You will find much pleasure in the bars and local restaurants of Galicia. You might have noticed that in other parts of Spain there are many Galician restaurants too, usually opened by migrants from there. Galicia is beautiful but making a living there traditionally has been hard, so many moved abroad to work or to other parts of Spain.
Galician food is deservedly popular from steaming bowls of Caldo Gallego (a wonderful soup with potatoes, greens, chorizo, beans and often a ham broth) to Polpo a la Gallega (tender slow cooked octopus, sliced and served over boiled potato, with smoky paprika), Empanada Gallega (a closed pastry tart, filled with tuna, peppers, tomato, garlic) and for sweet Torta de Santiago (an almond cake traditionally served to pilgrims as they finish their Camino de Santiago). With it all you can have the local Albariño wine, served traditionally from a bowl.
I love all of this, but the sign of a good food destination is one that has restaurants and experiences from across the spectrum. In 2003, a group of 9 chefs formed Asociación Nove Grupo Gastronómico, a group of 9 chefs dedicated to driving the cuisine of Galicia forward, combining the best of tradition and innovation. There are now 24 chefs in the group, and 9 michelin stars. In total Galicia has 13 Michelin starred restaurants (in 2016).
I visited three restaurants on the western coast of Galicia, north of Vigo all within driving distance of Vigo or Santiago (both of which you can fly to from the UK). Two bright restaurants in the countryside on hills looking over the water and one nestled in a charming town in and old house, two established and one new. All three destinations worth your time and effort.
Approaching Pepe Vieira on a winding country road, I was unprepared for the striking contemporary building that houses Pepe Vieira. A bright restaurant and gorgeous terrace overlook the water below. There is a terraced garden just below the restaurant where some of the kitchen produce is grown, on my visit popping with the brightness of gorgeous edible flowers.
My meal started on the terrace with some local wine and amuse bouche (the cockles with lime in particular were divine and a simple gorgeous showcase of ingredients from the sea below) before moving into the dining room for the tasting menu. The room is very calm and relaxed, chefs cook in a central open kitchen, and bring each course to your table when it is ready. The food here is an exciting and playful contemporary take on Galician food with a slight Asian influence, making for a wonderful afternoon and one of my favourite dining experiences of 2016.
Mackerel belly tartare on a lemon leaf was delicate and bright. Other highlights were beef tenderloin with flame grilled leeks , sweet potato cream and sugar beet. The tenderloin was presented in a plate of embers, itself charred and looking like an ember, and so it was a fun surprise when it was revealed. I especially enjoyed the desserts (and I am not generally a dessert person), with Tetilla cheese aligot teased at the table, baked pear with eucalyptus soup and San Simon ice cream presented as a flower and Life on Mars (a David Bowie tribute).
There are 3 menu options: Up to Me (3 appetisers, 7 dishes and 2 desserts) €94; Up to You (3 appetisers, 5 dishes and a dessert) €69; Up to Us (3 appetisers, 4 dishes and a dessert) €72.
Restaurante Yayo Daporta
In a lovely old house in Cambodos, a lovely small town in Pontevedra. The menu here is another visual feast. I enjoyed a seafood centric menu (when in Galicia etc) with matched local wines. The room is small and was buzzing on the Sunday lunchtime that we visited. Chef Yayo Daporta says he bases his cuisine in good taste and common sense, this is evident from the punchy flavours and excellent cooking.
Mussels vinaigrette with sea noodles started us off, a small bright portion in a glass. The sea bottom was a fun jelly containing items from the Galician sea (percebes being one of my favourites). Cambados scallop was presented in a modern take on the Galician style with crisped flavoured breadcrumbs underneath. A perfect piece of tender steamed hake with mollusc jelly, wakame seaweed and steamed clams was a gorgeous gentle main. Chocolate cream, cocoa and ice cream was a perfect finish.
A la carte is €45 for for 2 starters, a main and a dessert or the tasting menu is €50.
Ó Fragón Restaurante
Another restaurant on a hill overlooking the Atlantic, Ó Fragón is new and the cooking is exciting. The restaurant has a contemporary design and the front is all glass, giving a view of the sea and the terraces beneath. The menu here, like the others, is focussed around Galician ingredients, as before. The food is presented simply in a desire to put the flavours and ingredients of Galicia forward first, but the flavours are bright and intense.
The little can of cockles was perfect and fun. Organic tomatoes with orange Galician vermouth were some of the most perfectly intense tomatoes that I had last year. Two fish course followed, red mullet with vegetables and red scorpion fish with potatoes (Galicia is known for potatoes as well as seafood). Rare Galician beef entrecote was the main course and it was gorgeous. Galician beef is very special (Galician beef has a PGI and the way i is produced is protected by law). There were two desserts, a local strawberry ice cream and a Valrhona chocolate and toffee one.
€35 euro tasting menu, €50 with matched wines.
Also in this series on Galicia
More on Galician seafood, from a fishing perspective, and heading out for the day on an antique boat: Galician Shellfish Joy & a 100 Year Old Mussel Boat