Tapas and paella: eating in Granada

Granada has the reputation for being one of the last Spanish cities to give you free tapas with each drink ordered. Alas that seems to depend where you go… but whether you’re paying or getting it gratis, there are some great places to eat.

For tapas
Al Sur de Granada
At the end of Calle Elvira, near the huge gate in the ancient city walls, this deli-cum-bar is for tapas with a difference. Not only are the ingredients for sale, so you can stock up on jamon, cheese and olive oil, all the products are organic or from artisan producers.

Which also means you’ll get a more interesting range than you might find elsewhere. We ordered wines by the glass, although you can also get local beers – organic vintages can sometimes be a bit hit and miss but both white and red (from a large selection) were fantastic.

Try a bit of everything by picking a few of the mixed plates – we had one of cheese, with half a dozen different types, another with ham and sausage, plus some spicy black pudding and artichokes, a tomato and avocado salad, and finished up with coffee and an orangey cake. I could quite happily have ordered another dozen things from the menu but had to be able to walk afterwards…

tapas-granada-coffee-cake

Even the staff get a rave review – our friendly and knowledgeable waitress Rebecca was encouraging and patient with our attempts to speak Spanish, and fluent enough in English when needed.

Also recommended
For the classic tapas experience, Los Diamantes near Plaza Nueva and Bodegas Castaneda on Calle de Almireceros both came very highly recommended by guidebooks, travel features and the locals… which is probably why both were absolutely packed to the rafters when we tried to visit.

As a result, we ended up in La Palatina on Calle San Jeronimo near the cathedral where some mildly confused ordering ended in us getting dish after dish after dish of tapas for a measly six euros each. With plenty of locals and decent wine by the glass, it was a happy plan B.

For fish
Restaurante Oliver
The best fish restaurants cluster around Plaza Pescaderia, unsurprisingly, so it’s a good place to start. But Oliver’s was worth the recommendations. Bustling and busy by 9pm, practically tea time by Spanish standards, it had as many local families as tourists and couples.

We sat at the outside tables, tucked helpfully away in a marquee with very welcome under-table heaters during March. I suspect the tent vanishes during the summer months and it’s even better.

More friendly service, bilingual if needed, and a fantastic garlic soup including plenty of sweet roasted garlic, chunks of bread and a rich egg yolk tucked at the bottom. We followed up with a seafood paella, something which turns up on a lot of Granada menus. As usual it’s for a minimum of two people and you’ll have a half hour wait (which proves it hasn’t been stewing under a hot lamp), but order it if you can.

oliver-restaurant-granada-seafood-paella

Perhaps skip the soup first though, gorgeous though it was, as there was easily enough for three in the vast paella pan, plus plenty of seafood. We devoured it so quickly, I all but forgot to take a photo…

Less impressive
With so much focus on tapas, Granada’s restaurants seem a slightly mixed bunch – if you’re splashing out, there’s Restaurante Damasqueros in Realejo with a tasting menu that’s flagged as one to watch by Michelin and Mirador de Morayma, which would be high up my list for next time. At the other end, there are a few places that rest on their laurels.

Ruta del Azafran in Albaicin has spectacular views up to the Alhambra at night, including riverside tables. But while I don’t have first-hand experience, the reviews seem to agree that service is pretty dire, and food can be mixed. Lovely though the view may be, it wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.

Restaurante Sevilla, which we did visit, is famous for being something of a celebrity hotspot after opening in 1930, including Federico Garcia Lorca. These days, it just looks slightly tired. Most people there were obviously tourists, service was efficient but perfunctory, atmosphere was almost entirely absent and the food was a bit hit and miss – there was free tapas to start, but it was a slightly odd potato salad. Oxtail stew was lovely but came with half a dozen greasy undercooked chips, and nothing else. Most of the tables had reserved signs so it’s evidently popular – but I couldn’t help wondering if it pulled in the crowds on the basis of its reputation.

 

All images copyright MummyTravels/Cathy Winston

Pledge one hour this Easter

There is not enough time in the day… Which goes some way to explaining why I’m blogging at 10pm but also to why parents get less than an hour per day of quality time with their children.

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That’s according to a new survey by an independent market research company, at least. It does sometimes seem that there’s another set of stats every week telling us how little time we spend with our kids and how we’d all like to spend more – 82% wish they could, in this case.

Until someone rearranges modern life to exclude things like work, school and sleep, I’m not quite sure how that might be resolved though.

But rather than simply loading on the extra guilt, someone has attempted to do something positive.

After almost three quarters of the 1,100 parents surveyed said that having access to new ideas and resources would help, new website PledgeOneHour.com has launched, packed with free activities for parents to do with their children this Easter.

The brainchild of the founder of Weekend Box Club, a subscription service delivering creative activities for parents and kids though the post (think Graze boxes except with activities rather than nibbly bits), it’s backed by the National Trust and Project Wild Thing.

And there are activities and downloadable suggestions ranging from child-friendly recipes to arts and crafts as well as suggestions on exploring outside, including the National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾.

Most are currently aimed at aged four to six, but there’s plenty which can be adapted for different ages – walk like the animals (frog, crab etc) could work from toddlers up.

If you’ve already pored over the National Trust’s list and Project Wild Thing, you’ll recognise a lot of the suggestions. But assuming you’ve got as little time to spare as most of us, having everything in one place is a great idea.

Because instead of scouring the internet and your slightly frazzled brain for inspiration, you can use that free hour to do something that makes the most of every minute.

 

Image: Catherine/Flickr

Royalty, Rothschilds and Ealing comedies: Gunnersbury Park

Since starting the Take 12 Trips challenge last year, I’ve managed to keep to my goal of at least one trip per month, packing in Copenhagen and the Caribbean along with Portugal and Granada.

But part of the point of the challenge is a reminder that you needn’t necessarily travel far to explore. We’ve also headed down the road (in UK terms) to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.

gunnersbury-park-gardens-view

And last weekend, we discovered another patch of previously unexplored London even closer to home – Gunnersbury Park.

I’m lucky enough to live in a very green suburb of West London, with two parks and the open space of our local common within a 20-minute walk.

So perhaps that explains why, in the decade I’ve lived in the area, I haven’t managed the half hour stroll to Gunnersbury Park. But even our first visit has made me certain I want to go back… not least because there’s just so much of it to explore, with 75 hectares of a Grade 2 listed landscape.

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A couple of lottery grants mean there’s some big plans underway as well, to restore both the park and the buildings, currently in the top 12 ‘at risk’ properties in England, according to English Heritage.

There’s plenty to be done to return it to its original splendour, but even the peeling paint and underused structures are impressive to wander around on a sunny day.

gunnersbury-park-mansion-restorationA quick bit of research showed its history is far more fascinating than I’d realised too. Its name alone is intriguing, apparently deriving from Gunylda, the niece of King Canute, who lived in the area until begin banished from the country in 1044.

The first notable mansion was built during Cromwell’s time, by the son-in-law of Inigo Jones, and the land later passed to George II’s daughter Amelia in 1760 before finding itself in the hands of the Rothschilds the following century.

Some political wranglings later, it became public land co-owned by Ealing and Hounslow councils, featuring in Ealing Studios’ classic The Lavender Hill Mob and hosting the London Mela since 2003.

gunnersbury-park-temple-historicStill home to the free local history museum for the two boroughs (closed last weekend in some unfortunately timing on my part) in Gunnersbury Park House, the grounds also include an Orangery, Princess Amelia’s Bath House, Gothic Ruins plus the peaceful formal Italian Garden.

More prosaically, there’s also a playground, pitch & putt golf, a small cafe with a huge queue for ice creams and a lake overlooked by an 18th century temple, where ducks ignore the endless succession of visitors throwing them bread.

Even wandering around for an hour meant we’d barely scratched the surface before a tired and hungry toddler meant it was time to head home.

But it’s the perfect reminder that you can discover some unexpected gems by looking just a tiny bit further afield.

 

The perfect summer sunglasses for kids

A couple of weeks ago, when the sun finally started shining again, I began my quest for my new perfect pair of sunglasses.

But after spending a gorgeously sunny afternoon exploring a new park with Minnie, I’ve realised I need to add sunglasses for kids to my shopping list.

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We’ve had a pair of Baby Banz passed on from a friend of mine – cleverly designed for babies and toddlers with a Velcro strap around the head, shatter-resistant frame and some impressive category 3 lenses (offering about the best protection out there).

baby-banz-pink-john-lewis

Needless to say Minnie, who resists any kind of hat and only vaguely tolerates hoods, wasn’t a fan of something over her face. The last time we tried them, in the Caribbean, she put up with them for about a millisecond before pulling them off.

A combination of hat, buggy hood and muslin kept most of the glare off her then – now she yells if the hood goes up even an inch and is usually running around anyway.

But today the ‘bright light’ of the spring sun finally convinced her to leave them on. Except as they’re designed for ages 0-2, she’ll have grown out of them fairly soon.

So if I can persuade her to keep normal style sunglasses on, there’s some very cute ones out there.

John Lewis Ditsy Floral Wayfarers, £6, are girly without being too pink – for ages two to 12.

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Or they also have some pastel polkadot sunglasses, £6, which make me think of eating ice-cream on a beach.

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Accessorize Kids has some Tropical Wayfarers, also £6, which are one size – so without seeing them in real life, I’m not sure how well they’d work on a toddler.

For something simpler, Marks & Spencer’s Opaque frame sunglasses in Coral, £4, are bright but not too fussy – plus have 100% UV protection. Available in one size.

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And at House of Fraser, the Pumpkin Patch Spliced Aviator sunglasses, £7.50, might say they’re for boys but I love the colours.

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If you do want something girlier, the Daisy Frame sunglasses, also £7.50 from the same range, are a fun sunny yellow.

house-fraser-kids-daisy-sunglasses

Debenhams has a similar pair in navy from BlueZoo for £4.50 – labelled as for 36 months and above due to choking hazard, so best for older kids.

Inevitably Mini Boden has a couple of very cute designs – a white pair with green polkadot arms for £12.

boden-girls-kids-sunglasses

And most unusual of all, a pair of tortoiseshell shades, also £12, which look like a shrunken version of an adult style – perfect if you’ve got someone dying to copy Mummy… or have had as many primary colours as you can take!

boden-girls-kids-sunglasses-tortoiseshell

 

Images: Joni Bouma/Flickr. All product images courtesy of the retailer, Baby Banz image courtesy of John Lewis.

 

Reviewed: new Kiddylicious and Organix snack ranges

Left to her own devices, Minnie has been known to throw away half a biscuit because she’s full, request banana over crepes and get wildly excited about the thought of sweetcorn.

She’s also hoovered up hot cross bun as if someone was about to snatch it from her plate and discovered that this weird cold stuff called ice cream is actually pretty nice.

snack-sign-neon-eat

While I believe firmly in everything in moderation, from cucumber to chocolate, I do want to keep her diet as healthy as possible while I’m still even vaguely in control.

Which means I’m always alert for new toddler snack ranges for when we’re out and about, to mix up the favourites of breadstick or rice cakes. I’m also hoping that more of them might taste of, well, something – having tried at least one which appeared to be crunch and air.

First up, Kiddylicious, which has launched two gluten-free ranges for seven months and up, to join their existing older ranges.

kiddylicious-fruity-puffsThe Fruity Puffs come in strawberry, blueberry and banana flavours, and look vaguely like a fruit flavoured Wotsit might (only without the neon orange glow or any artificial additives).

Both blueberry and banana got the thumbs up from Minnie, who’s usually happy to try anything involving fruit.

Twice infused with fruit flavours, that does translate to purple dust on the blueberry version – which, in the hands of a toddler, translates to purple smears all over everything so I might be sticking to the banana option in future.

For even smaller hands, they’re a good shape to start self-feeding as well – easy to grip and munch/gum through.

kiddylicious-tomato-flying-saucers-reviewSecond, there’s a savoury range of Flying Saucers in tomato or cheese. And I got my wish for something that actually tasted of what it said on the packet – the cheese ones are properly cheesy.

Slightly too much so for Minnie I think, who stopped after a handful. We’ve hit fussier territory recently so I can’t help suspecting she’d have wolfed them down if they’d been around six months ago.

Both are available in Asda and Ocado, priced 55p, with more stores to follow.

And Organix has a new addition to its range too, the Goodies organic Sweetcorn Salsa Snappy Crocs – not such a snappy name admittedly, but perfect toddler snacking.

Sweetcorn_Salsa_Snappy_CroThe crocodile shape is probably half the fun, the sweetcorn ticks the sweetness box for babies and the vegetables box for parents (along with no artificial colours, flavours or added salt), plus the taste is slightly more adventurous than most things out there.

Minnie is already a huge fan of the Spicy Tomato Stars (along with another mum friend of mine, who shall remain nameless) as well as sweetcorn, so these look set to be another permanent addition to the cupboard.

Fortunately they come as a multipack, with four 15g bags for £1.99. Currently available in Asda and in major retailers from June.

 

Disclosure: I was sent samples by both Kiddylicious and Organix to review. Minnie’s opinions are very firmly her own.

Images: Seth Anderson/Flickr and courtesy of Kiddylicious and Organix