Galician heights – a gourmet guide to A Coruña - Spain

Where to stay

DoubleTree By Hilton Well located four-star hotel with super-comfortable beds in well-equipped rooms: towelling robes for the spa and gym, and umbrellas for the odd rainy day. Charming service. Doubles from £85. Calle Zalaeta 12, 00 34 981 396252,

Eurostars Blue Coruña In the heart of the commercial district but close to the historic centre, pretty public gardens and port. Large rooms, some with terraces. Doubles from £63. Juana de Vega 7, 00 34 881 888555,

Hotel Alda Orzán A budget option in a great location close to the Paseo Marítimo promenade, with simply furnished but comfortable rooms that include all the necessaries: Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV, bath or shower. Some have a small terrace. Doubles from £37. Calle Sol 10, 00 34 881 240259,

Hotel Avenida Contemporary design with few frills but rooms come with air-conditioning, bath or shower, plus there’s an on-site restaurant and paid parking is available. Doubles from £54. Ronda de Outeiro 99A, 00 34 981 249466,

Hotel Plaza Recently refurbished, this modern spa hotel in the heart of the city is another good-value choice, with a variety of room options for family groups. The spa features a pool, hydro massage and Turkish bath, and there’s also a rooftop bar. Doubles from £58. Santiago Rey Fernández Latorre 45, 00 34 981 290211,

NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre A five-star hotel perched like an ocean liner on a cliff, allowing enviable sea and city views from elegant, spacious bedrooms. Guests have free access to the gym, pool and tennis courts of the adjoining sports centre. Five minutes’ walk from the historic centre. Doubles from £83. Paseo del Parrote 2-4, 00 34 916 008146,

Travel Information

A Coruña, also known as La Coruña, is a port city in the north-west region of Galicia in mainland Spain. Overlooked by the Tower of Hercules and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, A Coruña sits on the Golfo Ártabro some 315km west of León, the largest town in Galicia. Time is one hour ahead of GMT; currency is the Euro. A Coruña’s airport has a limited service to the UK.

offers direct flights into A Coruña from London Gatwick – flight time is just under two hours.
and Ryanair fly from Gatwick and Stansted respectively to Santiago de Compostela, a 45-minute drive from A Coruña.

Tourism Coruña
is the local city tourist board and will equip you with an essential sightseeing list and inspiration aplenty.
Tourism of Galicia is your guide to the region, with suggested walking routes, restaurant recommendations and must-visit events.

Where to eat

Prices are for two people for a three-course meal excluding drinks, unless otherwise stated

A Mundiña In the back of this sophisticated restaurant, one of the favourite dining spots of the city’s movers and shakers, purified sea water tanks hold lobster, crab, shrimp and crayfish. They star in Silvia Facal’s elegant cuisine, which blends rustic flavours with urban skill. From £75. Calle Real 77, 00 34 881 899327,

Árbore da Veira Luis Veira and Iria Espiñosa have deservedly gained a Michelin star for their ultra-modern, beautiful restaurant with its spectacular clifftop setting above the Bay of Coruña. A former boxer (with a punch bag in his office for inspiration), Luis’s creative talents have matured with unexpected and visually stunning results. The couple also run the adjoining, informal café Taberna 5 Mares, which has the same glorious views. Seven-course tasting menu, excluding wine, from £46pp. Estrada Os Fortes, Monte de San Pedro, 00 34 981 078914,

Bonilla a la Vista There are five outlets for this eatery in the city but the atmospheric original, in the Old Town, still has pride of place. Freshly fried churros, hot chocolate and crispy crisps – what more could anyone want? Churros and hot chocolate from £6.30. Calle Galera 52, 00 34 981 2227075,

Charlatán Coruña Lively fusion wine bar with a 200-plus wine list and generous plates of excellent chargrilled meat, pizzas and homemade desserts. Book in for one of the popular food and wine pairings. From £42. Calle Galera 17, 00 34 881 099465

Eclectic Almost hidden in a side street, the tiny, exquisite restaurant defies categories. An ethos of culinary freedom is the foundation for startlingly original dishes developed by working with small producers in a ‘circular, sustainable economy’. Look out for beautiful glass sculptures by local artist Julia Ares. Book ahead. Nine-course tasting menu, excluding wine, from £54pp. Calle Oliva 3, 00 34 617 621423,

Hünico Modest and charming, Adrián Felípez comes from a small Galician village nearby via some of the best kitchens in Spain. Back on home ground, he thoroughly embraces his roots with a thrilling but essentially simple reworking of the culinary landscape. From £67. DoubleTree by Hilton, Calle Zalaeta 12, 00 34 981 657018,

La Penela Classic restaurant in the main city plaza serving impeccable renderings of iconic dishes. Run by former teacher María Barallobre and her husband for over 30 years, there are now branches in Madrid, Bogotá and Barcelona, with one in Paris set to open. From £67. Plaza de María Pita 12, 00 34 981 209200,

Millo Orzán Moncho Méndez balances style with funky atmosphere in his unpretentious restaurant where he exuberantly reinvents seasonal dishes. He keeps his menu short so he ‘knows where everything comes from’. From £67. Calle Cordelería 7 Bajo, 00 34 881 883430,

Novo Chef Tito Fernández expertly marries tradition with the avant-garde in a ‘less is more’ overview of Galician produce at the modern, airy restaurant within NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre hotel, with extensive views over the port and sea. From £55. NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre, Paseo del Parrote 2-4, 00 34 981 205400,

Pulpeira de Melide Four generations on and arguably still the best place in the city to eat octopus, but there’s also an excellent daily-changing carte to enjoy inside in the beamed and stone-wall interior or on the terrace. From £67. Plaza de España 16, 00 34 981 152197,

Sucre Contemporary patisserie and excellent coffee from owners of South American origin. Gorgeous cakes, sandwiches, empanadas and brownies. Pastries from £2.90. Calle Franja 54, 00 34 981 970122

Vinoteca Jaleo Ángeles Marzoa and her partner moved from a Michelin- starred restaurant to open this laid-back tapas bar. The selection changes at least once a day, but sardine empanadas and octopus salads are regulars on the menu. Tapas from £6.70. Calle Galera 43, 00 34 881 916520

Food Glossary

One of Galicia’s PDO cheeses, soft, creamy and mild yet complex. Other excellent local examples include semi-soft San Simón, slightly salty Tetilla and grainy Cebreiro
Tuna similar to albacore
Caldo Gallego
A broth combining potatoes, beans, turnip greens, pork shoulder and lard
Cigar-shaped doughnuts
Iconic pasty of many shapes and sizes with numerous fillings such as sardine, scallops and tuna
An acidic or vinegary marinade
Pancake made with broth, flour and eggs
Lacon con grelos
Braised pork shoulder with turnip greens
Leche frita
Fried milk pudding
Sweet fritters with a hint of aniseed, popular carnival food
Goose barnacles, a local delicacy
Pimientos de Padrón
Small fried green peppers
Pulpo á feira
Boiled octopus dressed with oil, salt and paprika
Fried, marinated pork
Salad of diced ingredients bound with a sauce or dressing
Smoked salt pork fat
Small scallops

Food and Travel Review

'Pescadilla! PES–CA–DI–LLAAAAA.’ The roar from the no-nonsense auctioneer at Coruña’s Lonja – the wholesale fish market – rips at full volume through the cavernous shed by the darkly sparkling waters of the city’s port. Business among the hundreds of frenetic buyers and sellers remains doggedly eyeball to eyeball. In a trice, the deal is done. Next up, a box of slate-grey baby hake is sold to a coiffed, good-humoured fish wife who drags her prize across the slippery tiles with a metal hook like a duchess dragging a stubborn puppy. They will soon be on sale in the central market, tails in mouths, symbolically, they say, of the circle of life.

At 6am the crowd moves in unpredictable shoals lured by the next trader to stand up and shout his or her wares: whoever bellows loudest gets the custom for the squid, horse mackerel, megrim, blue ling, John Dory, shimmering anchovies and evil-grinning monkfish slit open to reveal the precious creamy liver. The Atlantic and Cantabrian Sea meet and merge off the coast of this city in Galicia – La Coruña in Spanish, A Coruña in Galician or simply Coruña in either – at the tip of north-west Spain. Here, fish and shellfish are always on the plate and although mussels, bass and turbot are farmed, the Lonja remains the main forum for line-caught, small-boat fishing. The cross-currents of live action are largely incomprehensible to the outsider, but within the hour all the fish has gone.

Octopus is perhaps the most famous Galician seafood, a tentacle ahead of mussels, razor clams and prehistoric-looking percebes (goose barnacles).

Its place on the menu is not, however, as straightforward as it once was. For one thing, traditional methods of tenderising that involve cruelty are avoided; for another, demand outstrips supply. For both these reasons, octopus are often sold frozen. At the Pulpeira de Melide, fourth generation Gorka Rodriguez puts it starkly: ‘All octopus have to be frozen to tenderise them as we no longer bash them against a wall.’ He expertly boils them daily in water mixed with a dash from the previous day’s pot. The regulars in the packed traditional restaurant seem happy with the results: succulent purple-pink suckers dressed simply á feira with oil, sea salt and paprika.

Here, as everywhere, marine conservation is a concern, and there are whispers of black market sales, quota-breaking and illegal fishing of under-age fish, as well as the problems of climate change. Most reputable chefs, thankfully, pride themselves in being eco-aware and promote sustainability over fashion. They also widely subscribe to the ‘Zero Kilometre’ philosophy of seasonal, sustainable and local produce.

One tradition not up for discussion is the pairing of churros and hot chocolate at the venerable Bonilla a la Vista café in the heart of the old city.

The churros are irresistible, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sugar, served with chocolate so thick and creamy they stand upright in the cup. There’s no choice. As César Bonilla Vázquez says, other flavours are ‘non-negotiable’.

The same applies to their other iconic item, addictive potato crisps fried in olive oil with sea salt. Again, no quibbling: ‘Crisps are crisps; we simply do not need jam or octopus flavours.’ These days, they enjoy cult status in South Korea after being catapulted to fame with a cameo role in the Oscar-winning film Parasite.

The Bonilla family are typical of the region’s driven entrepreneurs. At one end of the scale there is Gerardo Lagares, who cultivates organic Orballo herbal teas and Europe’s first certified tea bushes on a beautiful 17th-century farm won by his grandfather in a poker game. At the other, there are the Zara and Estrella conglomerates, which, remarkably, remain in family hands. The tremendous boost such companies have given to an economy long plagued by poverty, neglect and deprivation has been life-changing. Once generations left to start new lives abroad – the old joke is ‘God is everywhere but Galicians have already been there.’ Now they’re coming back or staying put.

The prominence of individual women in the city’s story is also notable, starting with the fearless 16th-century María Pita who, in the invasion by Sir Francis Drake’s troops, seized the English flag, crying out, ‘Let all men and women of honour follow me.’ They did, and her statue stands in the beautifully proportioned square facing the Town Hall, serenaded by melancholy wails on the Galician bagpipes. Rosalía de Castro, a great 19th-century poet, lived nearby in the Old Town, as did the Countess Emilia Pardo Bazán a little later: a novelist and fearless feminist campaigner, she also wrote two notable cookbooks.

A proponent of honest traditional cooking over fancier French-style cuisine, her influence is celebrated in the inspired, provocative dishes of Eclectic, a tiny restaurant run by Paco Chicón and Sergio Musso. Early advocates of a circular economy, they have been ahead of the curve to practise local sustainability. They actively look for small producers to help, and support the humane ikejime method of killing fish. The Countess advocated a daily plate of vegetables and at Eclectic this is interpreted, for example, as four ravishing textures of cauliflower with cured yolk and trout roe. Notwithstanding the scornful comment of one cook in her most famous novel, The House of Ulloa, ‘Vegetables on the feast-day of the patron saint! They’ll do for the pigs.’

The quality of Galician produce is well known in Spain but wider recognition has been impeded by geographical isolation, cultural reticence, emigration, poverty and politics.

Now things are changing. ‘It’s exciting, as in the past we were regarded as the country’s poor relation,’ says Silvia Facal of A Mundiña. Adrián Felípez at Hünica agrees: ‘Galician chefs have worked hard to put “Atlantic cuisine” on the map, and we’re getting there.’

Potatoes, for example, may not sound like a particularly hot topic but the PGI Kennebec is the tuber of dreams: firm in the mouth yet creamy on cooking, with the perfect colour, aroma and flavour to match traditional specialities such as lacón (pork shoulder) with grelos (turnip greens) and tortilla. Galicians love to eat, feed and talk about food – everyone’s grandmother wants to stuff you to the gills – and potato tortilla is a culinary touch paper. In Galicia it reaches its apotheosis: they claim it’s the best in Spain. The steps are precisely catalogued, onions are out of the question, and the way you cut the potatoes could be grounds for divorce. Moncho Méndez of Millo Orzán, a heavily tattooed chef-punk with the soul of a poet, insists on two thicknesses (one for crispness, one for contrasting mouthfeel) and describes his memorable dish of potato tortilla with cod tripe as ‘just slightly salty, like the tide going out’. Organic farmer Cristina Bañobre, whose potatoes are fertilised by seaweed, takes an opposing view, insisting on even slices. Her farm is in the Mariñas Coruñesas e Terras do Mandeo Biosphere Reserve, an eco-tourism showcase for regional cuisine. All Gallegos, however, agree the solid tortilla is a mistaken southern fancy, and the real thing has a gently runny centre that needs split-second timing. Under the Daterra label, Cristina grows Miño onions, a flat, sweet variety that bakers in Carral – a town famous for its excellent dark, chewy bread – recommend to prepare empanadas with sardines.

Galicia is doubly favoured when it comes to produce. As well as impeccable seafood, there is exceptional meat raised on small family farms: slightly sweet and salty indigenous pork has seen a revival; and the native breeds of Rubia Gallega and Morena Gallega cattle graze on the electric-green grass irrigated by rivers and rainfall, a reminder of the region’s Celtic affinities. Because there’s no escaping the fact that Coruña can be a little wet and windy at times. But the fluid light and cloudscapes give the city its singular charm and bracing, salty edge. The bluster may be enough to blow you off your bike on the 13km Sea Promenade that edges the sweeping urban beach, but it lures the local surfers into challenging the giant rollers.

Guarded by the Roman Tower of Hercules, the world’s oldest working lighthouse, the city is a medley of medieval, baroque and modernist styles, with many mansion blocks fronted by glassed-in balconies designed as both sun traps and wind-breaks. There is a quietly affluent air of convivial and sophisticated good living, impressive museums, inviting public gardens with striking street art and ice cream parlours (nothing, says one local, is more typical than to stroll along with an artisan cone, rain or shine).

Wines from this part of the country, ‘Green Spain’, are also receiving major recognition. Of the five Galician DOs, Rías Baixas and Ribeiro are probably the best known, with albariños much favoured, but it’s a dynamic scene. Pure, young wines are fresh and flowery, but there are some excellent bottles with 30 months-plus ageing on lees coming through, along with noteworthy sparkling ones. And in the right hands, native mencía red grapes, once dismissed by many as inconsequential, can be velvety and rich in berry aromas. Sweet wines have a growing cachet too; while artisan vermouths such as Nordesía have deliciously fruity, spicy and herbal blends.

A British visitor might visit the grave of Sir John Moore, killed in the battle here between the French and British in 1809, there to recite, ‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corpse to the ramparts we hurried...’

If, on the other hand, penitence is more in keeping, you could follow in the footsteps of medieval English travellers who disembarked here to start their walk along the English Camino, one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago. The scallop shells on the stone walls found in the Old Town’s cobbled streets point the way.

The less ascetic may embark instead on a gastro-pilgrimage that can turn a city break into a stairway to heaven. Let’s just say that when you visit the superbly designed Aquarium Finisterrae that extends under the sea, and come face to face with a tiny pot-bellied seahorse sporting a massively extended stomach, there is a flash of recognition and a silent prayer of thanks for the invention of the elasticated waistband.

For Michelin-starred Luis Veiro, of Árbore da Veira, Galicia is easily on a par with the best of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Except, he points out, ‘We don’t make so much noise about our achievements.’ Well, it’s time for trumpets: Coruña’s star is clearly in the ascendency.

Words by Clarrisa Hyman. Photography by Mark Parren Taylor. They travelled courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Office and Coruña Turismo.

This feature was taken from the May 2022 issue of Food and Travel. To subscribe today, click here.

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