Bicoca. Entremuros 4. Santiago de Compostela

One vegan choice on a menu does not a vegan restaurant make, though many places in Spain like to market themselves as such, or ‘vegetarian’ when a few of the choices are non-meaty; the fact is that not offering meat on your menu in Spain is a recipe for financial disaster, and only a few brave establishments in the very big cities have dared to do so, such as Biotika in Madrid (see review). Bicoca is as regular an arty restaurant as the next young trendy place in Santiago and I even wondered where I heard the label ‘vegan’ about it when I saw its menu.
The kitchen needs a helping hand, and having a single barman/waiter for 25 covers is stretching it a bit, but this was probably due to it being a public holiday when we went. The tagliatelle was fresh and tasty, but extremely simple and inexcusably long to prepare – it actually arrived nearly ten minutes after the other main course, a dense goats cheese burger in wholewheat artisanal bread with exactly eight thick fries. The chocolate fondant dessert was good, and service, when the waiter wasn’t running from pillar to post, extremely friendly.

$$
Santiago old city centre

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Tinta Fina. Calle Angel Ganivet, 6. Granada

Tinta Fina knows exactly how to do upscale meals at great value: exceptionally professional service, highest-quality ingredients and a wonderful range of dishes, all beautifully presented in a buzzy ambience with slick, shiny decor.
We tried some seafood, some strips of steak, soups and arroz de bogavante. We even came back about twelve hours later for lunch on the terrace. Desserts are great, and the choice of wine is extensive. It’s a little less than semi-formal at night in the upstairs dining area, but otherwise it wears its class very lightly.

$$-$$$
Granada, next to El Corte Ingles

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O Paris. Rua Bautizados, 11. Santiago de Compostela

So good we came here three times within 15 hours! We ate a late dinner, a brunch and a set lunch and the service, decor and high standards of the food make it one of the best places we’ve ever eaten in Spain. The platter of Galician cheeses comes with a quincey sauce, the potato wedges with a robust ali-oli, and the superb tortilla with a balsamic reduction that complements the caramelised onion filling perfectly. The burger filled with goats cheese, the large salads and the fresh fish were the highlights; even the coffee – fairtrade Medalla de Oro – is delicious.
The fresh carrot cake with perfectly balanced icing, studded with spiky orange rind, was exceptional, and the cheesecake was surprisingly good too. Almost everything is homemade.
There are three spaces: the hip’n’homely large room with leather sofas and exposed brick’n’stone, the long bar area with a selection of small tables, and a tiny terrace set in from the pedestrian street; you’ll get uber-friendly service and great wines, hearty meals and all-round wholesome heart-warming goodness.

$$
Santiago de Compostela old city, Galicia.

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Wok. Calle Mayor, 73. Alcalá de Henares

Restaurante Wok. You wouldn’t necessarily see the real name of this place as it’s just plastered with the words ‘buffet libre Asiático’ everywhere. I’ve been wanting to come here for an eat-all-you-can binge for almost three years, and an imminent evening visit to the dentist meant that dinner would have to be ruled out on this roasting summer Wednesday; ergo, a huge late lunch.

There is no terrace, unlike a good number of the eateries and bars on Alcalá’s historical Calle Mayor, but that really doesn’t matter when you have Chinese food, sushi, teppanyaki meats, and desserts all around you. They even have a romper room/crèche and a pick’n’mix section for the kiddies (to eat sweets ON the premises, not to make take-away bags. Spoilsports). Even wine, beer and soft drinks are included.

Our lunch deal cost us a crisis-friendly 8.50€ each: the most cracking bargain of my time here. For this we ate a lot of average food, drank only a couple of drinks (something must’ve come over me) and ignored the fresh fruit and flan for dessert. The nigiri and california rolls weren’t bad, the rice, noodles and Szechuan dishes were quite tasty, but the best part is taking your raw meats to the teppanyaki grill and getting it cooked in any any sauce base you like (curry, soya, oyster, teriyaki) while you wait. We had beef, mussels, cockels, frogs’ legs, and octopus, and I’d come back just for that, along with a kid who’d appreciate the plastic-ball-pool and trampoline in the crèche.


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$: A certified cheap eat

35 mins from Atocha Renfe station + 15 minute walk.

Smooy. Calle Mayor. Alcalá de Henares

FroYo doesn’t usually get a write-up on these pages, but this is such a buzzing local hotspot, five minutes walk from where I work, that I just had to check it out. It’s brand new, and its facade sticks out like a sore thumb on Calle Mayor, one of Alcalá’s historical main streets that boasts Plaza de Cervantes as well as the Casa de Cervantes museum, both on the daytrippers’ sightseeing trail from Madrid. It’s such a breath of fresh air, jostling for attention between the cervecerías and hippy-merch stores, the latter of which have proliferated wildly during the crisis, as the mid-classes shop cheaper under the guise of ethnic drapery and worldly-wise holistic crappery. Smooy is the white n’ pink plastic shopfront pimping its wares amongst all this.
Prices aren’t low: 2.50€ for a small serving with one topping, 3€ for two toppings. But they really do have everything, from turrón to Oreos, mango to fruits of the forest. I counted 28 different sauces, crumbly nuts, biscuits, fruits and syrups. The FroYo itself is refreshing yet not overly watery, creamy though not overly dairy. After much deliberation, I chose an almond treacle topping which must have raised the calorie-count somewhat. A brave new place in a Spanish heritage town.

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bu terraza. Corralillo de San Miguel. Toledo

We came across this one by mistake. Taking the long road around Toledo on a blazing July Sunday, we walked into a multistory car park and staired it to the top, thereby avoiding the winding cobbled streets. Bu greeted us when we emerged at the top, and it’s quite secluded, sitting on the western edge of the city centre, with a clear view over the river all the way to the Provincial de la Misericordia. The drinks menu is comprehensive, with twelve cocktails and thirteen gins (6€-10€) four granizados naturales and five milkshakes. We tried the mocha milkshake and cold chocolate with vanilla (3.50€ each); both were average. The little fried pinchos are quite good little snacks, nugget-style parcels filled with ham and cheese.
I’ll be coming here for evening cocktails when I finally get to spend a night in Toledo with La Alta, sometime in October.

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Maimonides. Calle Mayor. Alcala de Henares

Standards have slipped at Maimonides recently. I have never frequented a place as regularly and long-term as this spacious room and terrace. The serving staff may change every few months, but the Dominican lad has been there throughout (over three years), and he’s the one to greet and get on-side.
Glasses of wine and beer are 2.50€ inside and about 3€ outside. All drinks come with a choice of any tapa: from huevos estrelladas with jamón, morcilla, or chorizo to skewers of Argentinian chicken, baguette sandwiches and cazón fish and chips. The piece de la resistance though, is the skewer of Ox: solomillo de buey.
Friday evenings see it packed to the rafters, and you may even have to wait a few minutes for a small table.