A Food Lover's Guide To Valencia
San Sebastian may be the Spanish destination topping the must-dine list of food lovers the world over, but there are a wealth of places in Spain able to offer similarly exciting and intriguing dining experiences complete with their own star products and local specialities, not to mention innovative cooking from boundary-pushing chefs.
Take Valencia. The city, which dates back to Roman times, is Spain’s third-largest and, located on the country’s east coast where the Mediterranean sea laps at its shores, is home not only to fine dining temples from some of Spain’s most acclaimed chefs - namely Ricard Camarena and Quique Dacosta – but it also has a wealth of casual eateries where you can indulge in top-notch tapas and paella cooked to perfection – the latter to be expected as Valencia is afterall the place where the classic Spanish rice dish is said to have originated. If that’s not reason enough to pay it a visit, there are a host of other dishes and delights particular to this gastronomic city just waiting to be tasted.
A great place to start the day … Dulce de Leche
Named after the indulgent Latin American caramel-like sauce, this cafe and pastry shop has a suitably sweet selection of pastries as well as a wealth of savoury offerings. The popular breakfast spot’s street-side seating is perfect for sunny mornings, otherwise a bright, airy indoor space will have you sat close to the bountiful counter filled with sumptuous treats. Whatever you order, add one of the traditional empanadillas – these mini versions of the classic filled pastries are not to be missed. The Ruzafa location is the second branch of Dulce de Leche – the original is in neighbouring Jesús.
Carrer de Cuba 46 Bajo, Valencia, +34 960 03 59 49
A fantastic location to get a drink … Cafe de las Horas
Horchata is one of Valencia’s famed beverages. Made from tiger nuts, the refreshing milky drink is found in various outlets, many of which are concentrated around Central Market. For those seeking something stronger, Valencia boasts its very own, town-renowned Agua de Valencia cocktail. This “Valencian Water” is not for the faint of heart, even if the mix of cava, freshly squeezed sweet Valencian oranges plus gin and vodka does go down easily. In a surprisingly quiet street given its location off Plaza de la Virgen in the heart of historic Carmen, Café de las Horas offers the city’s signature tipple by the pitcher. With al fresco tables available, it’s the quirky interiors that you’ll want to savour alongside this killer cocktail.
Calle del Conde de Almodóvar, 1, 46003 Valencia, +34 96 391 73 36
An iconic venue that is still consistent and highly relevant … Central Bar
“Always eat at the market” asserts our waitress as we delight in our first dish at Central Bar. What follows does not disappoint either. Part of acclaimed Valencian chef Ricard Camarena’s stable of restaurants – there’s also his eponymous two-Michelin-star fine dining restaurant, and more casual eateries Habitual and Canalla Bistro, which has branches in both Valencia and Madrid – Central Bar is a casual tapas and bocadillo (Spanish sandwich) spot located in the heart of Mercado Central from where many of its ingredients are sourced. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike, so much so that it’s worth arriving before noon when the bar fills up and people start loitering to take your seat as soon as you finish. Even more importantly, by 12.30pm some of the specials have run out and many you won’t want to miss. Speaking of missing out. One word. Cheesecake. It’s one of Spain’s special burnt ones. The staff swoon over it – and you will, too.
Mercat Central Locals No 105 to 131, Plaza Ciudad de Brujas, s/n, 46001 Valencia, +34 963 82 92 23
A place that gives a true local flavour … Bodega Casa Montana
Good tapas is not hard to find in Valencia, but Bodega Casa Montana offers so much more than simply good tapas. The restaurant, located slightly away from the centre of Valencia and towards the beach, has been around since 1836 and it’s easy to see why. Drawing a mostly local crowd to its traditional, rustic interiors, the extensive list of tapas covers it all, from grilled artichokes and patatas bravas to padron peppers and jamon alongside a wealth of fresh seafood, though not everything on the menu is available all the time, dependent on the season and the catch of the day. Everything is excellent, and many of the plates are returned for seconds, particularly the sweet tomato salad and the boquerones (fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar and olive oil). It’s all washed down with refreshing Spanish white and a good deal of banter from the friendly staff.
Carrer de Josep Benlliure, 69, 46011 València, +34 963 67 23 14
A place to splurge … Llisa Negra
Llisa Negra is the latest addition to Valencia from Quique Dacosta, the chef whose Valencian fine dining temple El Poblet lies just around the corner, and whose eponymous establishment in Dénia, 100km down the coast, holds three Michelin stars. At Llisa Negra, a more casual vibe shines through, yet the sophisticated cuisine you would expect from a culinary mastermind remains. Seafood-focused with an emphasis on the freshest local produce often cooked on the grill, the restaurant opened in November 2018, and with its modern Mediterranean design complete with open kitchen is the perfect environment in which to indulge in a seriously spectacular meal, complete with a duly considered wine list. Veal tartare, various types of prawns and outstanding tuna are among the highlights, not to mention paella in many forms. The burnt cheesecake with its runny centre is a near-heart-stoppingly good end to an evening.
Llisa Negra, C/Pascual y Genís, 10, Valencia– 46002, +34 699 18 37 70
A market that a food lover needs to visit … Mercat de Ruzafa
Some of the most appealing market treats typical of Valencia sadly don’t travel well, whether it’s the Benicarló artichokes, a DOP protected product of Valencia in season between November and June, the broad beans gathered in tubs around which locals gather, or the vibrant Padrón peppers. But the Spanish markets have plenty on offer for those looking for a foodie souvenir to take home, whether it’s a leg of Iberico ham, a jar of honey, pimento paprika, green olive oil (much more reasonably priced than the Italian) or even Spanish chocolate (though there’s a reason this is not as renowned as that from other European nations). If you are looking for something specific to Valencia, why not try a bottle of the region’s wine or Valencia’s very own cava? Mercado Central has plenty of foodie treats on offer, but for a less touristy, more peaceful market experience with just as much fresh produce to ogle and comestibles to carry away with you, try Mercat de Ruzafa.
Mercat de Ruzafa, 11, Plaça del Baró de Cortés, s/n, 46004 València +34 963 74 40 25
This feature was originally published on Hong Kong Tatler.