Guidepost cover, 8 August 1975
Forty-two years ago, in 1975, Jeffrey Owen wrote a guide to tapas bars and restaurants in the famous Plaza Mayor for GUIDEPOST readers. Many of these places are still in business and it should be fun to compare them as they are today with how they were almost half a century ago from Jeffrey’s account. *
Jeffrey had helpfully taken note of the prices of the food served in the eateries. This adds to the fun of the comparison. Remember that the Spanish currency at the time was the peseta (Pta) which was, however, replaced by the euro (€) in 1999 on currency exchange boards. Euro coins and notes were introduced in January 2002, and on 1 March 2002 the peseta lost its legal tender status in Spain, as did all the national currencies of the EU member-states in the Euro Zone. The conversion rate for the pesetas was 166.386 to the euro.
“Plaza Mayor Pleasures” is lenghty, an article of nearly two thousand words. And so we have decided to divide it into two parts. This is Part 2 of “Plaza Mayor”.
“Thought for Food — Plaza Mayor Pleasures”
By Jeffrey Owen
GUIDEPOST, 8 August 1975
• Original cover and article/Guidepost
• Others: Las Cuevas de Luis Candela website
unless otherwise stated
There are other restaurants in the Plaza Mayor, of course. La Toja, for instance, is a three-fork haven for seafood lovers. If you want to see an impressive sample of Spanish seafood favourites, go especially to Calle 7 de Julio, number 3 (off the north side of the Plaza). Go in, if you don’t mind paying for good food from the briny deep, in plain surroundings.
Mesón del Corregidor, at Plaza Mayor, 9 (northwest corner), is really the only restaurant in the Plaza besides Los Galayos offering outside eating (Another, El Púlpito, has closed quite a while “for renovations.”) The Mesón del Corregidor has a three-fork rating, which means substantially higher prices than its competitor across the way, and the menu is not terribly original. The food may well be good – we haven’t tried this one – but there just seems little about the place that makes it worthy of special mention. The crawfish and the beef on display look quite nice, and the merluza enjamonada (hake wrapped in ham) sounds attractive. The paella can only be overpriced (at 800 pesetas for two). The best bet appears to be the chateaubriand (at 450 pesetas for two). The consome, a good barometer of a restaurant’s value, is a lofty 50 pesetas.
The Cuevas de Luís Candela (under the Arco de Cuchilleros – just off the north-west corner of the Plaza) has doormen dressed in the full regalia of the famous Spanish Robin Hood, Luís Candelas. This claptrap approach seems to capture the spirit of the place. It is clearly pitched toward tourists, which does not necessarily mean the food is poor. (Witness Casa Botin, a few doors down on the Calle de Cuchilleros, a tourist restaurant for excellence that manages to maintain the highest standards.) The menu at Luís Candelas – including garlic soup and sopa al cuarto de hora , a house egg dish and a house dessert – at least has some character to it, but the suspicion is that the prices are too high in terms of value. Unfortunately, the only experience we can report here involved a waiter who was either in a bad mood or just naturally surly (this not the restaurant part, but across the steps in the mesón).
At the foot of the Arco de Cuchilleros stairway is the Mesón del Verdugo – like the other establishments mentioned here, more a restaurant than a mesón in the style of the cellar emplacements that line the Calle de Cuchilleros and the Cava de San Miguel. We have tried the Mesón del Verdugo just once and remember the fare as “neither fu nor fa,” as the saying goes – nothing notable, in other words. It may be a reasonably-priced port in a storm, nonetheless (useful for late-night meals, for instance). The consome here is just 15 pesetas.
Guidepost’s Sleeper of the Week is the Terra a Nosa, a Galician restaurant in a wonderfully cool little cavern below the Plaza Mayor – entrance at Cava San Miguel, 3, just across from the San Miguel Market. It’s a good spot to sample Galician cuisine at attractive tariffs, and the atmosphere makes it an excellent stop when making the rounds with out-of-town guests. (The patchwork of old tiles which covers the walls is a special delight.)
The waiters at the Terra a Nosa for some reason often seem to be crabby. They are never rude – in fact quite polite – but just not particularly effervescent. Maybe it’s just Galician gloom. The service is fine, in any case, and the people in the kitchen have a good touch, whether doing an omelette or a casserole. The Terra a Nosa usually does a brisk lunchtime business but is often almost empty later in the evening.
Personal favorites here include the caldo gallego (Galician broth), a hearty first course at 20 pesetas, and the empanadas of mariscos or lomo (meat or fish pie) – a very tasty version of this Galician classic at 55 pesetas. The tortilla gallega (omelette filled with sausage and vegetables), at 60 pesetas, is a good base for a light, tough spicy, meal. Two very main course specialties are the merluza en caldeirada, a hake casserole, and lacón con grelos, a ham and turnip green dish that is the Galician equivalent of Irish corned beef and cabbage. And if you like the tart Galician wines, or if you haven’t yet tried them, this is the perfect place to do so. The vino ribeiro is served in the classic white ceramic pitcher with matching cups. Last but not least, try the flan for dessert. It is made in the kitchen from scratch, and is as good as any we’re ever tested.
If it’s just a glass of wine or beer you want in the Plaza Mayor, try the Torre de Oro (in the arcade on the north side of the square). Prices in this Andalucian-motif bar stay one jump ahead of inflation, but the atmosphere is lively and the little scoops of paella often served out as complimentary appetizers help make it worthwhile.
A plate of fried squid, or a bocadillo, often hits the spot, and if calamares are to your liking you’ll find them in profusion in the Calle Ciudad Rodrigo (off the northwest corner of the Plaza). All the joints along this Squid Row are rough and ready places, none of them notable for standards of hygiene. The best of the lot is Casa Santos, at number 3, Calle Ciudad Rodrigo. The surroundings are humble, and it is not the place to rub shoulders with the aristocracy (go next door to the lovely gallery for high life), but the squid is excellent, and so is the fried hake. They say the sweet wine served here goes well with the fish, but we prefer an ice-cold glass of draft beer.
Finally, for coffee, liqueurs, good pastries, quick ham-and-cheese sandwiches and other cafeteria fare – as well as for outdoor lounging in good weather – the best bet for quality, service and price in the Plaza Mayor is the Cafetería Liana (outside tables in the southwest corner, next to the Los Galayos tables; entrance to the corner area in the Calle de Gerona). There is nothing out-of-this-world about Liana. What makes it attractive is that nearly everything served here is tasty – particularly the all-important coffee – and the service is fast, smooth and courteous. Moreover, the prices are competitive with any place in the area.
*La Toja closed down for a while but is back since 2016. Mesón del Verdugo is gone. Casa Santos on Number 3 Calle Ciudad Rodrigo has been replaced by Casa Rua.