Categories
Restaurants

L’Estartit Eats – Restaurant Cheers Playa

I must walk past or near to this place nearly everyday as part of my dog walking routine. It’s one of many restaurants that hibernate during the windy winter months, reawakening at easter.

Except for some low-slung roadside shrubs, the long range views are eye-pleasing. The recent removal of a long abandoned, concrete built, graffiti plastered beach bar has improved matters.

Just metres away from the beach it’s a perfect spot for one of those long, take-your-time lunches that we enjoy. Or just as welcoming for a morning coffee or sunset drink. The wide, roomy terrace has weather protection and a canopy, useful as it can get blowy here.

The hoarding above displaying its name, Cheers Playa, looks shabby and unloved in comparison to its neat interior. Still, forgetting the old adage of never judging a book etc we ventured forth one sunny Sunday afternoon.

The first obstacle upon entering is our two small dogs, in the absence of any ‘dogs are welcome’ signage it’s a recurring question that gets asked. Thankfully it’s rarely a problem with outdoor terraces, and even indoors-’as long as they’re well behaved’ being the usual anecdote. In contrast the restaurants in Girona are by and large less accepting.

On our Sunday lunchtime visit in early May we were offered a variety of table locations on the terrace, settling on a large, round, ample sized, corner table. Peeking further in, the interior is light, spacious and uncluttered, crisp white tablecloths de rigueur.

We began to peruse the menu, thankfully it wasn’t a long one, and were quickly distracted by the weekend 3-course set menu at 22€ (including bread, water and glass of wine/small beer).

A quick rundown:

Starters, a choice of 4, mussels, goats cheese salad, garlic prawns or beef carpaccio.

Seconds, again a choice of 4, pork tenderloin, veal loin, Salmon or seafood paella.

I opted for the goat’s cheese salad which I choose quite often, ensuring my fix of greens. Depending on where we dine I find it differs widely in quality and in choice of ingredients added to the obvious goats cheese and salad leaves, this one was an 8/10.

The same opinion applies to paella, my second’s choice, as there are so many ways to cook it.

Service was swift, genuinely friendly and fuss-free. The food presentation and quality were impressive, and the desserts were hitting the right notes too. I’d return for sure if there weren’t so many other local places I’d still like to try.

Final bill, for 4, with extra coffees and drinks took us to 116€

Categories
Beaches

Last few months in L’Estartit

Our winter experiment is coming to a close as we have to vacate our rental apartment by late June. The idea was to see how we fared wintering on the Costa Brava as we’d never done anything like this before. 

As with most people who reside in Girona, the coast is always viewed as either a day trip or a summer holiday destination. Whole sections of our former neighborhood La Devesa, decamp to second residences. Those lucky enough to have had savvy grandparents who bought way back when prices were affordable are reaping the rewards.

Once the tourists leave and winter sets in there’s little attraction to remain, especially for the whole winter and into spring. Empty streets, closed shops, bars and restaurants add to the ghost town feel. The few places that decide to stay open here in L’Estartit aren’t always the most inviting, and the odd few that you’d prefer to go into tend to open only at weekends.

Some days you might have the whole beach to yourself but the damp cold or windy climate will mean your stay is short. November, December and January were the bleakest.

That’s not to say that you won’t experience periodic outbursts of fine weather, a nice respite when it happens.

For some, this type of voluntary solitude is no problem, for me it felt a tad strange moving from busy little Girona. When I had a reason to visit the city I felt elated, a nostalgic pull. 

Still, we had to wait until around Easter in early April to notice a distinct rise in reopenings of shops and bars, with a symbiotic increase in tourist visitors. Now in June, the hot weather spell is back with a bang. The beach is buzzing, welcoming and ready for the summer onslaught. Can’t walk the dogs on the beach anymore, but there’s a fenced-off beach area in nearby Els Griells urbanization.

I might venture back in early July to check out their long running Beatles Festival, highlights will include the band’s former barber. The one from Penny Lane?

Categories
Restaurants

L’Estartit Eats – Restaurant Rosamar

It’s the start of April and many of the seafront restaurants are starting to throw off their winter shackles and bounce back to life once again.

A good few of them divide their dining spaces into three areas. Interior, outdoors and a kind of semi-interior, a terraced space protected against the elements with clear plastic curtain sides. That’s because it can, and does get windy here. At its worst this windy escapade even has its own name-tramuntana- descending down off the mountains and not the sea.

I’m looking to book a late lunch for ten of us with a sea view so venture down to the port area of L’Estartit.

Curiously, when you drive into town along its wide Av. Grecia, hit the beach and turn left, there’s not much on offer until you reach the port areas. I should mention the few chiringuitos (beach bars) scattered along the wide expanse of sandy beach, but they disappear out of season (btw most are open by early May). 

There must be at least a dozen places along the stretch of road parallel to the port but we’re not looking for fine dining. At weekends many steer people towards their set menus, but we’re happy to just share tapas.

The local grapevine suggests two places, Rosamar and its next door neighbour, Garbi. Both seem to offer a set menu of several tapas for 20€, except Garbi’s doesn’t include a drink. I walked into Rosamar the day before to make a booking for our group of 10 and check that we got a suitably long table in a good spot.

The forecast is for cool 14 C so I go for the semi-interior. It was all disarmingly easy to arrange, no deposit necessary and we can order freely from their standard menu. On arriving the next day we proceeded to share a long list of tapas dishes. These included such stalwarts as ‘patatas bravas’ -deep-fried cubed potatoes in a gently spiced ‘salsa’ or sauce, and ‘calamares a la romana’- battered rings of squid. This last one is often a disappointment as the holy grail is to get them crunchy on the outside and not too rubbery on the inside.

Gambas al ajillo-prawns in garlic, salty anchovies on toast, sauteed flat-capped mushrooms, grilled sardines, meat croquettes, it was all turning into a real tapas-fest.

As there were lots of us they were served as slightly larger portions or ‘raciones’.There was only one fail in an otherwise noble attempt. It was that good we even ordered extra.

Service was quick and affable, the place was quiet, not sure what he made of our large group of expats that included fluent Catalan speakers. We were rewarded with a unanimously welcome offer of free shots (chupitos).

If a view of the marina full of languishing boats, rather than an uninterrupted view of the beach is your thing then restaurant Rosamar is a deserving candidate. Nearby competing eateries do also offer an almost carbon copy menu, so it’s hard to pick a clear winner.

Final bill. Beers, bottles of red and white wine, a few desserts and several coffees, the cost worked out to 30€ per person.

Categories
Restaurants

L’Escala Eats-Bistrot l’Escale

Coastal resorts dotted along the Costa Brava are well provided with ample places to eat or drink. Out of season that amount dwindles to much less on offer, but this is Easter week.

Milder temperatures and an influx of Easter visitors sees many establishments coming back to life. While L’Escala has its modern suburban looking swathe that is Riells, we tend to gravitate towards its old village area (casc antic). Full of quaint, narrow interconnecting streets and far more characterful in look and feel.

Here there are plenty of seafront cafes and restaurants, which regardless of food quality always seem busy-more so when the skies clear. Maybe for some, the sea views and basking in mood lifting sunlight wins over the quality of the dishes.

Finding ourselves here mid-April it’s uncommonly overcast, grey and still jacket-wearing weather. Strolling along its seafront Passeig Maritim the slightly raging sea swiftly reminds us we’re not quite clear of the vestiges of winter.

I always like to explore the back streets, you often find something different or better value. Bistrot Escale looked a likely candidate and a quick ask if we could go inside with our dogs-yes no problem. Our corner table gave us ample space, the utilitarian decor is easy on the eye, a kind of step up from the usual ‘workman’ cafe. Thankfully the TV playing music videos is on mute.

The high-backed black chairs are a nice foil to the white topped tables. The place is empty, granted it’s one-ish so that means it’s early around here. The placemat doubles as the menu and the list is on the small side. That’s not a negative as I always think that mastery over a limited number of dishes-well executed, is to be applauded. A jack-of-all-trades approach to a large menu is often a let down.

Two of us opted for the Burger au Saint Nectaire(€13.90)-a fancy cheeseburger in essence, and a Suprema de poulet au bleu (€12.90)-chicken in a creamy cheese sauce. All well presented, with minimal salad leaves, stringy french fries, and I was left wishing for a larger burger size.

Still, the choice of four desserts would come to the rescue as we had set our sights on the Tarte au citron (lemon tart, €5.90) a French classic. Sadly it was not to be as we were told none of the desserts were available-no reason given, only ice cream was on offer.

I was beginning to feel some sympathy for them as we’d been their only customers during our visit. We might be enticed back another day as they do pinchos (tapas) after 7.30pm.

Final bill for 3, food (no starters), coffees, soft drinks and a bottle of house white wine, €62

Categories
Beaches

Sa Tuna and Aiguafreda- two jewels on the Costa Brava

There are no shortages of beguiling beaches on the Costa Brava, large and small. Some of these tiny little known coves can be a joy to discover. Questions around ease of access and parking-if any- do crop up but reward the adventureous or the curious.

Quite a few of the upmarket super-mini beach hideaways can be found clustered around the coastline near to the inland town of Begur. On entering it’s easy enough to pick up signs for Sa Tuna, a further ten minute drive.

Just before you start the descent of a hundred bends there’s the opportunity to gasp at the breathtaking views of this ancient coastline. These quickly become obscured by groves of pine trees, roadside villas and then we reach Sa Tuna.

Being a sunny Sunday in late January parking was relatively easy, heaven knows what awaits you at the height of summer as public spaces are few. I’m reminded that this is our first visit ever here which I find surprising.

As we walked down towards the sea the hillside was peppered with fine residences, all dutifully pointing seawards. The postage stamp beach is mostly gravel and rock. It already had several groups of sitters and a canoodling couple unperturbed by passers by. A quick scan identified a coastal path to our left. There was no sign of any functioning open cafe or bar, a nearby hostel was closed for the winter.

We chose the route marked Aiguafreda 15’ (minutes) and began to scale the steps leading away from Sa Tuna. It weaved through the village before the vista opened hugging the shore. The path meanders upwards with long expanses of stone steps before leveling off and dropping down to Aiguafreda. Even having handrails all along here there are steep perilous looking drops to your right.

There’s hardly any beach to speak of here, and few hillside villas, but lots of hard concrete areas. Of course the views out to sea and the hills above are the real compensation. We noticed groups of divers exiting the water so maybe that’s the real attraction.

After a brief stop to catch our breath and the requisite selfies we made our way back to Sa Tuna. This is for lovers of a truly quiet retreat where you’d have to make your own fun, or endlessly stare at a picture perfect horizon beneath a bold blue sea. 

Sa Tuna is a strong candidate for such a place, a be-in-the-moment type place.

Categories
Restaurants

Restaurant Nova Pasta, Llafranc

Seeing as we’re currently based in L’Estartit on the Costa Brava, it’s far easier and quicker to jump into the car and take a few hours out to visit nearby places. Whether it’s inland or a beach there’s plenty to choose from, even in the midst of winter.

During our time here we’ve lived mostly inland, in Girona, and have explored most of the province. This time we opted for the coastal town of Calella de Palafrugell where we hadn’t been for a very long time. Its handful of charming sandy coves are clustered close together, hemmed in on either side by a much craggier coastline.

With a village feel, boutique shops, restaurants and galleries it has already claimed that chic respect that other coastal spots still aspire to.

This makes it a popular summer destination for well-healed locals and lucky domestic and foreign second home owners. It also hosts one of the most popular and longest running outdoor summer music festivals, Cap Roig.

You’ll find the ‘cami de ronda Llafranc’ to the east of Hotel La Torre, where you can also park if driving. These walking routes are signposted in green, each one with a time duration. This one takes about 15 minutes to reach Llafranc, the next Costa Brava beach resort. Dogs in tow we headed off along the well worn path which hugs the coast, providing spectacular sea views and scary looking cliff edges.

The descent into Llafranc gives one a chance to view the resort in its entirety, with a verdant backdrop of pine forests and the vast expanse of deep blue sea.

Being a sunny Saturday post-Christmas the afternoon temperature just about allows for al fresco dining. Strolling along its pedestrianized seafont all our preferred options had no free outdoor tables, until we reached Nova Pasta. Our luck was in, as we spotted an empty table still bathed in sunlight. Their modern looking long narrow terrace sits next to a shuttered hotel but we had a generous beach view.

It’s one thing to sit down and wait for a menu or to want to place your order if you happen to possess the menu. Daily life here is peppered with numerous encounters where time or punctuality are unimportant. If being laid back and procrastination were college subjects I’d be up there with the best of them. However, waiting to be served is perhaps my achilles heel.

The waiting staff were busily dashing up and down the length of the terrace, seemingly invisible to us. I saw a group of people who’d sat down after us, giving their order. Even with my wife’s disapproving stare I duly sent my daughter inside, with a smile and a confident swagger to hurry things along.

Menus in hand we chose the following; a meat based pizza, a goat’s cheese salad and a pasta dish with mushroom sauce, oh and some home-made meat croquettes to share. Thankfully the wait was noticeably normal, and, in my opinion these types of dishes are hard to muck up. The setting sun and the drop in temperature gave us a hint that it was time to make a move.

Verdict. Nova Pasta’s food offering was just what we’d wanted, and while well executed it was ordinary fare at a good price. 

Final bill for 3, included 2 small beers, 2 coffees and a coke, 60€

Categories
Restaurants

Craft beer-El Birrot, Jafre

It was time to shake off the shackles of Estartit and widen my horizons bar-wise. The choice of drinking holes in the middle of winter is small. Coupled with this lack of choice is the lack of an atmosphere or vibe makes that number even smaller.

So, when a craft beer loving friend recommended El Birrot I was happy to go and try it. The slight downside was having to get the local bus there, a mere 20 minute journey to the inland village of Jafre. 

It had just got dark by the time we arrived, as the bar’s winter opening times are 6pm to midnight (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). You could drive along the main road here and easily dismiss this place as another sleepy looking medieval Catalan village where not much goes on.

We pressed on into the bowels of the village to be met by a large metal gate into what looked like someone’s front courtyard. The ‘Tancat’ or closed sign was a scant reminder to the building’s true purpose. Its enclosed frontage is littered with plain wooden tables and a smattering of newly lit fire pits. This isn’t the night to be drinking outdoors, it’s too cold, so the welcome sight of an indoor spot next to the fireplace was our choice.

The young staff are welcoming and seem to recognise my two friends from previous visits. I dare say they get next to no Englishman here, I mean how would you hear about this place. It’s not on any tourist trail that I know of, maybe that’s its allure.

We survey their board’s offerings hanging above the bar which lists their alcoholic strength and prices, which I must now admit are on the high side. My beer was 8€ for a pint and looks wise, resembles a cloudy fresh orange juice, but more refreshing, with a tangy bite that reminds you of what you are really drinking.

Perusing the not too large plain interior, it has connotations of a super man-cave-shed project that went a bit too far. These images are quickly dismissed as the beer takes effect and bar food snacks appear. Nachos, patatas bravas, chicken wings and ‘sticks de pollastre’- breaded chicken goujons-in generous proportions help to soak up the strong ale.

I can only presume that these are locally sourced Catalan craft beers and I’m reaching the point of when I want to stop and switch to red wine. Although their shelves are prolifically decorated with empty wine bottles, sadly they don’t sell any wine of any colour or type. 

This dedication to craft beer even extends to the absence of any run-of-the-mill popular commercial lagers.

We continue with the craft beers and both the interior and exterior space is filling up fast, they’ve certainly cornered the market for an evening venue for miles around. Our own situation dictates that we need to catch the last bus through here at about 9.20pm. It’s always a wrench to depart just as things are getting off the ground. Still there’s always a next time.

Final bill for three hours of fun, for three of us, food and drinks was an eye watering 46€ each. I think the young, bearded, hipster, college dropout looking owners are having the last laugh.

Categories
Restaurants

L’Estartit Eats- Restaurant Camelot

As we hunker down for winter I’m noticing that quite a few cafes and restaurants that were open in November, are closing as we enter into December.

I guess that economically things don’t stack up for them to remain open. I know from personal experience how expensive it is to run a business here, or to be self-employed.

However, others remain open but restricted, perhaps to only from Friday to Sunday. The meagre influx of weekend visitors helps to remind us we’re not totally cut off.

With time on our hands we boldly venture out to continue ticking off those lunchtime menus. This time we drove into the nearby inland town of Torroella de Montgri, on the back of a recommendation.

There’s a bit more life here with plenty of little alleyways, squares and side streets to wander around. It’s better known for the Castell Montgri atop a hill. Visible from miles around, it was never finished and there are walking trails up to it-but not today.

From the outside, Restaurant Camelot doesn’t invoke much of an impression. Located within a largely residential area you’d be hard pressed to chance upon it by accident. Entering was much better, with rustic bare stone walls and a large dining area, divided by a glass partition.

Because, as in most outings we had our two dogs, I made sure I’d perfected the Catalan for ‘are dogs permitted?’ That out of the way we were offered a table within its first section. 

At least we had a patio heater near our table. Whilst we weren’t alone most new arrivals would go into the more warmer, cosier-looking second section.

Still, not feeling we’d been hard done by, I must remember that it’s the food that’s under scrutiny. We must be giving something away as we’re handed the menu in English. Their ‘a la carte’ section looked solidly interesting, and there’s a choice of set-lunch weekday menus at 22€ and 17€. 

We opted for the latter, choosing starters of carpaccio, and I had asparagus with shavings of cured ham in a romesco sauce, plus goats cheese caramelised top.

This was an untried combination for me, simple but satisfying, unlike the wife’s carpaccio, which though visually creative, failed to impress. A nice bottle of house white wine duly appeared and the place was filling up.

We were pleasantly surprised to see Monkfish as one of the main dishes. It’s more usual on higher priced menus, so a no-brainer choice for us both. Happily the pieces of fish were large and like most other places there’s little else added. No heavy sauces, just the main ingredient and a gentle nod to the veg department.

My dessert was a baked apple, adequately done, and now I’m full.

Verdict. Polite and efficient service, I’m sure the legendary English knights would fit in quite nicely here (sadly, no round tables!. 

Vfm (value for money) rating, a solid 9/10.

Final bill, 2 lunch menus (17€ ea.) and an extra drink, 40€

Categories
Beaches Girona

Spending winter on the Costa Brava

(part 3) We’re fast approaching the xmas festive season (late in publishing) and I’m trying not to resort to those expressions we use when places are so quiet, like ‘would the last person turn off the lights’.

Solitude sucks for some, others lap it up, I may be somewhere in the middle for now. At least there’s us two and the two dogs, a reason to go out. Sure, the long morning beach walks are uplifting, especially when the sun’s out. 

The sea view here in L’Estartit is dominated by the Isles Medes, a series of rocky outcrops a mere few hundred meters out. Now a nature reserve and popular diving spot. To my left the coastline disappears, slithering its way to the next resort, L’Escala. To the right there are distant views of inland Pals, the jutting headland of Begur and those upmarket beach resorts like Sa Riera .   

Much longer beach walks are possible in a southerly direction, about 45 mins will take you to the mouth of the river Ter (la gola de ter). That’s about as far can go, as there’s no bridge across here, as the soft sandy banks shift too much.  During the summer you’d just wade across or for fun walk up river a bit, jump in and drift slowly down with the current.

However, this is winter and there’s no ferryman.

Life in L’Estartit slowly develops at its own pace, our daily beach walk encounters may include other dog walkers and even the odd metal detectorist. I’ve heard they’re illegal to use on a beach here but then this is Spain. People’s attitude to rules are different-seen more as guidelines and not to be strictly adhered to.

On windy days when the sea is rough you see small groups of surfers, but this isn’t exactly dramatic ‘wipeout’ territory. Even when wearing wetsuits it looks too cold. As I traverse the vast expanse of sand I still continue with my ‘good dead for the day’ by picking up rubbish whenever I see some.

On days when the wind really whips up the sand to sandpaper proportions you appreciate the might of nature. I’m starting to realize what it feels like inside a wind tunnel.

Categories
Restaurants

L’Estartit eats- Don Quijote restaurant

The winters here can still remind you of what it was like back in England, shortened constant rainy days with little to do. It’s late November and colder, we’re on the low side of double digits. 

The recent downpours have left a lot of surface water making navigating pavements trickier. Gutters have become like tributaries, but not for too long.

We’ve decided it’s time to try Don Quijote for the simple reason it’s just around the corner. We’re surrounded by a wilderness of empty tourist apartment blocks. They seem well serviced with cafes and restaurants but understandably shut until people return next season.

Perhaps Don Quijote is the last culinary outpost open in this part of town, stubbornly refusing defeat, or maybe they have nowhere else to go. I’ve walked past its low white unassuming facade a few times, noting their black A-board advertising their weekday set lunch menu, at 13€. 

It’s an uncomplicated run-of-the mill offering, unfussy home-cooked fare, keep your expectations to a minimum. Like I’ve said before, no one’s expecting to be bowled over or wowed at these prices. 

I’m as happy with a paper napkin as the next man, just don’t give me plastic cutlery please. However, we’re still mindful of the other elements that go into a visit. Things like service, the ambience, who knows we may return to try the a la carte options.

Our Thursday visit means paella dominates, as it’s a dish traditionally served on this day. I vow to find out why one day. Variations generally fall into two camps, meat or seafood, rice of course and bulked out with some veg. Quite how much meat or seafood you get is down to the chefs generosity.

For me, I like it not too liquidy and with a crusty base. Truthfully speaking paella nirvana elsewhere will cost you in the region of 30€ + per couple.

We entered and asked if our dogs were welcome, yes no problem, and were led through to their rear. My first reaction was that it felt a bit cold, though enclosed it felt more suitable in warmer times. The interior has a fireplace and I tried asking again, when they gave us a table by the front door. 

No sooner than sitting here we were then ushered to a larger table further inside, which was a bit warmer. The initial indifference had changed to a more friendlier welcome.

Given its location the place was busier than I’d imagined. No paper menu, our waiter reeled off the options, good job we’d already read their board outside. We both went for the fish soup for starters followed by the paella. 

A large bowl of piping hot fish soup duly arrived, with submerged pieces of fish, prawns and mussels. The addition of a tiny bowl of croutons was a nice touch, altogether a perfect antidote to a cold November day.

The elderly man who’d tried to relegate us to their rear cold dining area came by a few times fishing for feedback. 

Our seafood-packed paella appeared and was kindly served onto our plates. There was plenty for us two, flavoursome and filling. What with a small side salad and bread, the need or wish for a dessert became immaterial. Still, in pursuit of research we had a flan and the chocolate cake with the usual squirty cream. Nothing to write home about there.

Verdict. It’s fictional namesake would surely approve.

VFM rating 9/10

Final bill, 30€ we often go over the standard price as we have extra drinks or coffees.