One of the best adventures enjoyed by British expats in Spain is that of dining out.
There is plenty to choose from when dining out in Spain. Choose from American, English, Chinese, Dutch, French, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Irish pubs, Italian, Japanese, Tex Mex, Thai. The list really is almost endless.
Italian meals tend to be a similar price as in the UK but a Chinese meal can work out very inexpensive. On a recent visit to a Chinese restaurant in a town called Guardamar the starter – a choice of soup, salad or spring roll, with a glass of Sangria, and then a wide choice of Chinese main course with a choice of ice cream, coffee, crème caramel for the sweet, a bottle of wine and help yourself from a bottle of Schnapps, all came to 6 euros 95 cents.
In fact, in Guardamar, there are several Chinese restaurants all offering pretty much the same thing. Low prices, reasonable choice of meals, and a certain amount of drinks thrown in. Some even stamp a card for you, and every so many visits you get a meal free if you have sufficient stamps on your card.
Spain is perhaps better known for its red wines more than its white wines. Spaniards tend to drink wine with meals (no wonder at the price!) A nice white wine is the Albarino from Rias Baixas in North West Spain. Ideal with seafood the Albarinos are fragrant and fruity wines.
Surprisingly, perhaps, finding a tapas bar, or somewhere to eat a paella is not always as easy as it is to get steak and chips. That, no doubt, is the British influence. The problem with tapas is that the overall meal can work out quite expensive if you like something of everything.
Tapas can include a number of types of foods. Possibly some bread dipped in olive oil, a dish of olives, sliced cheese, salami or ham. Meatballs in a sauce – usually tomato – are also popular tapas dishes. You might see shrimps, garlic mushrooms on the bar too. There is usually something in a wide selection for everyone.
Look out for the Menu del Dia which is the “menu of the day” served in restaurants at lunch time (the mid-day meal is ‘la comida’). The Menu del Dia would usually include a starter such as a soup or salad, main course with a side dish, followed by a dessert, all for an all-inclusive price. These meals represent very good value when dining out in Spain. At evening time the menu becomes the “Menu del Noche” and although the menu may stay the same the prices usually rise by a couple of euros or more.
Other meals (if you shop around) work out at about 80 per cent of the cost in the UK. Alcoholic drinks are of course a lot cheaper. A very decent bottle of wine from a supermarket is 1 euro 50 cents. In the restaurant, they will charge you from 5-10 euros for a decent bottle. Coffee and tea are from 1 euro to 1 euro 50 cents. A lot of the cafes and restaurants that are British-run are doing a Sunday lunch meal which quite often is very good value. In a village called Dolores, the “Wishing Well” does a wide choice of meats and a bottle of wine for around 11 euros. Even a big eater finds the main course enough. There are so many eating places to choose from, that even finicky eaters can find somewhere and at the right price.
For that “special” meal one of the top restaurants close to where we lived is the BUDAPEST, in Quesada. A gastronomical delight, the food and service there is top notch. Most visitors who stayed with us used to want to go to the Budapest at least once on their stay.
It isn’t cheap, for an evening meal starters will set you back around 5 euros minimum, main meals from 9 euros, and the house wine starts from 13 euros. But, you do get what you pay for.
And if you really want a meal to remember you could splash out on dining at one of the half dozen 3-starred Michelin restaurants in Spain. In 2011 El Celler de Can Roca was voted second best restaurant in the world in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants survey sponsored by ‘Restaurant’ magazine.
Of course you should expect to pay for the privilege of eating at a 3-starred Michelin establishment, but for those of you who can afford it and enjoy fine dining it is there if you want it.
A tasting menu of 5 courses and 2 desserts will set you back 125 euros. A feast menu consisting of 9 courses with 2 desserts is 155 euros.
There are of course other dishes available.
The El Celler de Can Roca is a restaurant in Girona, Catalonia, about 60 miles north-east of Barcelona. It was opened in 1986 by the three Roca brothers – Joan, Josep, and Jordi. Each brother has a different role to play in running the restaurant. In December 2011 the restaurant was featured in the BBC2 Masterchef series when the finalists were taken there to try out their cooking skills.
For the rest of us mere mortals who would never dream of paying such high prices for admittedly spectacular food you’ll realise by now that Spain offers dining out at sensible prices, with cuisine to suit all tastes.
The problem with dining out in Spain is that you can so often find a nice place, then you go back a few weeks later and it`s either changed hands or closed down. We had this experience with a wonderful place in Benijofar where they had a flamenco show several times a week. The food was good, but the real attraction was the music and the dancing. We went once, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and said we would take visitors when they came over from the UK. It wasn’t too long after our first visit that we decided to go back again, unfortunately only to find it had closed down. This happens a lot on the Costas. I’ve actually known some restaurants change hands five or six times in as many years. If times are financially tough for tourists, and of course the locals, it can hit businesses very hard too.
The wonderful thing about Spain is despite the regional variations wherever you go on your culinary road trip you should find good quality food.
Fortunately though we found another place which combines excellent food with Flamenco dancing. The Restaurante La Herradura is located in Los Montesinos. The restaurante was at one time an old farmhouse and has been restored to an eating place of very high quality.
Going from the direction of Torrevieja on the CV 945, it is on the left hand side left just before you reach the town. The flamenco shows are on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 9. Meals at night start at 15 euros for 3 courses and include a bread to die for which can be purchased separately for those who can’t get enough of it. House wine starts at 10 euros a bottle. Booking is recommended as the flamenco shows are very popular. The dancers we saw were both professional flamenco dancers, the young man having trained in Madrid.
Cooking at Home
If you like your meat, look out for a Dutch butchers. They are very popular with the Brits as well as the Dutch locals. We had one of these Dutch butchers very local to where we lived near Benimar. It had an excellent reputation for quality, fresh meat, which was brought in from Holland. They also served a good variety of deli products, good quality, and the prices were pretty good. You can also pick up some good food ideal for those summer barbecues, though when eating outdoors be sure to watch out for the mosquitoes.