Saturday, 14 October 2017

Murcia City tapas bar and restaurant guide

Murcia cathedral
Murcia City is the seventh largest city in Spain yet surprisingly flies below the tourist radar. 

With plenty of September sunshine, direct flights from Bristol, killer Spanish food and interesting architecture and culture, Murcia City ticked all of our holiday boxes.

Murcia’s narrow canopied streets and high-rise buildings aren't classically beautiful but they're punctuated by pretty squares and a collection of stunning historic buildings.

Plaza de Santa Catalina
The 14th century cathedral dominates Plaza del Cardenal Belluga. It sits next to an ornate 18th century episcopal palace and opposite the modern geometric town hall. 


The opulent Royal Casino, now a visitor attraction, combines a mix of architectural styles from Middle-eastern inspired glasswork to grand chandeliers.


There was also a big fiesta happening the week we arrived - parades, marching bands, operas and outdoor theatre all contributed to a party atmosphere. The city’s large student population also added to the buzz.

Here are the highlights of the restaurants and tapas bars we visited, starting with our favourites. Much of Spain’s fresh produce is grown in the Murcia region, meaning we ate great vegetables throughout the week. We could have spent another week in the city and there would have still been a heap of new places to visit.

Restaurante La Pequeña Taberna

Plaza San Juan, 7, 30003 Murcia, Spain

La Pequeña Taberna’s dining room flows seamlessly from indoor to outdoor and it’s packed to the rafters every night.


Baked octopus, a Murcian speciality, was seriously tender and lightly charred. It was served with its flavour-packed cooking liquor and a good drizzle of olive oil.


King prawns coated in a figure-hugging batter (caballitos) were followed by Grandma’s artichokes  that were bathed in a meaty sauce and dotted with crisp pine-nuts. Miguel’s eggs were a luxurious mix of buttery potatoes and silky scrambled eggs dotted with salty jamon.


Baked vegetables showcased why Murcia is known as Spain’s bread basket. Aubergine, asparagus, courgette, oyster mushrooms and artichokes were browned beautifully in olive oil.


To round off the meal we had complimentary G&Ts and paparajotes, a local speciality of lemon leaves coated in batter sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. You don’t eat the leaves, they just provide fragrance.


Bodegon Los Toneles
C/ Canovas Del Castillo, 7, 30003 Murcia, Spain

This charming tapas bar was packed full of locals ordering great-value freshly cooked dishes. We went three times as we loved everything about the place.

Marineras, one of Murcia’s signature tapas, combined a flat-tyre shaped cracker topped with creamy Russian salad (potatoes, tuna, mixed vegetables and mayonnaise) and a briny anchovy.


Murcia is known for its rice dishes and a daytime special was on the money - each grain of rice had a tiny amount of bite and was cooked in meat-rich stock with pieces of yielding pork rib and red pepper.



Crisp skewers of pork (pinchos morunos) were spiced with a warming thwack of cumin.


A bubbly cracker was topped with soft sweet aubergine and crumbs of fried jamon.


Toasted sandwiches nestled oozy, creamy melted queso fresco and salty anchovies. Another variety contained pork loin and more of that addictive melted cheese.


Homemade sausages on toast were all thriller and no filler.


Arroz con leche was as creamy as rice pudding can be. It was topped with warming cinnamon.


Pastelería Zaher
Calle Riquelme, 13, 30005 Murcia, Spain

Murcia is famous for its meat pies (pastel de carne) and Pastelería Zaher is the epiecentre (sorry). The shortest of short crust pastries was filled with deeply-spiced mince and slices of egg and topped with uber-crisp layers of filo pastry.


La barra de El Rincón de Pepe
Calle Apóstoles, 34, 30001 Murcia, Spain

Located in the Hotel Rincón de Pepe, this high-end tapas bar is one of the city’s most famous and pictures of celeb customers, including Ferran Adria, adorn the walls.

Marineras were a fine example of type whilst crisp-battered batons of tender aubergine were topped with a sticky honey reduction.


Golden battered fillets of flaky cod and jamon croquetas were both on the mark.


Keki de Sergio Martínez
Calle Fuensanta, 4, 30001 Murcia, Spain

This modern Spanish restaurant holds a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide. Asian influences feature and a great value 11-course tasting menu set us back just 33 euros.


Highlights included sauteed wild mushrooms with a super-savoury mushroom sauce and a hyper-smooth potato puree.


Slices of just-seared tuna tataki were joined by delicate wasabi yoghurt, smoked oil and soy sauce.


French toast, almost souffle-like in lightness, was served with a salty toffee sauce and creamy toffee ice cream.


Pepe El Torrao
Cronista Carlos Valcárcel, 1, 30008 Murcia, Spain

The pulpo roquero absolutely rocked at this tapas bar. Yielding yet slightly crisp octopus tentacles were spiced with ginger and soy and served with salty pearls of salmon roe, Japanese mayonnaise and a seaweed-like greens. We also ate first rate marineras, excellent caballitos and squid ink croquetas.


Confiteria Espinosa
Calle Floridablanca, 3, 30002 Murcia, Spain

I had the pastry horn at Confiteria Espinosa. The cuerno (horn) sees layers of puff pastry filled with soft and sweet Italian meringue with a burnished brulee topping.


Luis De Rosario Taberna
Calle Angustias, 3, 30004 Murcia, Spain

This place is off the beaten track but it’s worth the detour alone for its vermouth granita. Cool, refreshing and medicinal with a massive boozy hit, my head felt a little bit lighter after a single glass.


We soaked up the alcohol with spicy sobrasada and cheese toasted sandwiches.


Bodega Pepico del Tío Ginés
Calle Ruipérez, 4, 30004 Murcia, Spain

At this old-fashioned tapas bar we enjoyed matrimonios, a harmonious marriage of two types of anchovies preserved in brine and vinegar.


Michirones were a comforting stew of tender broad beans cooked in ham hock broth with pieces of ham and chorizo dotted throughout.


Restaurante Salzillo
Calle Cánovas del Castillo, 28, 30003 Murcia, Spain

There’s a charming faded grandeur to Salzillo which is reflected in its higher prices.

An intensely-meaty kid shoulder was served Murcian-style with soft potatoes and crisp pine nuts. The flesh however could have been a touch more tender and it was a little bit thin on the ground.


A piece of turbot, served in a fresh sauce of tomatoes, onions and pine nuts, was a triumph.


Las Mulas
Calle Ruipérez, 5, 30004 Murcia, Spain

Huevos rotos were a comfort food classic - soft potatoes fried in olive oil were topped with scrambled egg and slices of jamon. What’s not to like?


A cheese selection included a mouth-puckeringly astringent blue cheese and a parmesan-type number that fractured along its fault lines.


Las Viandas
Calle Pascual, 2, 30004 Murcia, Spain

A vibrant ratatouille of courgette, aubergine and tomato was dotted with pieces of almond for textural contrast.


Lightly battered aubergine sticks were served with a tuna mayonnaise dip. There was something seriously compelling about them in a way that reminded me of fish and chips.


The Details:

We flew with easyjet from Bristol to Murcia San Javier airport. It’s about a thirty five minute taxi ride costing €65 to Murcia City. There are a couple of buses each day that are a cheaper option.

We stayed at the lovely Hotel Nelva, a modern business hotel with a fantastic outdoor pool area. It’s about a twenty minute walk into the city centre.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Admiral St David, St David's Hotel, Cardiff Bay restaurant review


Hotel restaurants can be boring places; from the decor to the muzak, to the overpriced menus filled with uninspired dishes.

Unless you’re staying at the hotel and travelling on business expenses, there’s often very little to convince you to cross the threshold.

So, The Admiral St David at the 5-star St David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay is a welcome change from the above.


Recently rebranded from Tempus at Tides, the restaurant has had a bright Antipodean makeover with white wood panelling, eclectic furniture and funky detailing.

Even more interesting is the Australasian and Asia-Pacific influenced menu which includes dishes like Welsh mussels with salted black beans and chilli as well as pan-fried sea bream with Malaysian spiced vegetable rice and lime butter. The pricing is fair too with starters averaging £7, mains £18 and desserts £7. 


To start, six uber-fresh meaty sardine fillets (£8) were coated in a crisp bubbly batter. The richness of the fish was balanced nicely by a yoghurt dip that was fragranced with mint and lemon. 


Across the table a tender beef carpaccio (£9) was served with a Korean-spiced shredded beef bon bon, fresh tomato salsa and a fine dice of onion and peppers. It was a tasty dish but the beef in the bon bon was a touch dry. 


Both mains were packed with flavour.

A pink rump of Welsh lamb (£20) was delicately flavoured with fragrant lemongrass. Couscous studded with coriander, peppers and pomegranate seeds, al dente tenderstem broccoli and a well-spiced but not-overly sweet mango sauce completed the lovely dish. 


I’m not sure what an authentic laksa (£15) tastes like but the Admiral St David’s version is cracking. A pair of tender chicken thighs, egg noodles and fried peppers, onions and carrots were coated in a velvety coconut sauce with a big hit of spice. A runny fried egg and a good scattering of crispy fried shallots dialled up the luxury levels.


A side of seasonal greens (£4) included runner beans, pak choi and broccoli coated in nutty sesame oil with a hint of lemon. 


Onto dessert and a crisp-crusted, smooth and creamy lemon tart (£6) was served with tart raspberry coulis and whipped cream. 


A dark chocolate cremeux (£7) is one of the best puds I’ve had in yonks. Blobs of rich but not too sweet chocolate cream were balanced by fragrant mango sorbet, coulis and diced fruit flecked with passionfruit. Texture contrast came in the form of roasted coconut slices, crunchy grated coconut, chocolate crumb and a sesame tuille. 


We had a delicious meal at the Admiral St David. There’s a heap of tasty stuff on the menu, it’s a stylish dining space and the serving team are lovely. There’s no doubt it’s an interesting addition to Cardiff’s dining scene.

Disclosure - I was invited to The Admiral St David, all food and drink was complimentary.

Address - The Admiral St David, St David's Hotel, Havannah St, Cardiff, CF10 5SD
Telephone - 029 2045 4045

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Radici, Islington, London Italian restaurant review


Francesco Mazzei is a Calabrian chef with a big reputation. Perennially tipped for a Michelin star at his previous restaurant L’anima, he now runs the equally swish Sartoria on Saville Row.

Radici, located opposite the Almeda theatre in Islington, is his new entry level restaurant. 


The menu reads well across the board with cicchetti, antipasti, primi, secondi, sides and desserts all vying for attention.

I’ve heard talk that whenever Francesco is in the kitchen at one of his restaurants you’re guaranteed a good meal. At other times, things can be a bit more hit and miss. Francesco wasn’t around when we visited.

Cicchetti included perfectly cooked calamari (£7.50) with an overly-sweet chilli jam. 


Meatballs (£7.50) had a disappointingly dense processed texture but combined well with a spicy tomato sauce and a good dollop of mash. 


‘Nduja (£4.50) on toast had been strangely combined with cream cheese to mitigate the spreadable sausage’s chilli heat (one of its main selling points). Toast for accompanying tomato bruschetta was also sadly on the soggy side.

My primi of taglierini, fagioli beans and pancetta (£13) was a triumph. Silky pasta, meaty beans and an intense porky broth were topped with a liberal grating of savoury cheese. 


Lasagna (£13) was great too. The light take on the dish saw beef ragu and grana padano cheese piled on top of thin layers of pasta. 


Fettuccine with mussels and calamari (£13) were bathed in a well-flavoured sauce but let down by the cardinal sin of overcooked pasta. 


Mains continued the mixed bag.

Cod pizzaola (£16) was a bit bland; the flaky fish fillet and soft peppers were joined by a watery tomato sauce. 


Sweet calf liver (£18) was served with fragrant sage butter and crisp leaves, smooth mash and rashers of salty pancetta. It was an excellent dish except for a solitary tough piece of liver. 


A calabrese pizza (£12), slathered with fiery ‘nduja, light tomato sauce and mozzarella, was very good too. 


Courgette fries (£6) were the highlight of the meal. An overflowing cup of courgette fronds were coated in crisp, salty batter. Just give me a bowl of these and a couple of ice cold beers and I’d be a very happy man.


Desserts were an unqualified success. A rum baba (£7) was light, delicately boozy and fragranced with orange.


Chocolate tart (£6.50) was super crisp with a rich ganache and added luxury in the form of meringue shards and pistachio and strawberry pieces. 


A textbook tiramisu (£6.50) was big on alcohol and chocolate.


All in all, Radici was a hit and miss affair. Whilst we had a lovely evening at the restaurant, at £65 a head (including a couple of bottles of wine shared between 5), I’d expect more consistency for my money.

The Details:

Address - Radici, 30 Almeida Street, London N1 1AD
Web - http://www.radici.uk/
Telephone - 020 7354 4777