however was the huge beefsteak (Chuleton) which arrived ready sliced and still sizzling on a thick earthenware platter. It was huge (the next table shared it between two) and the chef came out of the kitchen to egg me on as I started to flag towards the end. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had (A). It’s a speciality of the house, along with codfish.

It was helped down by an excellent half bottle of Rioja Crianza (Senoria de Cuzcurrita), a perfect marriage with the meat (A).

Sadly my ideal desserts of Plums in Brandy and Pears in Txacoli were not available so I went instead for the cheesecake which thankfully was very satisfying (B+).

Finally a glass of ‘Nectar’ Pedro Ximenez which was so nice (A) that I bought two bottles to take home.

The service was a bit dour at first, but they lightened up when sprinkled with niceness. I’d definitely go again.

 

Guria (High Intermediate A), 66 Gran Via, www.restauranteguria.com

This is a somewhat formal place with a good rep. The youthful service was a bit severe but I did get a smile eventually.

I had the Menu Bistrot for €39 which included a bottle of thin-tasting Txacoli (B).

The first course was a soup made of pureed peas (A) followed by a mushroom omelette (B), both very unphotogenic.

Cod is the speciality of the house so I had the Bacalao a la Vacainza, saltcod in a red pepper sauce, also somewhat unsightly, but still tasty (B).

And the classic Basque dish Bacalao Pil Pil, done very well (B+).

This was followed by some tasty Carrilleras, beef cheeks (B+).

For dessert the Brownie was great but would have been better if the chocolate sauce was hot (A-).

Brandies are a bit pricey here so I went for their homemade Pacharan Casero which was pretty good and only cost €3.

So not very pretty food, but well-made and it pushes all the right flavour buttons.

 

And a place to avoid….

Asador Indusi (Intermediate C), 7 Calle Maestro Garcia Rivero

This was the place recommended by a hotel receptionist on a Sunday in 2012 when all other places nearby were closed. There is nothing to recommend it in particular, the food, decor and service are all non-descript (all C). The Rioja and Pedro Ximenez were the only things that made the experience enjoyable.

If you can’t find something better nearer your hotel, you might want to walk the twenty minutes to the old town for a bit more choice.

The Guggenheim next!

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

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