I've just come back from a fantastic six day holiday to drizzly, rainy London and a cold, food-less flat which is making me crave Valencia even more... I don't know what the Valencia Tourist Board is playing at, they should be promoting the Spanish city as foodie heaven way more than they are. I ate well here every lunch and dinner - far better than Barcelona and Madrid - and I am recommending a long weekend there to all my foodie friends. You must go!
First up, as I'm hungry as I type, the best place we visited (twice) was traditional wine and tapas bar Casa Montaña, which we visited on the Saturday night and returned for our final, late lunch before heading to the airport. The rustic, unpretentious taverna was established in 1836 (it's the oldest in Valencia), hidden on a quiet residential street in the El Cabañal area near the port.
As soon as we arrive, we're barrelled in under the counter behind the bar stacked high with barrels of wine (they stock over 1,000 wines) to a table and stools in the centre of the restaurant, next to the chef carefully cutting jamon in front of us. Mouths watering already.
First up we're served hot black beans in some kind of meaty sauce, then cold skinned tomatoes in olive oil and crushed salt, then tuna with a pepper sauce; the fish was like jamon, air dried and cured and different in consistency to any tuna if had before. Three starters in, so far so good.
Next up was a plate of warm piquillo peppers stuffed with sweetcorn and tuna then some incredible pink beef with spring onions. We then had some pretty unremarkable patatas bravas - very good and perfectly acceptable, but my expectations were now sky high and these weren't as outstanding as the other dishes.
Next was cod fish with cream and some sort of cheese baked in the oven on bread and then - and then - the best jamon I've ever had. It smelt of old oak and we simply had to have two plates. We finished with chocolate truffles before booking a table for our return visit. If you're visiting Valencia, it's a must.
La Lola was another fantastic restaurant highlight; healthy food paired with a flamenco show and live music right in front of you. I loved the modern decor: bright white tables and chairs with walls, tablecloths - everything - emblazoned with red and white polka dots. Yayoi Kusama would approve.
The pork loin was the best pork I've ever had - lean, tasty, not over-seasoned and served with a beautiful potato puree.
The gorgeous flamenco dancer was magnetic, the band was great and the owner/ manager Jesus was charismatic and persuasive (he dragged us up to dance at the end... oh, horror of horrors) and served us glasses of Cava along with big, delicious Sangrias. We love La Lola.
I'd say Casa Montaña served the best food we had in Valencia, La Lola was the most entertaining restaurant, and the finest food was at Bernd Knöller’s Riff.
The German chef's creative cuisine has earnt him a Michelin star since he started his career in Valencia 18 years ago. We went to his peaceful, quiet and tasteful restaurant for lunch and opted for the full tasting menus with matching wines. We were not disappointed.
I'm not going to list all the dishes (as there were many) but the highlights were a pale green juice made of Valencian tomatoes infused with soda, served in flutes. Fizzy tomato juice sounds odd but it was delicious. Poached pears in a mushroom sauce was my favourite dish.
Along with ceviche seasoned with orange and petals and nicely dressed leaves. And the baked plums for dessert were incredible too, I had three favourite dishes...
All of this was matched with Champagne, sherry and Valencian white and red wines. We were there a good couple of hours, closed the restaurant and went back out into the sun full and very happy indeed.
This was my eighth trip to Spain and my favourite yet. Gracias, Valencia.