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.