With 350 days of sunshine a year, an average temperature of 28 C, budget flights from the UK and plenty of self catering accommodation – Gran Canaria ticked all the boxes for our late October holiday. It is one of the 8 islands making up the Canaries, located in the Atlantic Ocean 210 km from the West Coast of Africa. It has a unique micro-climate with mountains and an inactive volcano in the centre, miles of beaches and a Sahara-style desert in the arid south, and banana, mango and papaya plantations in the north of the island.
It sounded idyllic; but then our pre-holiday research revealed that the south of Gran Canaria is known only for the all-day English Breakfast, burgers and pizzas, Irish pubs and German bratwurst. We found this to be true in part – but if you look hard enough you can find pizzas and pasta homemade by Italians using fresh, local produce, and Canarian locals serving traditional Spanish island cuisine, plus Maspalomas is home to many Scandinavians who know how to run a good coffee shop.
On arrival we went on the hunt for authentic Canarian food. Armed with a map and only a very vague idea of where we should head, we set off in the midday sun – what do they say about mad dogs and the English?! Several arguments later, with our only bottle of water running out, we found the sought after restaurant in the residential area of San Fernando Los Jose’s La Tapita (Calle Placido Domingo 5, Playa del Ingles). This is the street for authentic local tapas and it became a regular haunt for us. Every visit we kicked off with a selection of tapas from the bar. They only serve a limited menu of 3 starters and 3 mains which change daily. We got a real taste for the the fresh octopus salad, the stuffed mussels and bacalao (cod) with tomato sauce and boiled Canarian potatoes. However the succulent veal T-bone steak was a real show stopper, cooked to perfection. About 20 Euro p/p and with food at this quality and price the queues are out of the door.
There’s a strong Italian presence amongst the island’s restaurants. The Tripadvisor current number one place to eat in Maspalomas is just a few doors down from Los Jose’s. Bravo Cocina (Calle Placido Domingo 10) is a small place with only about six outdoor tables so you need to book ahead. A massive slab of fresh tuna was presented to our table on arrival which enticed us into ordering the tuna tartare – a very generous portion served on a puff pastry basket with capers, watercress, melon and confusingly dragon fruit – lovely, but a bit too much. The baked Tomino goats cheese wrapped in bacon and rosemary was simpler. We chose two pasta dishes – boar and venison, again both were large portions. Lovely food but go hungry!
Strangely, in Gran Canaria there seems to be a real love of shopping centres – they are everywhere from the small to the gigantic, indoor and outdoor, all offering entertainment, supermarkets, shopping, bars and restaurants. There isn’t much at San Agustin except for the beautiful beach and the rather dilapidated, pink concrete Centro Comercial. Having wandered around for a while we stopped when we found a small relaxed Italian cafe/restaurant Pizzissima (Centro Comercial San Agustin, Calle de las Dalias 51). On the board outside were the magical words ‘homemade black pasta with seafood’ – that’s me sold!
The more fine dining Piccola Italia (Centro Commercial San Agustin, 2a Planta Loc, 156 Pasillo Interno) was another restaurant that we loved, especially as they serve gluten-free bread, pasta, pizza, desserts and beer – oh, and more rare tuna.
We also found a dairy-free ice cream at a new Italian ice cream shop, Cacoa in San Agustin. Gran Canaria caters for special dietary requirements and the supermarkets have a large range of free-from products.
Being foodies we wanted to make sure that we had tried all the gems before we headed to the north of the island. A quick Google search flagged up a place nearby called A. Gaudi by Patrick Hartl (Calle Cuba 3, El Tablero) which gets rave reviews on Tripadvisor. This was an experience in many ways – the food was well executed but the service, decor and ambiance is eccentric and at times left us in fits of giggles. We went for the 4 course set menu which for 29 Euros pp was a bargain and included grilled green asparagus, potato soup served with mushroom croissant, and melt in the mouth beef and pork with carrot puree and black pasta. Highlight was the dessert, a fantastic hot chocolate & passionfruit fondant with carmelised kumquat and a smiley-face lollypop! On a serious note the cooking was probably Michelin quality – go for the food.
Back to Canarian food; so in a car park down the back of Arguineguin fishing port we found the Cofradia Pescadores de Arguineguin (Muelle Pesquero de Arguineguin) which is the Cooperation of Fishermans’ restaurant. We went early as it gets busy on a Sunday lunch with Canarian families and Spanish tourists – how many people other than locals would order a whole fried octopus and spend lunch chopping it to pieces! Our choices seemed tame in comparison, we had soup packed with seafood and chunks of fish, pan-fried John Dory and the local fresh fish, Choka.
After a week in Gran Canaria, we’ve found that the tourist resorts in the south of the island have much more to offer than we expected. Off now to the north to explore what’s on their menu.