Valencia is currently witnessing a food and drink revolution with the birth of ‘gastro tapas’, the ‘gin and tonic’ trend that is hitting the city and many new gourmet restaurants, including four Michelin starred, appearing over the last few years.
Combine this with the more traditional gastronomy elements of the city such as the ‘pintxo’s tapas bars, popular throughout northern Spain; excellent paella, a dish that originated here and local drink ‘horchata’ made from tiger nuts – it’s a must visit city for gastronomic aficionados.
For those that want to follow the gastronomy trail and seek out some of the new, quirky and traditional food and drink attractions in the city here are some of the highlights:
• The recession in Spain has prompted many tapas restaurants to re-invent themselves which has led to the birth of ‘gourmet tapas’. Probably best described as similar to the modern day tasting menu, one of the top places to sample it done the Spanish way by renowned Spanish chef Quique Dacosta, is Vuelve Carolina in the historic centre. www.vuelvecarolina.com
• If you’re impressed by Vuelve Carolina, pop upstairs another night to eat at Dacosta’s new restaurant, El Poblet that opened in October 2012. Dacosta is one of Spain’s top chefs and owner of renowned two star Michelin ‘Quique Dacosta Restaurante’ in Denia. The menu incorporates some of the traditional dishes he offered in Denia when he first opened his restaurant in the 1980s. www.elpobletrestaurante.com
• There are many tapas bars in the historic centre that offer ‘pintxos’ – a type of fast food tapas. This dish is typical in northern Spain and consists of a meat, fish or vegetable tapas skewered together on a piece of bread. Diners help themselves from the cabinets at the bar and pay at the end depending on how many ‘sticks’ or skewers they have on their plate. Great for those that like to look before trying.
• Gin and tonic is suddenly the drink of choice all over Spain and Valencia is no different. Almost every bar, pub and café has a separate gin and tonic menu listing a wide variety of gins. It’s not cheap – averaging around €10 a drink – but a small price to pay to be in with the in crowd. Even a Spanish winery has jumped on the trend and launched a gin www.nginvlc.com/home.asp
• Visiting the Central Market, Europe’s largest fresh produce market is a must for the variety of food stuffs on offer as well as admiring the fantastic structure itself. There are around 900 stalls selling everything from freshly caught fish to whole sheep’s heads, sacks of colourful spices and brightly coloured oranges and lemons. www.mercadocentralvalencia.es
• No visit to Valencia is complete without trying the local non-alcoholic drink, horchata. An unusual drink and unique to the Valencia region it’s made out of tiger nuts, sugar and water in which you dip large finger-shaped buns called fartons. The best place to try it is a traditional horchatorias – there are two opposite each in the centre, close to Plaza de la Reina
• Those that like their drinks alcoholic should head to the Café de las Horas, one of the best settings in which to try Valencia’s other local drink ‘Agua de Valencia’, made from oranges, any spirit which is on hand and topped up with cava. This cocktail bar with its high-baroque ceilings and opulent furnishings demands drinking something exotic.
• Head 20 minutes out of the city for the chance to try the city’s most famous dish paella in a stunning location. The Casa Carmela Restaurant is located on the beach front and cooks Valencian paella over wood, the traditional way. www.casa-carmela.com
• Another legendary place to try paella at the beach front is La Pepica, where Ernest Hemingway and other luminaries once dined. The walls are adorned with photos and tributes to those famous and some not so famous clients and the view over the Mediterranean is superb. www.lapepica.com
• Handy for making all that Paella, Valencia has its own rice growing region, Albufera, not far from the city centre. La Albuefa Nature Park is home to a huge fresh water lagoon and claims to be the birthplace of paella, as well as being one of the most important wetland areas in Spain. The village of El Palmar, inside the park is probably the optimum place to try Spain’s national dish.
• Valencia runs a Restaurant Week twice a year, usually in June and November and it’s a good time for food lovers to visit as chefs at participating restaurant across the city prepare special menus for diners. Priced at just €20 for lunch and €30 for dinner – it’s a great opportunity to taste some of the city’s top restaurants. www.valenciacuinaoberta.com
Valencia is easily accessed with direct flights with Ryanair from Bristol, East Midlands, Stansted, Manchester and Dublin, EasyJet from Gatwick and Iberia from Heathrow to Barcelona, with a connection to Valencia.