Valencia is a terrific city, with a lovely leisurely feel and things of beauty and interest almost everywhere you look. I highly recommend a visit there, in particular the old centre is a wonderful place to idle away a sunny afternoon when you have nothing better to do than to drift from square to square, sampling the bars and watching the world go by.
The oval shaped Plaza de la Reina is especially delightful with the impressive cathedral of Santa Maria at one end and the rather exotic church tower of Santa Catalina at the other. In between is a beautiful space with grass and trees and bars all around, a perfect place to refresh oneself with a caña of beer. I felt very much at home here and enjoyed it immensely, but man cannot live on beer alone, come 2.30 lunch beckoned!
There is one problem, and one problem only with eating in Valencia; choice. Where on earth do you choose to eat when every other building is an eatery of sorts and, in typical Spanish style, the menus are very similar indeed?
In truth I cannot answer that one, you just have to go with a gut feeling in the end, the trouble is it can take time before you see the one and your internal chimes sound. However, I did find it and it was only a few minutes walk from the Plaza de la Reina, if only I had walked in the right direction to start with.
I eventually stumbled upon La Utielana, Plaza Picadero dos Aguas 3 or San Andres 4, and I am glad that I did. It was really terrific, authentically Spanish, old fashioned and welcoming. First off you eat inside, as the Spanish do, in a traditional tiled dinning room that is bustling with waitresses and bursting with Spaniards loudly enjoying their lunch. This was what I had been looking for, it took me back to childhood holidays and more relaxed times.
The Gambas al Ajillo were not only the best I have ever tasted, perfectly cooked and tender, smothered in good oil with fresh garlic and flakes of red chili, but at €5.75 they were also the cheapest for a long, long time.
I was greedy, what can I say, there were things on this menu that I had not seen for years, so I wanted them! Tucked away under the eggs section of the menu, eggs section!, was Huevos a la Flamenca. Now this is as traditional as Spanish food comes. Time was it was on every menu, but by the late 1970s it had become pretty unusual to find it and I have not been offered it for around 20 years, so I was excited. What’s more it was only €3.75, so I ordered that and hoped that it lived up to the memories of my youth. Well it did, the dish itself is very simple, eggs baked on slices of ham and chorizo sausage with peas and some fresh tomato puree, but the flavours work so well together and it is very tasty indeed.
For the same reasons, greed dressed up as nostalgia, I ordered a portion of Riñones al Jerez, kidneys in sherry, they were super, tender and flavoursome with a rich gravy that required many baskets of the excellent bread to soak it all up.
They had rather a good range of wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, all red; if you want white there was one local offering by the glass. However I was in the mood for local and traditional stuff, so I had a bottle of the Hoya de Cadenas Reserva 2004 from Utiel-Requena, just up the road, and I’m glad that I did. It was fruity and medium-bodied with smooth tannins and touches of elegance that made it a perfect partner to the food.
My main course was the dish of the day, a plate of Fidegua, or Fideua in Castillian Spanish, which is a paella made with pasta instead of rice and very good it was too.
My greed continued to control my brain and a Crema Catalana was ordered, for purely nostalgic reasons you understand. I ordered a glass of deliciously honeyed Moscatel de Valencia dessert wine to accompany it and rounded the whole meal off with some of the best cortado coffee I have had in ages.
This unassuming little place is a delightful restaurant to sit in and enjoy life, it was like being in someone’s home for a while and seeing a world that was totally different from your own. The food was lovely in a classic, simple, straightforward and honest way, just as I like it. I cannot wait to go back.
If anyone knows of similar places, feel free to post them here.