Before catching an overnight bus to Valencia, I went out for a final meal in Granada. Having had a reasonably large lunch, I didn’t want anything too substantial, so tapas seemed the obvious choice. It was a cold wet and miserable day so I went to the nearest place that was open. I’d spotted Moou on my first day in Granada. It looked a little modern and I wasn’t sure what would mean for the quality of the food. However, it had a range of free tapas available with a glass of wine and combined with the state of the weather this was sufficient impetus for me to give it a try. Fortunately, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the food I experienced. This was definitely a “don’t judge the food by the decor” kind of situation.

In addition to my wine, I selected two tapas:
• Berenjanas con miel de caña
• Castillas a la barbacoa

The former was slices of aubergine which had been lightly floured and deep-fried until golden. They were served topped with salt crystal and drizzles of cane sugar syrup. A really simple dish that tasted fantastic! The clash of salt and sweet was perfect, and combined particularly well with the sweetness of the cooked aubergine. I was surprised by the flavour of the cane sugar syrup. I expected it to be almost sickly sweet, but this was in no way the case. It is a far more savoury condiment than honey. I was also really impressed that the aubergine were in no way greasy. Absolutely delicious!


The castillas do barbecoa were mini barbecued ribs. The neat was incredibly well cooked. I was able to place the meat in my mouth, bite into the flesh and pull the bone away clean. I even took a photo as proof! Unfortunately whatever process that was used to make the meat so tender also took away a lot of the flavour of the meat. However I really liked barbecue sauce. Usually I find this sauce to be really sweet, but this version was tangier. Really nice. The ribs were served with bread, which I happily used to mop up the sauce. However, for once I managed to resist the accompanying chips.



Clearly, it was the aubergine dish that was the star of this meal. It was so good that I bought some cane sugar syrup while I was in Valencia and found a recipe online to make it at home. This is link to the recipe I used. It was just as good!


Ermita catedral 530

On my final day on Granada I was determined to eat somewhere other than Calle Navas. It sounds like it should have been an easy task but it actually took me some time to achieve. Not that Granada is lacking in restaurants in any way, it was just a matter of finding one that was consistent with my mood. Eventually I happened upon Ermita Catedral 530. I was really pleased to see that most dishes could be ordered in three differently sized portions. Always easier for a lone traveller wishing to try an array of cuisine. The restaurant had outdoor seating and since it was a nice day I decided to indulge in a little sunshine.

Shortly after being seated I was served with a portion of olives and a selection of breads. The olives were very powerful and had almost a meaty flavour to them. I’m not sure if this was a reflection of the type of olive or the concoction in which it had been marinated. Either way, it was highly unusual, but not unpleasant in small quantities. However, they were so intense that I couldn’t eat the entire serving.


Still, it was nice to have something to munch on as I contemplated the menu. Eventually I selected three tapa-sized dishes:

• Pulpo a la gallega con pimenton de la Vera cristal decsal

• Secreto iberico asado con salsa de setas y almendras

• Lomo de Bacalao al pil pil

Unusually, the octopus was served warm. This was no more or less pleasant than a cold serving, just different. I was delighted that the tentacles around the flesh, and therefore the fat between the two had been retained. It was probably the best octopus I had the entire trip. The texture of the flesh was perfectly soft with the overall flavour enhanced by sweet richness of the fat. A particularly strong and delicious olive oil had been drizzled over the meat, which had also been sprinkled with large salt crystals and paprika.


The shoulder of pork was served next. I could see the remanent grains of fat lining the chunks of meat. Not surprisingly, the meat was incredibly flavoursome. The accompanying sauce was unfortunately under-seasoned. However with a little salt the flavour was enhanced sufficiently to subtly compliment the rest of the dish. As for the chips…well who could resist such perfectly golden morsels of enticement?! Certainly not me!


The cod fillet was a little disappointing. It was served covered with a gratinated aioli sauce topped with slices of fried garlic. I found the fish to be slightly overcooked, although I had no qualms about the flavour. Also, while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t feel that it was the right accompaniment for the fish. The flavours just didn’t blend into a cohesive meal.


Still, overall I was very happy with and well satiated by my meal. It was also nice that for the first time in Granada I didn’t leave the table feeling guilty about the quantity of food I’d just consumed!

Divisa Blanca Taberna

Ah Granada! A beautiful city with a standard of food to match. On my first day there I spent five hours wandering around the Alhambra (advertised average viewing time is three hours) and at the end of my tour I was ravenous. Conveniently my mother had just sent me a text recommending a restaurant called Los Diamantes in Calle Navas. Having made no plans for lunch I decided to investigate this proposition.

Calle Navas in and of itself was a wonderful suggestion. The street is lined with restaurants, providing ample dining options. My mother had warned me that Los Diamantes was tiny and chaotic, and this was certainly an accurate description. So much so that it was too much for me and I decided I couldn’t eat there. I was also put off by the price of the food. While a full racionne to be shared would have been good value, half portions were still two-thirds of the price, making this less economical for lone travellers such as myself. This is no reflection on the food however, which did look incredible appetising.

So I left Los Diamantes and wandered up and down the street reading each of the plethora of menus before me. Finally I settled Taberna Divisa Blanca, on the basis of the range of lovely looking tapas being consumed by other diners. Searching through the menu I couldn’t find the the pulpo a la gallega that I had seen served to other patrons. A quick check with one of the waiters confirmed that this was free tapas served with a drink. Cheap good red wine and free octopus tapa? The opportunity was too good to resist. The octopus was heavily seasoned with rock salt and paprika, as well as a hint of olive oil. The consistency of the flesh was, actually, inconsistent. Some pieces were the softest octopus I’ve ever eaten, others were a little more chewy, although not unpleasantly so. It had a lovely flavour and hey, it was free so I was more than happy with it.


Selecting my actual meal from the extensive menu was challenging. I would have loved to have tried the Fritura Variada, which was a massive pile of mixed battered and deep fried seafood. It looked amazing and seemed incredibly good value at €18, but it was just too much food for one person. The Special Salad was equally generously portioned and looked highly appetising and would have made an incredibly filling and healthy meal. However, I opted for the Surtido de Tapas. This was quite simply a platter with an array of tapas of morcello, croquettes, manchego, pork, anchovies on crisps, mix of roasted red peppers and onion, parma ham, potato salad, and fresh slices of tomato.

I was incredibly impressed with the quality of each of the elements of this meal. The morcello was better than I’d eaten in Madrid. Not only was it more flavoursome, but it had a spicy heat to it and had been spiced with maybe fenugreek and/or cumin. It doesn’t matter what it was actually, because more importantly it enhanced the flavours of the morcello beautifully. The croquettes were ham and cheese and again they were perfectly cooked with a golden crunchy crust and a warm, soft-verging-on-gooey centre. The pork had been pan fried in escalopes and covered in a deliciously sweet but unfortunately unidentifiable sauce. The rolls of parma ham were incredibly generous and tasted fantastic. I adore manchego and I have to say that this was the best I have ever had. Absolutely to die for! The same can be said of the potato salad, which was different from any I’d eaten previously. I’m certain there was no mayonnaise involved in this recipe. Instead it tasted like very smooth, creamy, buttery cold mashed potatoes with chunks of potato and whole shrimp mixed through. The anchovies had been marinated in olive oil, parsley, and vinegar. The marinade dripped down onto the bed of crisps, making them too delicious to resist.


It was an insane amount of food but it was too good to allow to go to waste. Yes, I ate it all myself! Looking around the internet, Taberna Divisa Blanca has only received moderately good ratings from other diners. Maybe I’ve had less exposure to tapas than these reviewers, but from my perspective, this meal was one of the highlights of my trip!

Chocolateria Valor

Is it possible to go to Spain without trying churros and hot chocolate?

Well actually yes, because that’s exactly what happened when I went to Barcelona several years ago. However this trip I was determined not to repeat this oversight, despite my current commitment to weight-loss, healthy eating and generally looking after my body. Being a Spanish institution churros and hot chocolate is available everywhere. Knowing that I would only participate in this indulgence once on my trip I took some time to look around the different options. My eventual choice of the Chocolaterià Valor was based on the fact that it is a derivative of a well known quality chocolate manufacturer, which suggested they probably know what they’re doing. Also, it appeared to have the thickest and richest looking hot chocolate available. Whether my choice was the best is of course debatable, but it was utterly decadent, which was sufficient for me.

Presented with a menu of various chocolate beverages I was salivating before I even submitted my order. I selected the small version of the traditional “Chocolate a la Taza”. Service was efficient, despite the business of the café. To say that I was served with a cup of hot chocolate and four churros would be factual, but mis-representative. This was the thickest, richest, and glossiest hot chocolate I have had since my university days when a very good friend introduced me to Italian-style hot chocolate at Brunetti.


What I really enjoyed about the hot chocolate at Valor was the lack of sugar. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t sweet, more that this was more subtle than I’ve had previously. This allowed the flavour of the actual chocolate to dominate, which I actually found preferable. The churros looked and tasted amazing. They were beautifully golden and, despite having been deep fried, not at all greasy. It was so indulgent that, even though I enjoyed every moment of consumption, I couldn’t finish the entire portion. I’m not sure whether it was the richness or my diet-conscience that prevented me from doing so. Either way, a full portion of hot chocolate and churros definitely requires commitment!

I can also attest to the quality of their coffee. Really strong and richly flavoured. My café con lêche was served to me black and then warm milk was added in front of me to my tastes. It also came with a small Valor chocolate which was delicious. However, fans of herbal tea may be well advised to try somewhere else. My camomile tea left much to be desired.

Incidentally, my trips to Valor proved to be highly informative. Three years ago on a trip to Mexico I purchased what I have always referred to as a “wooden curiosity”, as pictured below.


I bought it having no idea of its purpose, I just thought it was beautiful and interesting. When I went to purchase some hot chocolate mix from the sales section in the Valor café, I noticed one of these on display. Through a sequence of my appalling spoken pseudo-Spainish, a degree of pantomime and some subsequent research I now know that it is a molinillo, which is a utensil used to mix and froth hot chocolate.


On my last day in Madrid I knew I wanted to eat somewhere I hadn’t been before. I wandered around the restaurant areas with which I had become familiar over the past few days but just couldn’t find anything that drew me to a table. So I randomly went down a different street which was conveniently lined with restaurants. Actually not that surprising in Madrid. While I felt I was more in the mood for a meal, a restaurant called Orixe caught my eye. The glass door was covered in recommendation stickers and the tapas was very reasonably priced at either €2 or €2.75 each, and there were even half portions of racions available, which is always convenient for the solo traveller.

The restaurant has both a bar and seated area, although only the bar area was in use at the time. Tables might have been available but my Spanish is so incoherent, in fact non-existent that I was unable to ask. Still I could by this time recognise key words sufficiently to be able to peruse a menu written entirely in Spanish and make a somewhat informed selection.

To start with I ordered a “Bacalao con láminas con una base de patata y cebelli confitida y aoli de miel” and a “Solomillo de cerdo con cebello confitada y queso de cabra”. I also decided that since it was my last day I was entitled to a glass of wine (especially at a minuscule cost of €2,60!) and opted for the Solar de Saminiego Rioja.

While waiting for my order to be prepared I was served with a small appetiser. I have no idea what it was, but it tasted seafoodish, creamy and good.


My two tapas were ready within minutes and I was soon munching, sipping and reading to my heart’s content. Actually it was more my taste buds that were content. The tapas was fantastic! I started with the Solmillo de cerdo first which was a slice of pork on caramelised onions topped with a piece of cheese, possibly camembert. Let’s face it, it’s hard to get it wrong with that combination of ingredients. The Bacalao was of cod fish but it was served on caramelised onions and a slice of potato and topped with a lemony aioli that had been gratinated. Outstandingly yummy!


I decided to have two more tapas. While the mini-hamburger had been recommended to me, this felt a little faux-Spanish. Instead I settled upon the “Rollitos de morcilla de león y manzana” and the “Pimientos rellinos a Jarrette guisado y beshamel”.


I have absolutely no idea what was in the rellitos. There was definitely tomato paste on top which brought a really lovely sweetness to contrast with strong pepper flavour throughout the rest of the dish. “Manzana” means “apple”, but I couldn’t detect that flavour. I’m pretty sure there was rice mixed in as well. I expected the pimientos to be deep fried peppers filled with béchamel sauce. It was a deep fried mini red pepper but it was filled with cooked fish, I believe tuna, which had been mixed with a creamy sauce.

Four tapas doesn’t sound like much but it was all served on slices of thick bread so it was surprisingly filling. I can honestly say that I couldn’t choose a favourite from amongst the four dishes because they were all delicious. Orixe is definitely somewhere to go next time you’re in Madrid.

Meson de la Abuela

After a lovely morning spent wandering the streets of Granada savouring the delights of the winding little alleys I headed back to Calle Navas for lunch. I felt a pang of discomfort doing this because I felt that I should be exploring eateries in other parts of the city. However, it was close to where I ended up and quite frankly at that point I was so hungry that sustenance was more important than diversity of experience.

Still, I committed myself to dining at a different restaurant. A careful process of elimination led me to Meson de la Abuela. It had a good range of half racciones available, as well as free tapas with drinks. Unfortunately there were no tables available so I ended up eating tapas at the bar. There were no seats there either, but I felt that standing at the bar eating tapas was inkeeping with Spanish culture so wasn’t at all phased.

Despite my hunger I took a leisurely approach to my meal. Given that most attractions close for lunch until 4pm, spending the intervening hours eating drinking and reading seemed an excellent use of my time. I selected a glass of red wine, 2008 lorinon crianza, and was served an accompanying portion of paella and fresh bread. It was a surprisingly nice paella given that it was free. So good that I would have happily paid for it, especially given that it was even better than the paella I’d sampled in Madrid. While the tapa was small, it was enough to satiate my appetite to a certain extent. In no rush to leave I took the time to assess my appetite and decide whether I really needed more to eat.


Finally I realised that the answer was “yes”. I tried to order the pintillos, which I believe are baby squid. Unfortunately they weren’t available. Then I tried to order the prawns and found that they were unavailable as well. On the verge of finishing my wine and leaving to find somewhere else to eat I saw a waiter walk past with a full portion of the fritura de pescado, the seafood platter. Yes, it was all battered and deep fried, but it looked fantastic! I checked the menu and joyously I found I could order a half raccione. Thank goodness because this was the mountain of heaven that was presented to me.


The platter consisted of:
• Dog fish
• Whitebait
• Anchovies
• Prawns
• Calamari
• Pintillos

Ok it’s strange that I’d been unable to order pintillos or prawns as a meal yet here they were on my platter. However, this feast was so delicious that I am prepared to forgive this inconsistency that led to my first two orders being denied.

The prawns were small but full of flavour. It was almost like they had been shrunk through a process dehydration to increase the intensity of the taste. While the flavour of the anchovies was distinct and intense it was not overwhelming or excessively salty. Clearly they were fresh fillets. It was all so perfectly cooked to the right texture. Surprisingly, even though I am a huge fan of squid, it was the dog fish that was the star of the meal. I’d never previously experienced this form of seafood- it’s actually a form of shark- but would definitely order it again. It had this silky soft melt-in-your-mouth texture. Given the delicacy of the flesh. It had a surprising richness and almost sweet undertones. It was delicious! I could have eaten a whole plate of the dog fish alone!

It was way too much food for one person, particularly following on from my paella tapa. I didn’t care. I ate it all, and enjoyed every second of this culinary indulgence.

And then I went and spent an hour at the free outdoor gym I’d fortuitously discovered that morning.

Terra Mundi

Sometimes you just want no fuss traditional home cooking style meals when you’re on holiday. If this mood strikes while in Madrid, Terra Mundi is definitely an option worth considering. I went there twice during my stay in Madrid, mainly for convenience but also because I just couldn’t find anything else that felt quite right for the food mood I was in. Both times I took advantage of the daily menu, which offers excellent value for money and is guaranteed to leave you feeling full. The only disadvantage is that it is only available in Spanish, whereas an English version of the permanent menu is available. On both occasions I was encouraged by the sight of predominantly Spanish speakers frequenting Terra Mundi and people being were prepared to queue for a table. It’s also incredibly reassuring when other people order the same meal, especially when you know that they can fully understand the menu.

The first time I attended Terra Mundi, and after much deliberation and spying on other diners’ meals, I ordered:
• Berenjana de temporada rellena de ibérico al graten
• Codillo al estilo de lalìn con patatas y chorizo

The first course was half an aubergine stuffed with a creamy gratinated Iberian pork and served in a creamy tomato sauce. The aubergine was perfectly cooked so that the flesh was soft, juicy, and full of flavour. The pork added a lovely dimension to the dish as well. However, I wasn’t a fan of the sauce and actually felt it was unnecessary to the dish, so ended up pushing this aside.


Second course was pork knuckle served with potatoes and chorizo. The flesh of the pork knuckle was incredibly tender, literally falling away from the bone simply with the use of a fork. The flavour of the pork was surprisingly strong. The potatoes were perfectly cooked and benefited greatly from the addition of a small amount of olive oil and paprika dotted around the edge of the plate. The chorizo however had clearly been boiled and overcooked such that it left a slight bitter aftertaste at the back of the palate upon consumption. Despite this it was really good hearty food and I enjoyed it greatly.


It did admittedly look like an intimidatingly large portion of food, upon initial serving. However, when the skin, fat and bone were removed there remained a substantial, but not an unreasonable amount of meat for consumption. I’ve included a photo below to demonstrate how much was left at the end of the meal.


When I returned a couple of days later I made sure to order something different. As the daily menu does indeed change every day, this wasn’t too difficult. This time I opted for:
• Chapsui de credited con pollo de corral
• Carrillera de cerdo iberico con patatas y pimentos fritos

The first course turned out to be stewed, cabbage, onion, and red and green pepper with chunks of pan fried chicken breast on top. I was very grateful to be able to get a good dose of vegetables into my diet, such a challenge when travelling. The fact that the dish was very well seasoned so that each of the vegetables was distinguishable, was definitely a bonus. I couldn’t find an english translation for “chapsui” and am left wondering whether this was a Spanish interpretation of chop suey. Not that it tasted Asian in any way.


Second course was chunks of iberian pork cheek slathered in a delicious sweet yet unidentifiable sauce, accompanied by fried small green chillies and (oddly) chips. Once again it was a large portion of beautifully cooked tender and juicy meat. Just delicious! I was quite excited by the fried peppers. I’d seen others eating them elsewhere and had been intrigued. Unfortunately they were slightly too bitter for my palate, although when combined withe the sweet sauce I found I was able to enjoy them more. I should have pushed the chips aside given my current health-conscious phase. However they were just so golden and perfectly cooked that it would have been criminal to have allowed them to go to waste.


Mercado San Miguel

I do a lot of self-catering when I’m travelling because it’s cheaper and healthier. I’m not talking about elaborate meals, just picnic-style eating. It does result in fewer opportunities to try local cuisine each trip, but on the other hand it also means I can afford more holidays, and therefore a greater variety of culinary experiences. Hey, it works for me.

In this vein, one of my first stops when is arrived in Madrid was Mercado de San Miguel, having read that it was a great place to pick up fresh produce. This is the disadvantage of using a five year old guide book. Things change, although in this case it was definitely an improvement. The market has evolved into an array of stalls offering tapas to eat there are take away, with only some vendors continuing to offer elements of traditional market sales. It’s even possible to buy wine by a bottle or glass to accompany your meal.


Mercado San Miguel is an indoor market set up with large standing-height tables (although some chairs are available) to allow diners to eat in relative comfort and minimise food spillage. I arrived at lunchtime and it was absolute chaos. I was absolutely overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. So much wonderful food. Clearly this was a place to eat in Madrid.

However, I was there with a purpose in mind and kept to it, although I was sorely tempted to stray into eating my way through the entire market. I picked up some gorgeous gourre noire goats cheese, a beautiful crusty loaf of bread from Horno San Onofre, delicious but pricey Iberian ham from Mas and some fruit. Unfortunately, it’s not permitted to choose you own fruit in Spain so I found out my peaches were under-ripe when I tried them the next morning.

This experience led me to the conclusion that Mercado de San Miguel is more of a place to eat than shop. I soon returned for a lunchtime feast. It was difficult to know where to start and for a while I just wandered around taking in all that was on offer. Eventually I settled at El Pescado Original this was bar style eating with an array of exotic fish and seafood tapas on display. Although tempted by a slice of tuna-filled potato and spinach tortilla, I decided to try an interesting looking scallop dish. This turned out to be a creamy mixture of cooked mushrooms and scallop that had been topped with breadcrumbs and lightly grilled. It was all so decadent I forgot to take photos!

My next port of call was Va Alacena del Victor Montes. It was a tiny little cart-like store selling varieties of freshly cooked croquettes. I decided to be quite traditional and opted for one of the cheese and one of the chorizo croquettes. They were sublime! Golden crunchy exterior followed my a smooth rich flavoursome filling. Just yummy!

Next I headed to Paella y Olé for, surprise surprise, paella. Diners can choose from a tapas portion or a racionnes sized serving. It usually has three paellas one offer, but one had sold out. Left with choice between meat and mixed seafood paella i opted for the latter, particularly because it had just finished being prepared. Naturally I asked for a tapas-sized serving and at £3.50 this was an absolute bargain as it was a sufficient amount of food to have been a meal in and of itself. It was also delicious. The rice was strongly flavoured with fish stock and bright yellow from the use of saffron. The paella was peppered with mussels, fish and mange tout. More of these ingredients would have been nice but at that price scantness was to be expected.

By this point I was full, which was a shame because there were so many other options I wanted to try. However my taste buds demanded a little piece of chocolate just to finish off the meal. I returned to Horno San Onofre and, spoiled for choice, I eventually elected to try the caracas de chocolate. I can only describe this as a wafer of dark chocolate with crunchy bits throughout it. Whatever. It was delicious, which is the most important thing.

With so many options left to try I couldn’t help but return for another sitting. This time I started at La Casa del Bacalao, which offered an array of seafood tapas on medium sized melba toasts. With my love of octopus I couldn’t help but start with a Pulpo. My other choice was Foie Gras de Bacalao.


The Pulpo was good but it was the Foie Gras de Bacalao that was the star. It had the same silken texture of foie gras de canard but of course it tasted like fish. Although this description doesn’t do the tapas justice, the flavour was deep, rich, and unlike any fish dish I’d eaten before. It was so good I had to have another. This time I selected a marinated bacalao in olive oil and dill. I also grabbed another cheeky cheese croquette from Va Alacena del Victor Montes.


The foie gras was just as good the second time around (unlike the croquette which was unfortunately slightly cold), and it provided a really interesting contrast to the marinated bacalao. Where the former had such a strong taste, the flavour of the latter was very subtle, with the olive oil and dill gently enhancing and complimenting the flesh perfectly.

Lastly, I went to El Yantar de Ayer, which I had been salivating over since the first time I came to Mercado San Miguel. The pictures below explain why.



With such magnificent combinations of antipasti on offer making a selection was incredibly difficult. However, I finally settled on a small olive with ham and cheese, and a skewer of olives, peppers, octopus, and pickled onion. Both were delicious!


So if you’re looking for basic food ingredients, head down to Mercado de la Cerbado just down from La Latina station. If you want an amazing and affordable tapas experience, then Mercado San Miguel is the place to go.

El Neru

My first day in Madrid and I had no idea where to eat. Usually I turn to my Lonely Planet guide for recommendations when I’m on holiday. However, my version is seven years old and had just let me down by leading me to a place that had several multi-lingual translations and a very limited and overpriced menu. Call me judgemental, but it just felt a little too touristy to be certain of its quality.

On my meanderings earlier in the day I had noticed a little place that had a very interesting surprisingly large mound of blue and white spread in the bar. Intrigued, and having no other options immediately striking me, I decided to give it a try. The venue was El Ñeru. By the time I arrived the tapas bar was full. Pushing my way through as politely as possible I reached the entrance to the restaurant area and, through my sheer inability to speak Spanish, I believe, I managed to secure a table. There were only two other people in the restaurant at the time, which had me a little worried, but within half an hour every table was filled. I believe I was the only non-Spanish speaker eating there.

El Ñeru is clearly a longstanding family run style restaurant. The walls are covered with photos of people eating there and what space for decor remains looks like something straight out of the 1960s, appalling murals included. As could perhaps be expected, this was in no way a reflection on the quality of the food.

Every table was set with a large bread roll and a portion of the spread I’d noticed earlier in the day. This turned out to be some form of blue cheese and it was heavenly. Not for the only time this trip I regretted my lack of Spanish, which prevented me from ascertaining exactly which cheese I was eating, and where I could by some myself!


The menu fortunately had an English translation alongside the Spanish explanation. While I was tempted by the calamares, I decided to order from the specialties section. I wasn’t quite brave enough to partake of any of the tripe dishes and instead settled upon the “Fabado Asturiana”. The English translation of “pork with beans” was in no way representative of the deliciousness of this meal. I was quickly presented with three forms of pork – chorizo, belly, and morcello – served on a bed of cannelini bean stew.


The beans were so swollen and tender that I initially thought they were butter beans. The flavour was fantastic as it had been heavily seasoned with paprika. The sauce of the stew was more like a broth and I certainly treated it as such, scooping it up with a spoon so that none of the sumptuous liquid went to waste.

The pork belly was also incredibly tender. Clearly all three meats had been cooked in the stew. The only unfortunate aspect of this was that it meant that the chorizo had lost some of its intensity of flavour. I was utterly intrigued by the morcello, having never before tried any form of blood sausage. I have to say, expanding my culinary experiences in this manner made me feel like I hadn’t completely wimped out by turning down the tripe. The morcello had an unusual, but not unpleasant texture and the flavour was reminiscent of a generic meaty taste. I wouldn’t be adverse to eating it again, but I am certainly not about to become a blood sausage fiend with black pudding a staple of my rare full English breakfasts.

It was also pleasing to see that most diners had ordered the same dish, or a clam version of it. While I enjoyed the meal immensely in and of itself, This made me feel that I had ordered well and eaten like a local. El Ñeru was definitely an excellent place to eat.

Eating in Amsterdam

Long weekend in Amsterdam. A very much needed break. Leading up to it everyone around me talked of how beautiful it is. Nobody talked about how great the food is. Having already been to Amsterdam several times, I didn’t have great hopes or expectations. Fortunately there were moments where I was pleasantly surprised.

Day one brunch (well borderline lunch) actually wasn’t bad. We’d gone wandering in search of a pancake house my boyfriend has apparently consistently managed to stumble upon ever time he’s been here. Instead we stumbled on Dwaze Zaken, Boer’n Breakfast. There was a good range if options. Nothing fancy, just good solid choices. We were there long enough to see the lunch menu as well, which looked to have a great range of sandwiches. I actually wished I’d waited a little longer and ordered from this menu.

My boyfriend chose the farmers omelette and I opted for the French breakfast. I’m not really an egg eater, so eating out for breakfast tends to be tricky. When our meal was served I was left wishing I ate eggs. The omelette was filled with big chunks of ham, lots of sliced mushrooms and of course cheese, and it was served on a thick wedge of fresh, crusty artesian style bread with a small but refreshing looking side salad. My French breakfast consisted of artesian bread, nut bread, a croissant, cheese, butter and blackberry marmalade. Now I am of the opinion that it is impossible to obtain a proper croissant outside of france and this breakfast did nothing to change my position on this subject (having said this, I’m dying to try and make these myself). However, the nut bread was divine! There was a mix of pistachios, walnuts and sultanas, with a hint of cinnamon. Definitely one of the culinary highlights of the trip.

Having eaten breakfast so late we skipped lunch, but shared a hot dog snack from one of the little vans that can be found dotted around the streets. I mention this more because it was an interesting experience, not because of the quality of the food per se. Having said that, it was a good hot dog. There were a range of condiments available on the exterior of the stall. We started with sauces and despite dating a Chicagoan, I was allowed to add ketchup alongside the mustard. Apparently it’s ok as long as your not in Chicago. We moved on to the relishes and found that it was so cold that all of them were frozen! I knew that coming to Amsterdam in winter was a little odd but this showed me just what a ridiculous situation we were in.

When we’d arrived we’d spotted a place called “Cau”, which looked to be a Gaucho rip-off. It was close to the hotel, and therefore required us to spend minimal time in the freezing cold getting there so we decided to give it a try. We went for out traditional Gaucho order: 300gm rib-eye cooked medium with triple cooked chunky chips and bernaise sauce. Even if certain expectations hadn’t been in my mind because of the intentional associations, I would gave been disappointed. The steak was well cooked and pleasant, but lack the robustness of flavour of a good Argentinian steak. The same could be said of the bernaise sauce. The chips were the real low point. Triple cooked to me means a really crispy exterior and light, fluffy interior. These weren’t. There was hardly any crunch to them at all. I suspect the third cooking happened when they were reheated having been cooked earlier that day.

I do actually have a basis for suggesting this. While eating our dessert – we shared a chocolate cake which was nice an moist without being excessively rich – I watched one of the chefs prepare the pancake desserts for another table. He pulled out a stack of what had to be at least 40 pre-made pancakes and reheated the quantity he needed at that point. he proceeded to fill them with dulce de leche…spooned directly from a store bought jar. He then surrounded them with the worst constructed quenelles of cream I have ever seen in a restaurant, then tried to do the same with the pre-fab dulce de leche, but just ended up dolloping it on the plate instead. There must have been an increasingly intense look of horror on my face because we left rather quickly after this.

Yes I sound like a complete snob and if this had happened in one of the other dodgy looking Argentinian grills that populate Amsterdam in abundance I wouldn’t have been at all disturbed. But seriously, if you’re going to rip off Gaucho at least try to hit the same standards!

Day two we ended up at B&B Lunchroom, a sandwich bar chain, for brunch. We’d popped into another for coffee the previous day and had liked the look of the menu. They take an individual smorgasbord approach to breakfast serving croissant and mini rolls with different plates of fillings. They looked incredibly appealing but after my croissant the day before I suspected this element would ruin the meal for me. Instead I had a smoked chicken, avocado, bacon and tomato sandwich with cheese. It was served in a delicious brown bread roll which made me once again yearn for the UK to get to grips with the concept of good bread. I suspect I’ll be experimenting in that field again in the near future.

Hot dog snack (with frozen condiments, naturally) saw us through to dinner again. We ended up eating in the restaurant because quite frankly it was just too cold to go exploring for somewhere to eat. There are several restaurants within the Hotel Krasnapolsky. We elected to eat at Restaurant Reflet. Despite my concerns about all the bad food I’d been eating we somehow agreed to try the 10 course tasting menu with accompanying wine. The meal was as follows:
• soufflé with black truffle, and pecorino
• smoked salmon salad with rocket, yellow beets and horseradish dressing
• potato soup with black truffles
• tuna tartare in a toasted sourdough bread basket topped with a fried quails egg with fried capers and anchovy sauce
• pan fried scallop on cauliflower purée with lobster foam
• pan fried sweetbread with roasted seasonal vegetables
• halibut on risotto
• cheese selection
• trio of coffee desserts
• trio of chocolate desserts

This is clearly a restaurant with Michelin star aspirations. But it’s not quite there yet. It was strange to be served a menu with no meat course, something I think definitely needs to be reconsidered. Certain aspects were under-seasoned. In particular the tuna tartare was bland and totally overwhelmed by the other flavours on the plate, although these were delicious, particularly the fried capers. And while I love black truffle, it didn’t quite work with the potato soup, although as separate elements both were incredibly enjoyable. Also, two trios of desserts was too much. However I really liked the sweetbread, particularly the way the vegetables had maintained their crunchiness, creating a lovely contrast in texture. The halibut and risotto were both well cooked with the rice maintaining just a touch of firmness. However the star of the show was the scallop. I would have married that dish! Beautifully presented, flavours harmonious and all elements combined in just the right amount. Stunning!

Day 3 and we finally achieved our pancake breakfast! A quick search of the internet identified Pancakes! as the nominated number one pancake house in Amsterdam. It’s very small and there was a queue when we arrived. Fortunately we were only required to wait about 15 minutes to be seated. The menu has a diverse range of toppings/fillings. There’s also different styles of pancake, so whether you prefer that flat European pancake or voluminous American form, you’re going to be happy. It was a difficult decision, but in the end I opted for the smoked salmon with creme fraiche, guacamole and pine nuts. The goats cheese with spinach was another strong contender and when I saw this arrive on the neighbouring table I almost regretted my decision. Fortunately, my pancake looked equally appetising and tasted delicious. I was surprised that it was served flat like a pizza base rather than rolled around the filling. This might have been because in some cases the pancakes were cooked omelette-style, with some of the fillings cooked into the batter. As well as pine nuts there were other mixed seeds sprinkled on top. I was really pleased with the amount of topping. Lots of chunks of smoked salmon and big dollops of guacamole and creme fraiche. The meal ended on a strange note though. We were served a small glass of lemon schnapps with our bill. I completely appreciate that this was the Dutch version of the limoncello digestif, but at one o’clock in the afternoon this felt a little aggressive. Still, it was a great meal and I would definitely recommend Pancakes!, especially given that it was the only one I could find that opened before 12pm.