Wednesday 29 June 2016

Spanish Weekend Guides ~ Valencia.

Valencia is an excellent choice for a weekend away. With direct inexpensive flights from Manchester (via Ryanair), you can be in the sunshine in a couple of hours.
Where to Stay.
We chose the Vincci Palace Hotel. It has swish boutique rooms and is as central as you can get. The roof top pool with a cocktail bar is the pièce de résistance. 
We previously stayed in the elegant SH Ingles Boutique Hotel which is also very well located.
What to do.
Aimlessly wandering round the streets in the sun is what I like to do on a city break in-between meals that is. The Mercado Central (central market) is just around the corner. It's the most impressive I've seen in Spain or anywhere. I could have spent hours in there, the produce from the hundreds of stalls is wonderful (especially the fish market) and the beautiful ornate interior, stained glass and giant dome is breathtaking. 
From here you can stroll around the Barrio del Carmen (old town) where you'll find the Plaza del Carmen and the medieval church. We were lucky enough to see a parade of giant mannequins in a Corpus Christi procession whilst we were there.
Where to Eat. 
On our first night we dined at La Salita, an excellent start to our weekend. The food here is superb, a perfect balance between traditional and high end. We were even served by the charming celebrity head chef Begoña Rodrigo. The taster menu cost us just €63.
We also really liked Saiti. Recommended to me by a few Spanish food people, this place has a casual vibe and an absolute bargain taster menu at just €50. Again it's the successful combination of modernist food and traditional tapas in a smart bistro setting that works so well.
I've previously covered the three Ricard Camarena places in detail here. Essentially you have a Market Bar, a hipster bistro (Canalla Bistro) and a high end restaurant. Take your pick or visit them all like we did.
We shared a taxi to Dénia, just over an hour away (around €200 return) to Quique Dacosta's three star flagship restaurant (see photo below) or you can stay in Valencia at Mercat Bar or the more casual Vuelve Carolina
 Valencia is also the home of paella. Try El Racó de la Paella.
In the Cabanyal area close to the beach you'll find the traditional tapas bar Bodega Casa Montaña too. You must also drink some Horchata, a nutty, milky drink originating in Valencia. So the traditional Horchatería Santa Catalina is an absolute must.
The complex around the City of Arts and Sciences and the dazzling futurist architecture of L'Hemisfèric is something the Spanish seem to do so well. You could easily spend a day here if you have time.  There are also quite a few sandy beaches within easy reach of the city centre.
Valencia has it all, great food, great weather and an authentic chilled Spanish vibe without feeling overly touristy.


Wednesday 22 June 2016

Ricard Camarena, València, Spain.

If you're in València for a weekend as we were, you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner all at a  different Ricard Camarena restaurant. 
El Mercat Central de València is such an impressive space, larger and less expensive than Barcelona's Boqueria. The quality and variety of the fish and seafood section alone is truly amazing to see. Camarena's Central Bar always seemed to be completely full when we wandered around. We finally managed to get four seats and ordered a good tortilla, proper freshly squeezed orange juice and decent coffee to start the day of eating rather well. I wish we'd have been in town longer to try other stuff on the menu. The constant queue of locals really say it all.

For lunch we chose the one Michelin Star Ricard Camarena Restaurant as we find a taster menu is much better to manage in the daytime. This restaurant has been on the to eat list for some time and it certainly didn't disappoint. The snacks element to begin with is especially good, wave after wave of beautiful little bites come and go. For the mains part of the taster menu we choose mainly fish and seafood dishes; cocochas are always a joy, tuna back cheek is another fine choice. The desserts I recall through a fog of fine wine, were absolutely superb. (Photos below).  
The Menú degustación costs us €90.

Canalla Bistro was one of those places that I could have ordered practically everything off the menu. It's a a hipster friendly bistro with dishes from all around the world. The Spanish seem to be able to do this very well, I've noticed a recent fashion for tapas bars taking foreign dishes (Thai, Mexican) and putting the Spanish spin on them. I loved everything I ate here. I had two Mexican tacos (ox tail and tuna belly), sweet potato and foie pie, sea bass ceviche and the best and rarest burger I've had for some time. Great fun. Don't miss the 'fake' banana dessert.
What was interesting to me is how Ricard Camarena has translated what he does in three entirely different ways, a casual café bar in a market, a high end Michelin star restaurant and a cool and hip bistro, and we really enjoyed them all. Similarly, Quique Dascosta also has a high end place in the city, a more causal restaurant and a market bar. This constant innovation which trickles down from the highest level from chefs like this is one of the reasons that I think the whole of Spain is one of the most exciting places to eat in at every level.


Thursday 16 June 2016

5 Great Manchester Tapas Bars.

Only a few years ago tapas bars in the UK were way behind Spain in terms of quality and variety, usually offering the same several dishes everywhere and some even getting their poor produce from a central supplier. Now thankfully we've had a new wave of proper authentic restaurants offering comparative quality as you'd get in Spain. Here are my favourite five in Greater Manchester (not necessarily in any order).
Levanter & Baratxuri. 
I regularly go up to Ramsbottom to photograph for Fiona and Joe and their two bars just get better each time with ever refreshing menus. Don't miss, the Txuleta, (Basque Steak). I also love the new Ceviche at Levanter.
We're huge fans of Ibérica, I especially love their seasonal specials as they were created by their executive head chef, Nacho Manzano holder of three Michelin stars. Don't miss; the Croquetas which are especially good. Below the Pork belly steamed Bao and Fideua with garlic & prawns from the Spring Menu.
El Gato Negro.
Hugely popular and rightly so, one of the best restaurants in Manchester. Don't miss; The Confit of Belly Pork and Carabineros.

Not just an authentic restaurant but a fine deli too. I often just sit in the bar drinking coffee as it feels like a proper Spanish bar on Deansgate. Don't miss; the suckling pig from Segovia.

Tapeo & Wine. 
The new comer, I popped in for lunch recently and was impressed. Don't miss; Gambas al ajillo.
One to watch; Porta Tapas will open in Altrincham in September.

10 Favourite Spanish Tapas Bars.

It's World Tapas Day today so it got me thinking what are my favourite tapas bars in Spain...
1. La Taberna del Campero. Zahara de los Atunes (& Barbate), Andalucia.
You can have everything here as long as it's tuna (more or less), it's the best in Spain. Everything is absolutely superb here too. Don't miss: Assorted raw fish dishes (tartare, loin sashimi, tataki).
2. La Culchara de San Telmo. San Sebastián.
All the pintxos are great and cooked to order but don't miss the Mushroom Risotto.
3. Tickets. Barcelona. Maybe an obvious choice but it's all such fantastic fun. Don't miss: Spherical "Olivas" an El Bulli classic.
4. Pura Tasca. Seville. 
Too hard to choose between places in Seville really but this place sticks in my mind.
Don't miss: Arroz Meloso.
5. Borda Berri. San Sebastián. Sister bar to La Cuchara, a 'must eat' in San Sebastián. Don't miss: Anything really.
 6. La Brunilda Tapas, Seville. Another modern but terrific tapas bar. Don't miss: The 'crack' burger.
 7. La Gabinoteca, Madrid. A buzzing gastro-bar. Don't miss. The Potito, egg, potato and truffle oil in a jar. 
 8. El Faro. Cádiz.
Way more old school than the rest, we love this place though and can stand at the bar eating everything any time we're in Cádiz. Don't miss: Albondigas de Ternera con Rabo Guisado.
 9.  Txikote. Conil de la Frontera. A Basque pintxos bar in an Andalucian coastal town. Don't miss: The Carabineros.
10. Zoko, Zahara de los Atunes, Andalucia. Eclectic tapas bar mixing up Andalucian classics like Salmorejo and thai curries with panache . Don't miss the salmorejo with prawns.

We often have a fixed view of what tapas bars serve here in the UK. What is clear from my travels is that in Spain, tapas is lots more fluid and flexible than that. Regional, seasonal and lots more of a pick and mix. Sometimes taking from other countries (Japan and Thailand for instance) and making it their own. There are so many more to try.