Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Crowne Plaza Barcelona - Fira Center, Hotel: a Review

Last June - yes I know nigh on a year ago - my principal carer needed to attend a Pharma conference at the Crowne Plaza hotel next to the Fira Center (sic) in Barcelona. As there were no carers available to look after in my home, Rico had to take me with him. All travel exhausts me, so I knew prior to arrival that I would be holed up in our shared hotel room until I ameliorated.

Lobby & Main Reception

We had taken a taxi from the airport, which dropped us, our luggage and my wheelchair about ten to fifteen metres from the main entrance. There was no doorman to assist Rico with the luggage, supporting me and manhandling the wheelchair. We eventually struggled to get him, me, the chair and the luggage through the revolving-door. No member of staff came to assist either of us. It was not until after being in the hotel several days that a doorman explained that there is a door which can be opened only by staff for easier access by disabled folk, etc. This was not a great start. We were tired from being up early for our flight, the flight itself, driving into the heart of Barcelona and then struggling to actually enter the hotel.

I can speak and understand Spanish quite well, when I have my faculties about me. But by this point I was exhausted and ready to collapse. The young lady at main reception explained that we had been upgraded and that we now needed to go up a couple of floors and check in elsewhere. At said point all we really wanted to do was crash out in our room.

Nonetheless we headed for the lift (elevator) with all our paraphernalia and still no assistance and stepped out to access the Club Lounge.

Club Lounge (i)

We finally could sit down and were offered a beverage, I cannot be sure of my facts after nearly a year but I think Andreu from Sabadell quickly checked us in and explained how the club lounge worked - one's room-key gave one access from breakfast- to closing-time. Theses keys proved rather unreliable, and several times we had to have them refreshed.

The Room

We gladly took our room-keys (the programmed card type) and headed upstairs. I am a fresh air fiend, but alas the windows did not fully open. One could however slide them in such a way as to permit the flow of outside air in, along with any street noise. For siestas we kept the windows ajar. However, at nighttime, we immediately discovered that what seems quiet during the day, transmogrifies into a cacophony at night. So, we had to use the air-con during the dark hours.

Even with the air-con, I was too warm under the duvets. A single sheet option would have been appreciated.



[Image description: the two large, comfortable beds looking towards the windows (top)
and the door (bottom)]



Above, the wide-screen TV, which we barely used other than for the news of a morning. Also a large desk area, which Rico found useful for doing a few computer things for the conference and keeping in touch with his employer. Here also was an instant hot drink-making tray. These facilities were situated opposite the ends of the twin beds.

The bathroom was very clean, with some nice toiletries.



There was a separate wc & bidet behind frosted glass for some privacy. Next to this was the free-standing shower, which appeared mould-free (mold-free). 


The bathtub was ampler than most Spanish tubs, but I imagine Brits and US Americans might struggle to lie comfortably length-ways.


A courtesy robe apiece was also made available.


The only criticisms we had here was loose flooring between the bathroom and bedroom as well as the room needing a freshen-up with new paint.


Club Lounge (ii)

This was a godsend to myself, for I was too unwell to leave the hotel for the first three days, whilst I recuperated from the travel. From my room I could hobble to the lift, descend a couple of floors and walk into the club lounge. There I could prepare myself a beverage, including a wide choice of alcoholic drinks, and pick up a snack. In the morning, after breakfast, there would be pastries, later cold sandwiches & snacks, and in the evening some hot foods would be brought out - or magically appear - depending whether one noticed or not the servers.

Reading matter, daily newspapers, games and TV were also available throughout the day.

And there was always a member of staff at the desk who would try to answer one's queries, book tickets for entertainment on one's behalf or make restaurant reservations.

My main hobby here was either using social media on my laptop or chatting with & making new friends.

Spa

As Rico was busy with his conference, I booked myself in for a massage in the hotel's Serena Spa. A full-body massage lasting just under an hour cost €74. I am used to paying £45 at my local physiotherapist in the UK and on the Costa del Sol I pay between €45-55. For €55 I have twice had a massage with hot stones. There was nothing special about the massage. The masseuse was professional enough but lacked any affability. She did not want to know how I felt afterwards and made no effort, despite my trying in Spanish, to make small-talk.

I was at liberty to use the spa's pool - at the time the hotel's sole pool - but declined as the massage had made me feel relaxed and tired (my usual responses). Had I known I could have used the pool, I should have done so prior to the massage.

Conference Facilities

Rico has attended a fair few conferences over the years - we are both quite mature in years - and was rather excited about the one he attended at the hotel. So much so, that one evening around nineish, he took me to the ground floor to show me the set-up. And whilst there, we saw diligent staff preparing for the next day: moving furniture in/out; putting out literature on tables; erecting signage;…

Main Restaurant

In the club lounge I made friends with two ladies from Vienna (my most favourite place on Earth!), Kristina and her Mater. They had a half-board deal with the hotel. When they attempted to dine in the restaurant they were told they could not order from the restaurant's menu, but would have to have whatever the chef dictated. I am not surprised this outlandish behaviour was offensive to the two ladies. They complained to hotel management and the issue was eventually resolved, but the restaurant staff involved did not apologise to my new friend. I had absolutely no willingness to be treated badly, so gave the restaurant a wide birth.

Staff & Service

Club Lounge staff were ALL delightful, often affable, but always professional even when hotel guests were outright rude to them. I certainly would not have kept such a calm demeanour on being treated badly by mostly Asian sub-continent and Middle-Eastern visitors. On a couple of occasions I felt like telling the guests what for, but that is not my place; so I bit my tongue and kept my opinions to myself. One Indian family permitted their child to climb upon, run over and jump off the furniture disturbing the rest of the guests and showing no respect for others' properties.

I have to say from my own experiences on trying to access/egress the hotel, that the lobby staff were the most unhelpful. I personally did not encounter a single rude member of staff, but, shall I say, some were less than helpful.

Recommendation

Both Rico & I should dearly like to revisit this Crowne Plaza hotel. It's near so many tourist attractions and is on the edge of Poble Sec, an up-and-coming barrio from a foodie perspective. We also wish to try out the new pool-ette on the roof, and imbibe a cocktail from the bar there whilst watching the sunset.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Cañota, Barcelona: a Review

Please note that this is a review of the tapas-bar cum restaurant on Carrer de Lleida, whose full name is Casa de Tapes Cañota, but is known simply as Cañota.

Staying at the Crowne Plaza - Fira Center (sic) for a few days, whilst my principal carer attended a Pharma conference, I was trapped in the hotel until the evening of our third day. On the evening of our fourth, we strolled the hundred metres or so to Cañota. We were attracted by the Italian-style topiary giving some privacy from the roads to the pavement terrace. Obviously we opted for sitting outside: we were tourists not locals and there were pretty fairy-lights!

 [Image description: seated at table, consuming our main course, with US American fellow diners.]

We were greeted by extremely friendly staff. Our main waiter came from Sardinia, but we were able to communicate in our shared Castillian Spanish and English too.

 [Image description: a couple of images taken from the menu,
including Dani Carnero, one of the chefs, and Tina the cow!]

We were handed the most fun menus I have ever come across, which, because we could not help ourselves giggle and laugh, took us an age to read through. Whilst attempting to make our decisions we ordered G&Ts as an aperitivo. At €8.80 these were pricier than most bars and even on the beach. Nonetheless, they are not British measures, rather a small pail of the refreshing nectar.



My chum ordered Iberian ham croquettes (€3.60 for two) along with toast, pan tostado, (€1.70) which came with tomato to rub into the bread for his starter (top image above) and I the octopus, pulpo a feria, (€11.60) (bottom image above). No complaints. Everything was happily eaten. The octopus had been perfectly prepared, so no rubberiness.



Caring carer chose the cod omelette, tortilla de bacalao, (€11.00) for his mains
(top image above). I opted for the cajita fritos, a small box of deep-fried fish & seafood (bottom image above). This course was not accompanied by wine due to us both still sipping our way through the enormous G&Ts. The top image demonstrates that my companion ate every last morsel. After it was taken I finished scoffing my delightful and delicious sea-harvest.


Surprisingly, despite being quite sated at this point, our affable waiter persuaded us to both have a dessert. Rico, has a huge crush on crema catalana (€6.60) and given we were in Catalonia he decided he ought to try the genuine article made by Catalonians (top image above). It was large enough to probably feed a family of four, but nothing was left on the plate. I opted for an artisanal tea ice-cream (€2.20) (bottom image above), which was both tasty and refreshing, by which I was rather surprised.

The total bill came to €72.70 (June 2017 prices), so with gratuity came to €80 or €40 per head for a three-course meal with drink. For the quality, quantity, atmosphere and service, this was a truly excellent repast.

We definitely recommend Cañota. Also we strongly recommend you book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Quimet & Quimet, Barcelona: a Review

Prior to visiting Barcelona, knowing I should be temporarily residing in the barrio of Poble Sec, I looked up recommended eateries on various foodie sites. Every one I checked out recommended Quimet & Quimet as THE place to eat.

I almost never queue to enter an eatery. Due to the exceptionality of the recommendations for Q&Q, my travelling companion and myself on this one occasion decided we should wait with the other wannabe eaters standing patiently in a British-style queue outside of Quimet & Quimet. We were a few minutes early for opening time and to be fair Q&Q opened exactly on time. I have no idea whether queues are normal for them, or whether we mix of Brits, Japanese, US Americans and even Spaniards, were just an unusual, eccentric bunch of obsessed foodies.

As the doors opened, the queue held back until the opener re-entered the tapería. Then it was all in, quick dash. There are zero seats for the place is tiny. Anyone in a wheelchair is best parking up outside. Being on the pavement is probably the cooler option anyway! There is no wc here: so ensure you have used facilities elsewhere prior to arrival. However, the walls just seem to keep going up, up up (images below - sorry for blurriness) and are covered with shelves holding various bottles of alcohol, some even costing hundreds of Euros.




I noticed some Spanish (locals or returnees?) removed their bags and stowed them in a cupboard beneath the dining-surface. We shared our 'shelf' with a couple of young Brit lasses, but all was silent as we scoured the menu.



I opted for partridge with apricot, prune and almond (image above) with a glass of Q&Q's own brand ale. This is the luxury end of the tapas/pinchos/pinxos market. Delicious flavours, perfectly tender and oddly substantial. The dark ale was so delicious, and very much like a British bitter. We bought a bottle to take home.
 



Feeling quite full already, I next opted for a smoked salmon tapas, washed down with a dry white wine. Again delicious. By this time the volume in Q&Q meant one had to shout over the cacophony - menu-reading time was over. We did enjoy shout-chatting with the two young ladies sharing the ledge and mutually recommending other taperías to one another, for Poble Sec is rapidly becoming the area in which to search out cheap, quality food served with alcoholic beverages, especially amongst the young, back-packers and similar.

Quimet & Quimet was even recommended to us by two different taxi-drivers in Barcelona, including one who averred that he ate there himself. We also can only recommend Q&Q. But if you want to be heard, we recommend queueing to get in with the first cohort prior to the noise levels rising and the proximity of multiple bodies pressing into one's own flesh.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Casero, Torremolinos: a Review

During my three months on the Costa del Sol, one meal stands out as by far the best meal I experienced. Oddly enough, I was on my own. Of course, this meant I could fully savour the culinary delights.

I was actually looking forward to pizza at my favourite Italian in Torremolinos, after an afternoon of relaxation and retail therapy. Unfortunately, I had forgotten it was a Monday, and so naturally the Italian was closed - they need a day of rest just like we all.

The entrance from outside the white village; there's another from within.

I recalled visiting what was for me a new restaurant on the edge of the white village in 2016 with a chum, who was the worst for wear (i.e. a tad inebriated). Nonetheless, despite my maudlin companion, the eatery still succeeded in making me feel content inside, emotionally and physically, from a delicious repast.

On this occasion I turned up just after eight, and the place was packed. I know sole diners make many restaurateurs' hearts sink, as it means a cover is lost. However, the staff at Casero did not make me feel unwanted or unwelcome. I was more than happy to sit near the bar and see a little of the kitchen-action. The kitchen is open, which I always appreciate, as it means one can see the cleanliness and so forth.

The bane of my life is my true allergy to garlic, which means prior to eating anywhere other than my own home, I have to check the food is garlic-free, both when ordering and again when served. My charming waiter graciously checked for me and determined that the dishes I had selected would be Colin-safe.


To start I ordered a tartare of smoked salmon topped with roe on a nest of perfect salad leaves.  This was served with rye-bread and soured cream and a deliciously sweet, firm cherry tomato on beetroot shoots. To me, this felt like a Swedish-style plate. I eat fairly slowly. I am glad I do, for I was able to prolong the flavours and oral sensations. This course was accompanied by a dry white wine, a Rueda Verdejo, the crispness went well with the food offering; the flavours of each ingredient remained quite distinct. A culinary delight for me. I am far from being the best food photographer, so I hope my blurry snaps (above & below) might entice the reader, at least a little!


Actually, I could have left the restaurant at that point and would have been totally sated. However, I had ordered a main. Along came my ternera (image below). This can be veal or beef steak. After my superb starter, I really was not worried either way, for all I desired was another oral orgasm or four!


The flesh was perfect: my knife just sliding through it with no real effort. I have never been a gravy person - excepting the clear juices my Gran used to pour over boiled potatoes - but Misha's jus was delicious. The roast potatoes were not as one would expect them in the UK (but then local potatoes are waxy rather than floury), but I was just so relieved to eat potatoes in a non-chip form and furthermore they tasted great too. I loved that the meat was served with mushrooms. (I note that in the past couple of years in southern Spain, fungi are more readily available in the shops. Supercor in Torrequebrada actually now has selections of different types and even speciality ones. Stir-fries can now be made at home with authenticity!)

I ate every last morsel of my main. This, of course, meant I had no room for dessert. I shall just have to return when next I am in Torremolinos.

I cannot rate too highly Casero: cuisine, superb; wine, quite quaffable; personnel, professional and affable; wc, shiny and pong-free; kitchen, spotless and calm.

*

The above article and one of my photos appeared yesterday on Tripadvisor. There it is followed by a response from one of the co-owners.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Benalmádena Palace Hotel & Spa Restaurant: a Review

As the last bog-post, part of this one has appeared on Tripadvisor. However, for some reason they failed to explain, only part of the following was published. The square brackets indicate the missing text. A few additional comments and photos are also added for thoroughness.

This is the second time I have stayed at Benalmádena Palace. As a disabled person, this hotel is very accommodating. On my first visit I did not sample the cuisine in the hotel restaurant only in the snack-bar. On this occasion I have now tried the buffet on two occasions. Obviously, if I have returned, the offering must be at least fair. I should prefer to have rated the buffet as good rather than very good; but average does not do the main dining area justice.

On this occasion the amiable and helpful Miriam, who also serves in the snack-bar on occasion, advised me & took my order for a bottle of house cava. I did not think I should finish it; but after two hours of gobbling I did actually up-end the bottle.


On both occasions I have sampled soups. The first soup was a cream soup and quite tasty. The latest was based on tripe (image above). It looked extremely ugly, but tasted fabulous.


My second course on each occasion was fish. The first time was deep-fried whitebait and this time the most delicious, tender and juicy sword-fish (image above), I think. Perfectly cooked and so tasty. Full marks to the chef! (My regular readers know I adore my fish & seafood.)


On the first occasion I sampled mago, which was fine, but nothing special. I have sampled much better at La Huerta in Arroyo de la Miel. On this occasion I plumbed for roast turkey with stuffing and selected Asian salad as an accompaniment as I could find no potatoes (except chips). The turkey was dry - I sampled pieces from three parts of the slice I had selected - all without any real flavour and all I wished I could have spat out. I suspect the flesh had been under the heat lamps far too long. The stuffing could stand on its own: a sort of plastic pork concoction. It needed more breadcrumb & herbs or spices. The Asian salad on the other hand was a veritable delight: vinegary & sweet and crisp and overflowing with textures, colours & flavours. Full marks!


After my Asian salad, I went for the Japanese-style prawn dim sum, described in Spanish as empanadillas. This were crisp, non-greasy and soooo tasty. I consumed half-a-dozen of them with soy sauce swiped from the sushi counter. I could quite happily have just taken a huge bowl of these and returned to my room to gobble them in front of the TV-set (don't do it, the hotel will surcharge you!).



Next I decided upon a vegetarian noodle dish. The fine noodles were neither too soggy nor too crispy, but just right. Goldilocks would have scoffed the lot! The Chinese [mushrooms were neither soggy nor too firm. Again spot on. (Mushrooms are not that easy to source in Andalusia, so I should dearly love to know where the chef sourced these tasty morsels!) The roast red-peppers had a wonderful fruit-like texture and a concentrated sweet flavour. Oh yes. The only issue with the dish was an over-abundance of crudely chopped onion - hardly an authentic Oriental dish.

For dessert I opted for Stracciatella & vanilla ice-creams. Hardly artisanal; but refreshing and quite acceptable. I followed this with a selection of fresh fruit, melon & pineapple, which were perfectly fine, and a small selection of pâtisserie. The latter were very disappointing. I doubt the cook really knew how to make choux-pastry, as the concoctions were crunchy rather than satisfyingly chewy. The other confections were just sugary overdoses with no real distinct flavours. However, one ought to take account that Spanish pâtisserie is not up to Italian or Viennese standards anywhere I have visited. Nonetheless, I keep sampling cakes wherever I go, hoping to encounter a better offering. The best widely-available Spanish confection in my opinion is their tarta de manzana (apple tart - but nothing like those found in UK or Germanic countries), which wherever I go seems to be of a fairly high standard.

As a final comment, Nouu, a French student on work-experience, was premiering his shushi skills. He was most entertaining, and many folk stopped to watch him in process and his results were sampled and scoffed. As a regular sushi-eater the rice for me was overdone and too starchy. It had lost its integrity. I later spoke to the main chef, and he is going to offer sweet sushi next week - so I shall be back!

At €14.50, the buffet is extremely good value for money. Whilst for this money one might consider that rejecting the not so good dishes as acceptable, I personally hate to see food go to waste. There is far more that is good, occasionally really good, about the buffet than is below par. So I personally recommend giving it a try. My fish dish alone would have been €10-12 elsewhere, and I ate far more. And if you have kiddies, they seem to love it, especially all the desserts! ;) ]


Over several visits, I was pleased to discover this Portuguese naturally carbonated mineral water,  Pedras Salgadas.




The above images are from various repasts I also took in the dining-room (from top to bottom): another Asian mini-feast; mixed grilled fish with salad; fresh fruit platter with a bowl of three different ice-creams.

During my stay I heard several (loud and rather rude really) Brits whinge about the quality and variety of the food on offer. However, not a one was deterred from keep on returning for more. One lady "hated" the desserts, yet she made three separate visits to the postres and scoffed the lot. Hypocrites each and every one. The food is definitely not haute cuisine or cordon bleu. Yes, there were disastrous dishes on offer. And I turned up one Thursday evening when I could not find anything of quality that had been cooked - so salad and fresh fruit it was. Given how expensive restaurant prices are by the sea-front, the hotel's offering represents good value for money.