Continuing our lunch tour…
Málaga: Balausta Restaurante
Today’s goal was a more upscale lunch. But first a little sightseeing in Málaga’s historic center.
The internet insists that, if in Málaga, you must visit the Alcazaba. (In general, in Andalusia, an Alcabaza is a fortress, usually originally built by the Moors; the word comes from al-Qasba, meaning urban fortress.) The Alcazaba of Málaga is an imposing stone fortress that looks down on the historic center of the city.
According to Arab historians, [the Alcabaza] was built between 1057 and 1063 at the instructions of Badis, King of the Berber Taifa of Granada. Transported material was used in its construction and columns, capitals and other materials were taken from the nearby Roman Theatre.
Between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, Málaga and the Alcazaba remained under the rule of various Muslim dynasties: the Almoravid dynasty in 1092, the Almohad Caliphate in 1146 and the Nasrid dynasty in 1279. It was under the Nasrid Kingdom when the Alcazaba enjoyed its greatest splendour undergoing alterations that would convert it into an impenetrable fortress, whilst on the inside, it acquired the kind of delicate beauty that is seen in the architecture of the Alhambra of Granada….
In 1487 the Alcazaba encountered its first major siege which is was subjected to by Catholic military forces. For four months the Muslim army, formed of 15,000 men, resisted an army of 80,000 until finally surrendering. (source)
We had seen some photos of what looked like crumbling brick walls amid scruffy gardens. Like a forgotten archeological site. But no. It’s a lush beautiful place. A melding of defensive walls and passages that put you in the sights of wary archers, with Moorish pleasure gardens and pavilions. The peace and beauty of the gardens, tucked inside a defensive shell, entranced us.
The central, historic part of Malaga is much more clearly dedicated to tourists and partyers. We found it easy to imagine staying a few days, especially in midwinter, just to enjoy the sunny streets, the seaside, café lunches, and alfresco dinners.
But today, a relaxing lunch in a very handsome restaurant: Balausta, part of the attractive hotel Palacio Solecio.
Today’s menu was a bit more self-consciously “cuisine” than yesterday’s. Pretty plates and tasty food. Two thumbs-up for Balausta Restaurante!
Caldillo de Pintarroja Recipe – Malaga’s Most Traditional Seafaring Dish: The pintarroja (Scyliorhinus canicula, also known as small-spotted catshark. sandy dogfish, lesser-spotted dogfish, rough-hound or morgay) is a small shark, half a meter long, grayish in color with dark spots all over its skin. In Malaga it is served in soups, casseroles and marinated. The “caldillo de pintarroja” is a hot soup with a very characteristic spicy note. This seafaring dish was once enjoyed by fishermen when returning from a day’s work and little by little it was introduced in the tables of almost all the bars and taverns of the city. It used to be drunk in a mug or cup with a glass of white wine on the side to compensate for the spiciness. The fish and seafood that settled at the bottom became finger food once the liquid had been sipped. (source)
We’d long been curious about Cadiz. The old town sits on an island just off the coast. The home to sherry wine, Xérès, is nearby. Columbus departed from Cadiz on his second and fourth voyages. On the southwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, it looks intently across the Atlantic to the Americas.
On our pre-lunch stroll in and around the historic part of town, we found a little relaxed place. A few tourist streets and squares, a baroque cathedral, as well as many nondescript neighborhoods. Surprisingly unassuming, even a little boring.
Our chosen restaurant, Sonámbulo, opened onto an attractive square full of orange trees. Now that’s what we expect in southern Spain.
From our online research, we expected an urban industrial vibe, probably a bit hipster. And a menu with local traditional and contemporary touches. The ambiance was exactly as expected, but the menu was not. Instead of local seafood and rice, or Iberian pork, we found the likes of “Salmon Yakitory,” “Fried Chicken Wings,” “Chicken wok,” and “Japanese Iberian Sirloin Tips (with jasmine rice and coconut milk).” An unexpected jaunt to Asia. Tasty enough but not what we had aimed for.
Lesson: You can’t completely trust what restaurants show online!
Lisbon: Faz Figura
Since our mission was to have a nice lunch with just a tad of sightseeing as warm-up, we selected a restaurant in the Alfama district — one of the oldest parts of Lisbon — because it’s just above the cruise-ship pier.
Since not all plans work out as expected, our ship docked at a completely different pier on the other side of town. Seems about six other pushy cruise ships had gotten to the expected pier before us. We took a shuttle from the dock to one of the main squares in central Lisbon, Restauradores, about 1.5 km / 1.0 mi from the restaurant. The drop-off location gave us the pleasant opportunity to stroll through the shopping and tourist streets down to the Praça do Coméricio (Commerce Square) and the Tagus River, and on to the Alfama neighborhood.
We stopped in the Lisboa Story Centre for a 45-minute interactive introduction to Lisbon’s history. It’s very well organized, and clever. You get the usual audio guide unit, hung around your neck, and headphones. As you stroll from exhibit to exhibit, the audio guide knows where you are and automatically summons the appropriate narrative. Much better than reading museum panels or punching in numbers in the audio guide and waiting from some British person to recount museum facts.
An hour of history and culture got the appetite going. We followed Google’s directions through the windy streets of Alfama, past the 12th-century Lisbon Cathedral.
Then the route turned into a dusty real-life neighborhood. Google seemed to be pushing us to a large apartment building under construction. But right next door was a glass and aluminum door and the restaurant sign: Faz Figura. Happily, one step inside showed us a contemporary restaurant design, and a wall of windows looking out to the Tagus River … and all the cruise ships that had taken our spot at the pier!
Lunch was a little escape from cruise-ship dining — now with a view not of historic Lisbon, but of more cruise ships.
Tasty creative dishes — right up our alley.
Wine: Dão DOC, Quinta do Escudial