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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Spanish Eating in Valencia

On Sunday we returned from a week in Valencia. It was hot, a high of about 34 degrees during the day and 29 degrees at night, luckily Spain is well equipped with air conditioning everywhere which helped us cope with the heat.  Valencia is a beautiful city lots of old and new mixed together, it's not overly big but there was enough to keep us entertained for the whole week, bars aplenty that's for sure. I had two stand out meals there one was paella for lunch at a restaurant on the beach and some tapas at a local restaurant five minutes from our apartment. However we also got to sample some really great vegetarian food at a restaurant in the popular Carmen barrio. 

City of Arts and Science Valencia
down at the city of arts and science
So all the tips and guides we had gathered before we went away said that paella on the beach front for lunch was a particular highlight so this flew to the top of my list, well one behind going to the giant aquarium of course. We had heard that La Pepica was a good place to go for paella, they proudly claim how Hemmingway used to hang out there and have lunch as well as Lauren Bacal, anyway this seemed promising so we headed down there to sample. At 2.30-3pm it was still pretty busy, the Spanish way, don't you know, and to make things easy four of us ordered Paella Valenciana, when in Rome after all, and Abi our vegetarian travelling companion chose the tortilla. La Pepica has an old fashioned charm about it, all the waiters are over a certain age, ultra polite, full on tablecloths and photos of all the old movie stars that have visited them over the years scattered across the wall.
La Pepica, Valencia

La Pepica, Valencia
inside La Pepica
La Pepica Paella
Paella Valenciana
La Pepica Paella
La Pepica Paella
large portion on my plate
The Valencians have a bit of a rule when it comes to their paellas, basically for true authenticity in their eyes you don't mix the meat and fish together in a pan. If you want fish in your paella you have to order a seafood paella (paella de marisco), Valencian paella is meat only, although in other parts of Spain mixed paellas are pretty popular. So our paella was made up of chicken and rabbit and it was heaven. I cannot say whether this is the best paella in Valencia as I only tried it here but it was seriously delicious and our pan for four people was a very generous amount, we almost finished it but there was a small spoon or two left over, definitely recommend La Pepica if you are in Valencia. Check out their website for a little more detail.

Our next food foray comes in the form of Villaplana, a local restaurant near our apartment in the Angel Guimera area. This was probably the best meal all round that we had whilst we were away. Phil, Rich and myself were feeling peckish so decided to take a gamble on this place as it looked somewhat busy and the menu sounded delicious. Walking inside it feels a bit like a deli/restaurant hybrid, bright lights and branded everything, but if meals in Portugal have told me anything, the brightest lit restaurant can yield the best meals. The Sports Cafe near my parent's house in the Terras de Bouro region of Portugal serves up some of the best food I've had whilst on holiday for under €10. Anyway I digress at Villaplana we ordered an array of tapas dishes and a wild card of pork loin to share among us which came with potatoes.
Villaplana Valencia
Serrano Ham with blanched almonds
Villaplana Valencia
chicken and ham croquettes
Villaplana Valencia
chorizo baked in wine
Villaplana Valencia
salted baked potato slices with  lashings of garlic butter, salt and paprika
Villaplana Valencia
sizzling prawns in garlic
Villaplana Valencia
rustic pork loin with potatoes, beans and leeks
All simple food at family run Villaplana but beautifully cooked and so tasty it really lifted our spirits after the first meal we had, at La Taberna de Marisa was disappointing. So disappointing I am not even going to post any photos, the food was ok but so expensive so wouldn't recommend there are much better options out there. We were fed all this food for under €50 for three of us which included drinks. To get the feel of what the lovely Villaplana have to offer check out their website, albeit in Spanish.
Horchata Valencia
I couldn't leave Spain without trying some Horchata, a drink made from tigernuts, sugar and water, although in Latin America this recipe, which varies widely, is often pepped up with cinnamon or vanilla. Often eaten with cakes called fartons I liked it but not massively, it tastes like hazelnut and almond milk mixed together with sugar but has a slight bitterness, it was pretty refreshing in the Valencian heat though so I can see why people flock to all the Horchaterias populating the city.

In my search for the best croquettes the nicest we sampled came from a little cafe bar near the Cathedral called The Lion Bar (El Leon Bar) with a lovely owner he was so friendly, kind and was able to answer all of Abi's questions about the true vegetarianess of their veggie paella. I had a lovely refreshing salmon salad for lunch but it was the ham croquettes, rolled into balls as appears to be the Valencian style, that really shone in this place. The veggie paella was made with tofu and seaweed as it's main ingredients and looked really tempting.
El Leon Bar Valencia
serrano ham croquettes

El Leon Bar Valencia

Spain is not a country that a lot of vegetarians would find plenty of choice in, however we made a concerted effort one night to find a vegetarian restaurant so that Abi would have a choice of something other than potatoes as her main meal. We had read about La Tastaolletes in Carmen and decided before we went to Jimmy Glass jazz bar, well recommended by the way, for some local jazz to see what a Spanish veggie restaurant would have to offer. Turns out quite a lot, as even Vegans are well catered for here. Rich and I decided to share some dishes between us and went for the crumbed goats cheese, falafels and veggie croquettes and we all shared a couple of bowls of hummus.  It was some of the best hummus I've ever tasted, so smooth but really well flavoured, the goats cheese was probably my favourite thing although the croquettes were nice. The croquettes came in two types, spinach and ricotta or grated carrot and apple, something a little different but with the garlic mayonnaise that came with them it worked well. The falafels were not as good as Bristol's Falafel King, but that would be difficult, prices in La Tastaolletes is on the more expensive side for Spain but nothing offensive this is a great option for hungry vegetarians looking to have more choice.
La Tastaolletes Valencia

La Tastaolletes Valencia
fried goats cheese
La Tastaolletes Valencia
veggie croquettes
La Tastaolletes Valencia
As you can see we ate rather well in Valencia it was a beautiful city, very chilled and friendly so recommend it to have the best of both worlds with beach and city combined. Luckily with all the nice weather Bristol has been having coming back to sunshine meant I didn't feel so sad leaving my holiday behind. In the mean time I leave you with a few more views of the city.

Bioparc Zebra
beautiful Malva-rosa beach
blue skies at the city of arts and science
enjoying the sea

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Mini Pre-holiday Photo Post

So today Rich and I fly out to Valencia for a week in the sunshine, although who'd have thought we didn't need to bother leaving Bristol for that? Anyway whilst I am away soaking up the sun, sangria, tapas and Europe's biggest aquarium I thought I would leave you all with a few foodie photos of meals I have enjoyed recently but that didn't make a post due to already being reviewed or there were simply too many photos to choose from. Once I return I shall be armed with the knowledge to share where to get the best tapas and paella in Valencia, with any luck. So enjoy the rest of the sunshine Bristol, I shall miss you but the return will be all the more sweeter for my absence from you.
The Riverstation Bristol
bruchetta starter at The Riverstation
Moroccan from St Nicks
Beerd Bristol
Beerd pizza
pizza at Beerd
Carla's Cruella Brownies
Soba Noodles Bristol
Jamie's Soba Noodles
Make your own sushi
my first maki/nigiri
Townhouse Bristol
ham and rabbit croquette from the Townhouse
pork belly roast at the Townhouse
Yorkshire loaf from the Townhouse
the taste of Summer
So whatever everyone is up to this week enjoy the hot weather, have a Pimms and relax. Looking forward to a well deserved break, keep an eye on my Twitter for occasional Spanish updates.

Friday, 12 July 2013

A Hot Saturday Feasting at Grillstock Smokehouse

Last Friday night some of our Jolates class, best pilates class in town by the way, decided after a hard workout we would go sample the barbecue offerings of the newly opened Grillstock Smokehouse on the Triangle,  residing next door to Mbargo. Alas this was not to be, as you cannot book space at Grillstock, everyone in Bristol had decided this was the place to have dinner that night. After heading over at 7.30 and waiting for about 20 minutes in a large queue we carried on with another drink at the Brass Pig and then tried Grillstock a final time at 9pm only to find that it was still busy and everything bar pulled pork and burgers had sold out. Slightly deflated I suggested we take a trip to nearby YoYo burger for a mini meat fix. This is not a blog on YoYo, although I highly recommend their burgers they do a great number of burger combos and they are my second favourite burger in Bristol after The Burger Joint.
Grillstock Smokehouse Bristol

The next day Rich decided he could wait no longer to sample the barbecued delights of Grillstock so early lunch time we decided, on the off chance, to try and see there was space for us. With fingers and toes crossed we left the confines of our flat and out into the heat of the midday sun, well you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen. We were in luck, Grillstock was actually relatively quiet so with our excitement levels at maximum we took a couple of stools at the long wooden bench. We did toy with the idea of getting a burger but felt it was a bit of a cop out and for our first visit wanted the full meat experience so we could taste all the flavours without bread getting in the way, although after seeing the burgers upclose across the table I may be tempted to go for one next time.

I decided to go for the half rack of babyback ribs which comes with fries, coleslaw, corn bread and small side sample of sausage chunks plus a side portion of burnt ends for Rich and I to share. Yes you can order meat as a side dish, even their beans come with meat in them. Rich went for the Smokehouse Special, three barbecue meats of your choice plus the sides listed above, minus the sausage sample. Rich chose a half rack of ribs, brisket and pulled pork, which obviously meant that I got to try more meats too.
Grillstock Smokehouse Bristol
Grillstock sauces
Grillstock Smokehouse Bristol

Grillstock Smokehouse
waiting for meat....
I think what I like particularly about Grillstock is that it does almost transport you to a roadside cafe in America. The music they were playing was Texas Blues, Rich's favourite Blues subgenre, artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, and Johnny Copeland that sort of grimy sweaty blues with sharp cutting bluesy guitar licks, it's all about the little touches that made it feel right. The right music can evoke strong feelings about a place and this was bang on, whilst we were waiting for our barbecue we got right in the moment with the music.
Grillstock Smokehouse
my half rack of ribs with burnt ends
Grillstock Smokehouse
Rich's Smokehouse Special
Grillstock Smokehouse
burnt ends
Grillstock Smokehouse
inside the rib rack
Ribs are my secret love in barbecue food, I always used to beg mum to add these to our standard barbecue items of chicken, sausages and burgers. I don't what it is about them, I think it's that you have to work for your reward when you eat them, and because sometimes I like a challenge. Either way these were the best ribs I have ever tasted. Fully meaty, sticky and sweet I could eat these any day of the week. The burnt ends were also really awesome, smoky, also with a small kick, I couldn't eat a whole pot myself as they were incredibly rich which is just as well that we shared ours. Even the fries were great they were crunchy and well seasoned, quite often fries can be forgotten about in favour of the meat  but these were really delicious. The coleslaw alone deserves a mention, not too bogged down with mayonnaise and a nice tang from the mustard it worked well with cutting through the rich meatiness.

Rich's meat mountain was pretty epic, although admittedly not the most epic choice on the menu, there is a Man vs Food style challenge called the Grand Champion where for your efforts you could win a t-shirt and a bottle of Grillstock sauce if you manage to polish it all off yourself. Not something I could do but I know there are plenty of meat fanatics out there that are more than up to the challenge. The pulled pork was juicy and beautifully cooked, we have managed to make this on a few occasions at home and it is definitely a favourite. The only slight let down was the brisket, a meat that can be dry due to the cut, the flavour was nice but was a little dry for me but I did enjoy the pink smoke ring round the edge it was extremely tasty.


So basically if you like good quality barbecue food head to Grillstock, although by the looks of the queues most people already are there. The only thing they need to watch are their stock levels as when Rich went in again on Tuesday evening this week they had run out of a lot of the drinks, but this is something that I imagine will come with time. This is a very popular venue so head there at unpopular times to ensure a seat at the meatiest table in town. Check out their website for details on the Grillstock festival, all their wares and the opportunity to sign up for meaty updates.

Rich and I are off on holiday on Sunday to Valencia for a week I shall do a mini photo post before I go though hopefully and then when I am back I can report on all things Spanish and Tapas related.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A Birthday Roast at The Alma Tavern

About two weeks ago we celebrated Rich's birthday, originally I had intended for it to be a barbecue but the weather had other ideas. All very well writing this now looking out onto blazing sunshine, where were you two weeks ago 27 degree sunshine? Anyway I quickly had to think up an alternative plan and so I thought I would take a punt with the Alma Tavern. Rich and I used to go there quite often for dinner about 4-5 years ago when we first started dating as it was very near his flat at the time and they did brilliant blue cheese and bacon burgers.  After he moved we didn't go to the Alma much after that, I reckon it had been a good two years since my last visit and I had heard good things about their roasts and so I decided to book a small group of us in for Sunday lunch. The Alma has had a bit of a refurb since my last visit, their logo and bathroom definitely have a hint of The Great Gatsby about them, how on trend of them.
Alma Tavern Bristol
inside the Alma
With a choice of pork, beef, lamb, chicken and something for the Vegetarians there is also the option of ordering off their standard lunch menu in case a roast doesn't tickle your fancy. I went for the pork belly whilst Rich went for the lamb chops roast. Most of us also ordered a starter, in fact all the same starter of deep fried baby squid with chilli and lime dip, and thank goodness we did because the roast was a bit of a wait. 
Alma Tavern Food Bristol
crispy squid
Alma Tavern Food Bristol
squid in detail
Our squids arrived pretty quickly much to our delight, we had hunger big time. The squid was crispy, well flavoured and perfectly cooked, we were very impressed, the micro herbs were a nice little touch too. I would definitely order this dish again as it was a good enough portion to keep us going until the roast arrived.  Now this was the only down side of our lunch at the Alma Tavern, the wait. I am pretty sure this was a mistake though with where our order was placed in the lunch orders. We were waiting almost an hour for our roasts to appear, the two of our party who didn't order starters were almost experiencing mirages of food. Having said that once the roasts arrived the staff were very apologetic and throughout our meal were extremely efficient and friendly.
Alma Tavern Food Bristol
pork belly roast
Alma Tavern Food Bristol
more pork belly
Alma Tavern Bristol
sharing veg
Alma Tavern Bristol
lamb chop roast
The Alma Tavern do a great roast, the best I've had since the Townhouse roast, which still pips it to the post, but this was a good runner up. The pork belly was a good sized portion and the meat fell apart and was nice and juicy, which is exactly how I want my pork belly to be. I must also make a point of praising the parsnips, I am not sure what they did to them but I actually ate all of mine which I never do. These were soft yet slightly crunchy, I have a feeling they may have been roasted with some honey but I cannot be entirely sure, either way they were really tasty. Rich's lamb chops were pink and well seasoned with rosemary, in fact everyone had a great portion of meat which a lot of pub roasts can stint on. We were so full by the end we couldn't even look at the dessert menu. 

I really recommend the roast at the Alma, the price is good for the amount of food you get, my pork belly cost £12 and the lamb was £14 but Rich and I didn't eat anything else for the rest of the day, it even fueled us through the Goldfrapp gig at the Trinity in the evening. So if you fancy a roast do check out the Alma you won't be disappointed. I also have a feeling their evening menus would be rather delicious and I intend on visiting again to find that out. You can see a show at their theatre, have a drink or eat something off their menu check out what they have to offer on their website.