Spain: Lunch in Xativa

Linda and I often take a trip to Valencia when I visit but she suggested we go to Xativa instead, which also happened to feature in my Lonely Planet Encounters guide to Valencia as a day trip from there, being 60km southwest of the city. Linda had been told of a good restaurant there by local friends but also from my guide I could see there would be wonderful views.

George dropped us off late morning then went off to a nearby town where he’d discovered there was a saxophone specialist workshop who could repair his saxophone. It was apparently in a remarkably remote place yet famous saxophonists travel from afar to go there. Linda and I meanwhile walked a little way down the main – rather elegant – wide avenue in Xativa, lined with lime trees, to a cafe we’d both spotted. Elevenses was Spanish style: coffee and tostadas.

The cafe was in a beautiful building typical of some of the lovely architecture in this part of the town. The inside of the cafe didn’t quite live up to the external promise but they were good tostadas and we were sitting outside, so no complaints!

The thing to do when you go to Xativa is visit the castle for the stunning views. With a table booked for lunch at 1.30 we decided to take a taxi up and then walk down because of limited time. I have to say, once I witnessed the climb from the taxi I was pretty relieved we’d had a good excuse to miss out on that exercise!

Xativa is famous because some Borgia popes lived there. But even earlier the Muslims established the first paper manufacturing plant in Europe. It’s also the birthplace of the 17th century artist Jose de Ribera. In the days before piped water the town was known as The City of a Thousand Fountains. We saw quite a few but nowhere near a thousand! The views from the castle really were as wonderful as promised and we were pleased we’d made the recommended trip up the steep hill.

Linda even took a rare photo of The Single Gourmet Traveller.

There was an open air theatre up there which we thought would be a great experience.

Though you have to wonder with a view like that how much it would distract you from the performance! We didn’t have much more than an hour to look round before we decided we should start heading back into town for lunch. The descent we were doing on foot. Locals had said it would take us 20-30 minutes. It took us 45! However, timing was perfect. We met up with George at a pre-arranged spot and arrived at the restaurant dead on 1.30.

Linda had been warned it was a bit difficult to find – though very central just off the main avenue – and you had to ring a doorbell to be let in. The welcome we received was so friendly we immediately relaxed into our surroundings.

Our waiter was wonderful, explaining the different set menus. We opted for a €12 one: 3 tapas, a rice dish, dessert and coffee. It seemed a bargain. We could choose our rice dish from the menu but the tapas just would come. They were very helpful about making some changes to fit Linda not eating meat (other than chicken) or cheese. Driver George wanted only a small beer but Linda and I chose wine by the glass. My local Sauvignon Blanc was delicious and a good serving at just €2 a glass.

The tapas to start were generous sizes. My first, a tomato stuffed with a soft cheese, was wonderfully refreshing.

This was followed by an onion stuffed with sausage and a little tortilla stuffed with chicken. All were delicious. We all had an arroz negro for our main rice dish.

This typical rice dish was made with squid and simmered in its own ink. There were also lovely little pieces of courgette. The waiter had asked us if we wanted our arroz dry or wet. Restaurants usually have their preferred way of cooking it so it was great to be asked. We all like a wetter version. And it was fabulous; a wonderful flavour. When it came to dessert the waiter told us the choices and as we deliberated on what to choose he offered to make up a plate of all so we could try everything. What fantastic service!

They were all gorgeous: an incredibly light and wonderful chocolate brownie, lovely ice cream and a biscuity cake with fruit and sauce. We finished we coffee. The bill for the three of us was just €44.50 before service. What amazing value for such a good meal with excellent service. We had a nice chat with the chef and owner before heading back to the car for the drive home. It had been a great day out: a beautiful town and lovely lunch.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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