Stinky tofu in Changsha

Posted in Changsha, China, Hunan with tags , on March 10, 2014 by gannet39

20130831_141556Changsha is the capital city of Hunan, a province famous for its fiery food.

According to Wikipedia,  it differs from neighbouring Sichuan province in “its liberal use of chilli, shallots and garlic, Hunan cuisine is known for being dry hot (干辣) or purely hot, as opposed to Sichuan cuisine, [which is] known for its distinctive mala (hot and numbing) seasoning and other complex flavour combinations, [and] frequently employs Sichuan peppercorns along with chilies which are often dried, and utilises more dried or preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan cuisine, on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients, and tends to be oilier. Another characteristic is that, in general, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes much more frequently”.

I had just two days here and only managed to get downtown on one occasion.

20130831_201123The main entertainment district seems to be on the eastern bank of the Xiangjiang river, south of Juzizhou bridge and around its continuation Wuyi Avenue. The area has lots of glitzy shopping centres, branded shops, night clubs and eateries of all kinds which attract all ages but especially the young.

20130831_200436A lot of street hawkers were selling this strange vegetable. Can anyone tell me what it is?

20130831_200956Next to the river is the Xiangjiang Scenic Belt, a riverside walk where people go to listen or take part in outdoor karaoke. I enjoyed wandering around here just people watching.

As a lone, non-Mandarin speaking traveller, it’s a challenge for me to get to try traditional dishes wherever I go. I managed it in Changsha though, by doing the following:

I went to this Wikipedia webpage and took a photo of the ‘list of notable dishes’ from Hunan with their English/Chinese translations. In the restaurant I just zoomed in on the dishes I fancied eating and showed them the Chinese translation.The waiting staff were ever so relieved they didn’t have to communicate with me verbally (the source of surliness in some places?) and I got quite good service. The other diners that I was sharing my circular table with were gobsmacked at what I managed to get and I got several smiles as a result.  Ah, the wonders of technology.

20130831_193150On one occasion I had Changsha-style stinky tofu or Chángshā chòu dòufǔ or 長沙臭豆腐长沙臭豆腐 This dish is prepared by soaking the tofu in a brine and fermenting it for a number of months. Different styles take different colours but the Changsha version is coal black. It’s said that the more the tofu smells the better it tastes but the stuff I had didn’t have a strong odour and tasted fine (B+). It came with a spicy sauce but wasn’t too hot.

20130831_193810I also had another famous local dish; shredded pork with vegetables or nóngjiā xiǎo chǎoròu or 農家小炒肉农家小炒肉 (sorry about the blurry picture). Again a bit of spice but not too much. I loved the whole cloves of garlic though (B+).

I’m so sorry but I don’t recall the name of the restaurant I went to, and have lost my notes, but there are a few specialising in Hunanese food  on Tripadvisor you could try.

20130831_194435I was staying at the Grand Sun City Hotel (Block 3, 269 Furong Middle Road). I received good service here from most of the staff, though not many of them spoke English. In terms of facilities, they have a large triangular pool and a basic gym with a couple of fair-sized running machines. The breakfast is ok but limited for Westerners as is usually the case. The fried rice, pak choi and cold Harbin beer that I had in their Chinese restaurant was fine (B+). Go early though as you may be the only customer and they will want to close as soon as  your done.

There’s not much in the way of things to do in or near the hotel but, if listening to the usual piano recital in the lobby isn’t your thing, it’s only a short taxi ride to the downtown entertainments district. Just ask the receptionist to write the address for the cab driver, and grab a hotel business card so you can get back again.

Xiangyang Style

Posted in China, Hubei, Xiangyang with tags , on March 5, 2014 by gannet39

Xiangyang is a small city in Hubei of only half a million people, about 2.5 hours on the train from Wuhan. Foreigners are relatively rare here so you can expect to get stared at a fair amount but the flipside is that people will be quite friendly and well disposed towards you, unlike larger cities where you are less special. I had just two nights here so there is not that much I can tell you about the place. 

20130829_125051Xiangyang is also known for its old city walls although reviews on Trip Advisor say they are a modern reproduction. I didn’t have time to go see them but it may be possible to get to them on foot from the hotel in about 30 minutes. As you can see on this Google map, the fortress is just south of the Hanshui river, though I’m not sure whether either of the two bridges have pedestrian access. A taxi would be pennies probably.

I was put up at the Celebrity Hotel (Te No.1 Paopu St, People Square, Tel. (710) 348 8888), a rather old and dingy hotel that I doubt has ever seen a sleb. The rooms are a fair size but the carpets are pretty grotty and the TV didn’t work in my room. On the other hand I could access my email for the first time since arriving in the country.

The breakfast is probably fine if you’re Chinese but other than a couple of boxes of All Bran, some cheap white sliced bread with jam, melon and a greasy omelette there was nothing tailored for the Western palate. I went native for the duration and had the beef noodle soup each morning which was pretty tasty. Noodles are a bit risky for the work shirt though , it’s best to get your face right down to the bowl as the locals do to avoid splashes.

There is a rudimentary gym with some flimsy looking machines and a pool full of noisy kids, both of which I avoided. The staff were unimpressive except for Felix the assistant manager who was very helpful and spoke a bit of English, unlike any of his colleagues. The check out receptionist struck me as being a racist though as she didn’t even look at me or say thanks. An experience you occasionally get sometimes as a Westerner in China unfortunately. I just ignored her back.

So why stay here when you could be at the Crown Plaza uptown? In my case it was because my place of work for the two days I was here, the Happy Castle Disney Magic English Language Training Centre (!), was just five minute’s walk around the corner.

20130829_121937I couldn’t find any data about local restaurants on the net, or anywhere else, and the one time I did go out there was no picture menu to be had. Instead I just ate a big lunch and had the hotel’s complimentary fruit in the evenings. The school took me to a place down the side street over the road from the school (the restaurant is on the right in a small square/car park) where, rather than reading a menu, you pointed out what you wanted to eat from a series of cards hanging on the wall, although without help from the teacher I was with, I wouldn’t have known what most of it was.

20130829_121931On the first day we had some steamed pak choi in garlic (B+), thin slices of stir fried silk tofu with chilli in a tasty sauce (A) and a mixed plate of lean and fatty pork with yet more chilli (A+). It was so good I couldn’t stop eating it but the hot spice combined with the humid weather meant I was dripping with perspiration by the time I left. The next day I went for the much blander stir-fried lettuce (!) with garlic (C+) and some cold roasted duck (C) which were much less appetising.

20130829_204529For some entertainment in the evening I went to see what was happening in the People’s Square (turn left out of the hotel and go straight, over the crossroads, and you’ll see it on the left after a couple of minutes). Half of Xiangyang seems to be here letting their hair down in the cool evening air.

20130829_204540There’s a stage where the local kids can get a taste of stardom singing solos or dancing in troupes (love these kids in wigs and green outfits!) in front of an appreciative audience. There are several other competing sound systems where groups of middle aged women perform ballroom dancing moves together while the men stand around and watch. My favourites were the troupe of all ages doing the chachacha to Mercy by Duffy. The younger generation seem to prefer dancing to a frenetic form of electronic dance music (EDM) that’s all the rage in China, Korea and South East Asia generally. The dance style for this seems to basically be shuffling at high speed, as demonstrated by a couple of youngsters in the square.

Behind the square there are the back streets lined with street kitchens offering piles of greasy looking bird carcasses, pig trotters and hearts and quite a few other things I couldn’t work out. I have given these kinds of places a try in the past (for noodle  soups) but the lack of hygiene standards means that I can’t risk getting sick and jeopardising my job.

Xiangyang is not a pretty place from what I saw but it was friendly enough and I enjoyed working there for a couple of days.

Weary in Wuhan

Posted in China, Hubei, Wuhan with tags , , on February 28, 2014 by gannet39

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei prefecture in central eastern China. With a population of 10 million it is the biggest city in central China. During my brief stay, there was little that distinguished it for me from other Chinese cities except maybe the air pollution seemed even murkier than usual.

I stayed for three days, most of which were taken up with work or sleep as I recovered from the long journey, via Manchester, Amsterdam and Beijing. Thankfully my luxurious super modern room at the Hotel Marco Polo (Times Square, 159 Yanjiang Avenue) was an air conditioned haven from the heat (33C at the end of August) and pollution outside. I could lie in my bath on the corner of the 15th floor and gaze out over the river and other tall buildings sitting ghostlike in the soupy air. The view should have been much better but visibility was down to just a few hundred metres at times.

The hotel has a very well equipped gym and also a pool but the latter was closed for renovation when I was there so I can’t comment on it. Every staff member I met was really helpful and friendly. My only gripe was that I couldn’t access my BT Yahoo email account. I was prepared for having my WordPress blog and Facebook blocked by the Great Firewall of China but losing email as well was a new one on me. Whether Wi-Fi or cable, in the room or in the lobby, the internet was really slow and eventually I just gave up on it. Unusually though, the hotel did have both BBC and CNN on the TV, both of which are often blocked in other hotels where Westerners don’t usually stay.

20000101_141621The hotel breakfast is pretty comprehensive, catering for both Western and Chinese tastes. A typical Hubei breakfast food that I tried here was Hot & Dry Noodles, the spice coming from the dried chillies and the dryness from the sesame paste which the noodles are tossed in. There was a diced vegetable in the mix but I couldn’t work out what it was. It was edible enough but I can’t say I was wild about it (C+).

20000101_141626I also tried Doupi which is sometimes described as a kind of pizza. In fact it’s two large sheets of beancurd sandwiching a filling of rice and perhaps other ingredients like beef, shrimp or mushroom, although they just had the plain version at the hotel.

I did eat in the rather boring hotel restaurant one night as I was too tired to go out. The food was fine (A) but expensive. I paid double what I would elsewhere for three small beers, a plate of fried rice and some steamed pak choi. On another night I decided to get out and about, so I went to this place recommended by the Eyewitness guide for China.

Yanyangtian (aka Sunny Sky), (Advanced B+), Jiefang Dadao, Baofeng Lukou, Tel 027 8375 0706.

This place is a fifteen minute cab ride from the hotel but as taxis are really cheap it only costs about £2 to get there. There are two floors, a large, noisy and plainly decorated main room at ground level and a more intimate and nicely decorated smaller room upstairs. As is often the case, the staff were pretty shocked to see a Westerner but they were friendly enough. I was armed with my food flashcards (see my post on Getting Fed in China) and dictionary app so communications went fairly smoothly.

20130825_201104On the advice of the guide I tried Nongjia Xiaochaoru which was described as a spicy pork dish but was actually okra tossed in chillies and tiny chunks of cubed pork and some other ‘stuff’, all good (A) .

20130825_202613Usually, alongside my main fish or meat dish, I have a plate of stir fried green leafy veg of some description so I just pointed at something green on the picture menu without knowing what it actually was. In the end it turned out to be green peppers with larger slices of fatty pork sitting on chunks of a hard rice cake, which was fine (B) but resulted in a bit of an overkill on both the veg and meat fronts!

20130825_200353Both dishes were good but the portions were huge (meant to be shared by a group) so I couldn’t finish them. However, even with two 500ml Snow beers and a big bowl of steamed rice, the bill was much cheaper than the hotel even though this was quite a posh restaurant.

The Eyewitness guide mentions a few other restaurants which I list below, even though I haven’t been to them. It’s best to have reception call them first to make sure you can get in and also write the address for the taxi driver. Take the phone number so the driver can call if he’s not sure where to go.

Changchunguan Sucaigan (269 Wuchang, Tel 027 885 4229) is a vegetarian restaurant next to a Daoist temple, the decor of which it mimics. The guide suggests you try Lazi Tianluo, apparently a veggie version of river snails, or Xiaopinpan which is a sample platter of their most popular dishes.

Fang Fang Caiguan (1 Jiqing Jie. Tel 027 8281 0954) is the oldest and largest restaurant in town. Apparently you can pay to be serenaded with pop hits or trad classics which for me makes it sound like a place to avoid, but others might like that kind of thing. The Ya Bozi (duck’s neck) and caiyu lianou (fish and lotus root) are supposed to be good.

Mr Xie Restaurant & Pub (558 Jiefang Dadao, Baofeng Lukou, Tel 027 8577 7288) is a busy expat hangout which lots of locals also go to too. The steamed Wuchang Fish (Qingzheng Wuchang Yu) is recommended.

I wanted to go to Xie’s most of all but the taxi driver told me it was shut so I went to Sunny Sky instead.  I don’t know whether the closure is just temporary or permanent.

Other than this I can’t say much about Wuhan. Important historical events have taken place here (various uprisings and battles) but there is not much to see as far as I can make out. There are a few old buildings with some nice architecture along Yanjiang Avenue. If you turn left out of the hotel and walk straight you will soon come to the former Bank of Indochina building on your left which looks quite nice. There are a few bars next to it that look good but I didn’t have the time or energy to check them out.

Catching the train in China is much like catching a plane, complete with trolley pushing stewardesses and meals in trays that you can purchase on request. The stations in major cities are huge terminals where thousands of people sit waiting to be released onto the platforms. Rather than buy the tickets at the station (involving long queues and ticket sellers that don’t speak English) you should buy them, at least a day in advance, via the hotel concierge. Travelling first class guarantees you a seat but don’t hang about because all the seats in both classes usually sell out very quickly.

It’s also a good idea to aim to arrive at the station 45 minutes early as taxis can be scarce at peak times and traffic jams can seriously delay you (see my Ningbo post for the nightmare I experienced on my last trip). The hotel told me it takes about 20 minutes to drive to the station but they didn’t say that it can take nearly as long again for the bell boys to get you a vehicle. I eventually went out on the street and got one myself after only a couple of minutes but perhaps I was lucky.

Once at the station you need to factor in a bit of a walk due to the size of the building. Tickets and signs are all in Mandarin so you only have the numbers of your train, carriage and seat printed on your ticket to help you. There are usually two entrances down to either end of the platform which are numbered according to the carriages that are at the front or back of the train.

Thankfully after a traffic jam scare, I made it with about 20 minutes to spare. Next stop Xiangyang.

Bilbao – Plaza Nueva

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by gannet39

Placa NuevaPlaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos (basque tapas) in Bilbao.

Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and more.

Click on the pics to get a better view. See this post for other places in Bilbao.

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

This is my favourite. It doesn’t look as venerable as the others I mention below, but that’s because they are taking a different, more modern approach to pintxos. International, particularly Japanese influences are very apparent. 20130621_212912

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! 20130621_224655

Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction. Standard. 20130621_214741

The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but probably more hype than substance. It sounds good though. 20130621_221513

Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again. 20130621_214431

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. I tried to source it in the UK but their supplier didn’t reply to my emails.

Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil’ who lives in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which made his wine taste even better! I try to buy a bottle to take home every time I go to Spain now. 20130621_220704

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

20130621_232438…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B) but I have yet to be fully won over to this wine. 20130621_232344

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 maize (Peruvian choclo?). The bar won a prize for this tapa in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I’d probably try other stuff over it next time. 20130621_234116

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. 20130621_234212

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!

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

Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes. 20130621_203703

I had Makailua Pilpilean, aka in Spanish, ‘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’. 20130621_204402

Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A). 20130621_205843

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

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

This local institution (since 1931) is for me the most beautiful cafe in town. I’ve only put my head in for a coffee (A) but the pintxos on the bar top looked very enticing. There’s also a sit down dining area where you can have a full meal. Montes Deli

They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte, on the next side of the square (at # 14 Plaza Nueva on the west side, near Gure Toki) which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.

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

Madrid – Huertas tapas crawl

Posted in Spain on February 24, 2014 by gannet39

Huertas (also known as Barrio de las Letras)  is a very popular area for going out at night with lots of tapas bars lining the main pedestrian street Calle de las Huertas and the side streets off it.

Personally I like to start on Calle de Jesus at the bottom of the hill and head up Huertas to Plaza Santa Ana, which is another great spot for pintxos.

Click on the photos for the best view.

Los Gatos

Los Gatos (Intermediate A), 2 Calle de Jesus Los Gatos barMadrilènes are known “los gatos” or the cats because they like to stay out so late.

Despite being accused of being a tourist trap, with prices to match, this is my favourite tapas bar on this strip, just for the bizarre decoration which covers every inch of the ceilings and walls.

Los Gatos back roomI love the eccentricity of having bull fighting paraphernalia mixed with classical and pop art treasures and spend all my time in here just gazing at it all. canpes

The tapas are top quality too, which makes it a good place to start a night on tiles.

La Fabrica (Intermediate B+), 2 Calle de Jesus (next door to Los Gatos) www.cervezaslafabrica.com 20130612_201622

Loved the Roquefort canapé (although the waitress told me it was Cabrales) with a salted anchovy (B+) Also, Bacala over tomato pulp and topped with a mild chilli (B). 20130612_202315

With two creamy cervezas this came to €5, which isn’t too bad at all. Cheaper than their more famous neighbours I think, but that’s just an impression. 20130617_204603

El Diario (Intermediate A), Calle de Jesus (no number but a couple of doors down from the above, on the corner with Calle Cervantes).20130616_222606

This Andalucian place is my second favourite, due to the friendliness of the staff (unlike others along this strip) and the quality of the food. 20130616_215552

Their Calamares a la Andaluza are very good, especially with their sublime honey alioli, although I wish they’d remove the beaks as they can be a bit off putting (A-). 20130616_215525

And, in summer, this tuna salad was also one of the best I’ve ever tasted (A). Taberna la Dolores

Los Dolores (Intermediate A), 4 Placa Jesus (just along the street from Los Gatos above).

This is a classic 1920’s place with a beautiful tiled exterior and an atmospheric old wood bar inside. great boqueronesThe tapas are very good but quite traditional and a bit expensive. Casa Alberto

Casa Alberto (Advanced B), 18 Calle Huertas, www.casaalberto.es

This is another beautiful old place with a classic zinc bar.

Days gone byYou can have tapas in the busy bar or sit down in the restaurant at the back.

Service is brusque because they’re busy but efficient when it eventually comes. 20130618_210330

Vermout Grigio (B+), from the tap, is €2 a glass here. 20130618_205806

With that I got a complimentary plate of pork scratchings (B+).

With a second vermouth, I had a canapé with Solomillo Iberico con Cebolla Caramelizada al PX y Queso de Cabra for €4.75, which was heaven on bread (A).

Restaurants: 20130617_204934

Los Chanquetes (Intermediate B), 2 Calle de Moratin, Tel. 91 4290245, www.tabernaloschanquetes.es

A bullfighting themed place which I was tipped off about by a colleague who recommended coming here for the Rabo de Toro. It was good (B+) but I’ve had better.

I tried a bottle of local Vinos de Madrid red, a Tagonius Roble (B+) For dessert Queso con Membrillo, manchego with quince, always finds favour with me (B+). 20130617_215202

Especially with a glass of sweet Moscatel. This one was called Lagrimas del Jabalon (B+).

I incurred a reasonable bill of €26.70. It was ok but there are other better places to go to.

Tierra Mundi (Elementary C), 32 Calle Lope de Vega. Tel. 914 295 280

If you’re on a budget I can’t fault this pseudo-Galician place but if you want good quality food, I’d go elsewhere. It’s marked as inexpensive in the Eyewitness Guide so I tried it in the interests of research. In the spirit of eating cheaply I went for the Menu Nocturna for €10.50

I had a mixed salad with tuna to start which is hard to get wrong although obviously the tuna was not the best (B). 20130612_205910

For my main, an only slightly chewy but quite oily veal steak (C+), with a sometimes soggy, sometimes slightly raw portion of patatas fritas (C+) on the same plate.

After tasting a glass of the undrinkable (D) house red (a very young Riveira Sacra) I thought I’d upgrade to the only half bottle of Rioja (Alta Rio) on the wine list which was marginally better but unfinishable (C+).Beware half bottles is the lesson.

20130612_213821Finally, a slice of apple pie which was mainly dough with a sniff of apple (C-). I opted out of the cream but it might taste better if you had some.

Even my most beloved Spanish digestif Orujo des Hierbas was the most sub-standard version I’ve ever had (C+).

The decor is brash and modern and the service is just ok. I was lucky to get an English speaker although I had to correct her understanding of ‘ternera’ (veal not venison).

There are lots of other much better places nearby but come here by all means if cutting costs is important to you. The empanadas and octopus are good according to Eyewitness.

Total cost €25.10, which is hard to beat in expensive Madrid.

Madrid – Puerta del Sol

Posted in Madrid, Puerta del Sol, Spain with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2014 by gannet39

Puerta del Sol on Calle Mayor is the geopgraphic centre of Spain, the reason why the capital is located where it is. 

The eastern gate of the city used to be here, hence ‘Gate of the Sun’.

Spaniards come here on New Year’s eve to eat 12 grapes as the square’s clock chimes 12 times, a custom that is broadcast live on TV to the rest of Spain.

Casa Labra (Elementary A+) 12 C/Tetuan (behind El Corte Ingles at Puerta del Sol), Metro Sol

This is another local institution steeped in history. They opened in 1860 and the Spanish Socialist Party was founded here in 1879 .

They have a good range of tapas but they’re particularly famous for their salt cod croquetas.

It’s always very busy so the service can be a bit gruff, but not always.

There’s plenty of room to stand on the street outside while you’re waiting to snag a table.

El Patio (Bar B+) 1 Calle Arlaban, Tel. 91 531 22 81, Metro Sevilla

Another lovely tiled bar on a bullfighting theme, specialising in Cocina Andaluza. F

I first came here at the start of a pleasant evening with my friend Ethel and her husband Nick, a former editor for Time Out Madrid who recommended it.

Excellent tapas and draught vermouth on tap. A good place for a pre-dinner aperitif if you’re heading to this place directly opposite:

La Finca de Susana (Intermediate C), 4 Calle Arlaban, Tel. 91 429 7678 (reservations recommended), Metro Sevilla

On the same night out with Ethel and Nick a few years ago I remember this place being relatively ok so was pleasantly surprised to rediscover it through a teacher’s recommendation.

It’s part of a chain, originally from Barcelona I think, staffed and presumably owned by Phillipinos.

It’s an interesting concept: give people the pretense they are eating in an opulent restaurant (modern decor, Corinthian columns, potted palms, waiters all in black) and feed them incredibly cheap food, cooked really badly, and with terrible service. It obviously works because they are always rammed!

I’m sure you can find okish things on the menu but my semi-adventurous choices turned out to be pretty poor.

The Canalones a la Madrileno (€6.50) were ok (C+) after a bit of salt but swimming in cheese.

On the other hand, the Olla Arroz Marniera (€6.45) was just brackish rice with a couple of overcooked prawns and a solitary langoustine on top (D/C).

I had coveted my neighbours Arroz Negro but didn’t want to copy them, and unlike me they finished theirs with gusto.

The pud, Torrijas Concha (€3.41), was soggy French toast with a scoop of vanilla, edible (C) but not something I’d like to repeat.

Again my neighbour’s choices looked far more attractive, although their coffees looked horrible.

All the dishes were pushed on to the edge of the table with a mumbled ‘gracias’ by my surly server who proceeded to ignore all her customers, although I found this more amusing than irritating.

The Conde Caralt Rosado (A), only €6.52, came to the rescue however and meant I left in good humour.

I promptly went back over the road to El Patio to spend what would have been the staff tips on a final digestivo!

You can’t complain too much really because it’s dirt cheap (prices  to the nearest cent). Let me know if you find anything good from the menu!

Other branches to avoid:

1) Public, 11 C/Desengano, parallel to Gran Via, Tel. 91 701 0176

2) Bazaar, 21 C/Libertad, Chueca, Tel. 91 523 1505

3) La Gloria de Montera, 10 C/Caballerdo de Gracia, Metro Gran Via Tel. 91 521 6701 (Slated by Time Out).

Madrid – Lavapies and the galleries

Posted in Lavapies, Madrid, Spain with tags on February 24, 2014 by gannet39

Lavapies is well placed for all the main galleries and would make a good area for lunch after a long morning looking at the masters.

Everyone should try to see Picasso’s highly moving ‘Guernica’ at La Reina Sofia to comprehend Spain’s modern history.

I also personally love ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ painted by Hieronymus Bosch over 500 years ago and now hanging at the Prado along with the Spanish masters.

Lastra Sideria (Intermediate A), 3 C/Olivar, Tel. 91 369 0837, Metro Anton Martin (very handy for the art galleries).

Another brilliant Asturian place with great, authentic but cheap food that’s friendly and very popular. Some of the locals were still waiting in the bar at 3pm for a seat in one of the two adjoining rooms.

On arrival you immediately get a dish of Cabrales blue cheese (similar to Rocquefort but more creamy and spreadable) with a basket of bread.

For the main I had Pote Asturiano (only €12.50), similar to Fabada but with haricot rather than butter beans and the addition of cabbage, but still with chorizo, gammon and smoky Asturian morcilla. It would easily have been enough for two but I gave it my best shot.

To drink, a bottle of Cortina Sidra Natural, poured from high by my waiter to aerate it.

The Tarte de Santiago I had for afters was a slice of cake filled with soft almond flavoured mousse making a change from the dry versions I had had elsewhere.

Finally I got a gratis Paxharan (Basque aniseed liquer) with ice which finished things nicely.

The total bill came to €23.50 which is fantastic value.

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