No Free Lunch
As the saying goes “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, or another way of putting it would be “you get what you pay for”. Both these phrases were running through my mind during my recent visit to Granada. I’d been there a few times before but this time it was a work trip and I was paying more attention to detail, especially as some of the research I was doing was on good places to eat in the city.
Pretty much everyone has heard of the “free tapas” system in Granada, in which you are given a tapa with each drink you purchase. Sometimes you can choose the tapa but more often the bar sets up a range of 1st, 2nd, 3rd tapas to be served with each drink you order. Of course you can also order other food on the side, and this is where things get a bit muddy.
The first thing you should bear in mind is that even though the bars in Granada don’t charge you outright (honestly?) for a tapa, my experience there was that most places gave you something much smaller than a typical tapa in Sevilla would be and also charged far more for drinks. You may end up paying the same at the end of the night, but you also end up with much less food, and usually food that is nothing to write home about. A bit of tortilla, a dollop of salmorejo, a smattering of tinned sausages… the most extreme example was at Puerta del Carmen where I paid 3.50€ (!!!) for a small glass of white wine and my “free tapa” was a mini burger about the size of my thumbnail. And that eensy bit of tortilla onna stick was my “free tapa” after ordering a glass of wine for 3.10€ at Tragalios. Like, why bother?
On average a small beer (caña) in Granada will cost from 1.20 – 2.20€ (.80 – 1.40€ in Sevilla) and a glass of house wine will set you back anywhere from 2.50 – 3.50€ (2.00 – 2.75€ in Sevilla). One may argue that the food makes up for the difference in price, but even if you order other tapas and raciones separately you continue to pay the premium drink prices and, as happened more than once to me, you are no longer given “free” tapas. When I finally asked about this at Taberna Gambao the waiter looked (feigned?) surprise that we hadn’t been brought more “free” tapas after ordering a 12€ dish of gambas and another glass of wine and said we should have asked for it. Huh?
In fairness I *only* got to about 15 bars in 3 days, and so of course many of those were just a quick drink and 1st tapa experience. But when out with friends a couple of times at first I thought that we hadn’t paid much until I got home and did the math. Turned out that although we’d been mostly eating “free” tapas we were still paying on average close to 3€ a drink. I was told by my friends that there are plenty of places where you can eat and drink well and cheaply and I guess I’ll have to take their word for it (and wonder why I wasn’t taken there). The thing is I didn’t just stumble upon any of the places I went to – they had all been recommended to me by locals and foodies. So what chance does a typical short-term visitor have of finding a decent dining experience in Granada?
Personally, I prefer to eat more than I drink when I go out for tapas, and I also prefer to choose my own food. Perhaps because Granada is a university town the emphasis is placed on drinking? In any case, I was not impressed by the tapas there in general, though of course there were some pleasant exceptions: El Mentidero, Taberna Gamboa, and La Moraga. And I still have fond memories of my first visit to the original Los Diamantes in calle Nava a couple of years ago, though a visit this time to their new place on the Plaza Nueva was disappointing. Worst experience was some dried up pork with a bit of nondescript sauce slopped over it and rudely served to us at Casa Torcuatro in the Albaicín. Best experience was sitting in the sun-dappled garden terrace at Senzone in the Palacio de los Patos hotel. The rest was largely forgettable, food-wise, though I was in very pleasant company and also enjoyed getting to know the neighbourhoods a bit better.
[bars and restaurants visited: Bar Ávila, Posada del Duende, Puerta del Carmen, Los Diamantes, Taberna Gamboa, Tragalios, Bar Aliatar, Casa Torcuato, Om Kalsum, Bodega Castañeda, La Trastienda, El Mentidero, Senzone, La Moraga, La Tana]