“Dos vermut,” my waiter announces with flare, in perfect sing-song Spanish.
“No,” I correct him. “Uno.”
He looks at me perplexed: “Solo uno?”
I nod and smile, and he hurries behind the glossy mahogany bar to pour me my drink.
I’m fast learning that in Spain, Uno is just a card game they play at the beach. Solo dining is not done here – the Spanish, quite literally, do not do things by halves and the simple request of ‘uno mas por favor’ or the firmer, ‘estoy sola’ comes with confusion, disbelief and a not-so-discreet shake of the head.
Here in Granada, not even the drinks arrive alone. Copas and tapas come in pairs with every bar in town serving tiny plates of food to patrons at no extra cost, whenever they order a drink.
I’ve been told that their tapas scene is unrivalled by that of any other town in Andalucia (sorry, Sevilla) and my sole solo mission is to complete the ultimate tapas crawl, hunting down the best eateries in just one night. So here is just a bite-sized taste of what to expect on a tapas trail in Granada. But, oh, what a taste.
My tapas education starts here. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, the city is still heaving and I am unable to get a seat at the bar. Luckily, I manage to grab a barrel table outside and within minutes the waiter arrives with my vermut – a sunny, sweet wine poured over ice and served with a sliver of orange – and my complimentary dish. It’s a tiny fish the colour of quicksilver, wrapped in a puff pastry blanket topped with a silky tomato sauce studded with courgettes. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so the old adage goes, but here in Granada dinner is on the house. And it’s delicious. My favourite moment came after my first bite, accompanied by gin and tonic the size of my head, when a flamenco band arrived and the locals took over the teeny alleyway outside stomping their feet, flexing their wrists and shrieking with glee.
Bar Los Diamantes
A few streets down I make the pilgrimage to Bar Los Diamantes – known for selling the tastiest fried fish in all of Granada. The queue outside is so long I wonder if I’ve unintentionally joined a bus line instead. Nope, turns out the 16 people in front of me are all vying for a table at the popular spot. I wait around 15 minutes before the waiter comes to ask me how many people are in my party. This time the word solo acts as a secret password – and I am whizzed to the front of the queue and squeezed onto a bench next to glam old ladies. The clock hits 9pm and the atmosphere is electric. I gobble perfectly dark mushrooms, glistening with garlic and oil, chased with chipirones fritos – all free with my nutty fino sherry. Even so, I couldn’t resist paying for something and had no regrets ordering a half ration of razor clams cooked in olive oil, garlic, and parsley.
The clock had struck 11pm and I knew my fun was about run out since the new coronavirus restrictions have turned us all into Covid Cinderellas. People were wandering home, taxis idled, and neon lights suddenly illuminated the fountains, but I still wanted to squeeze in two more stops. And what’s a bar crawl without an old man’s pub? Dark wood, low lighting and cigar-smoke-soaked punters made the experience of tucking into free portions of suckling lamb all the more authentic. The only curveball came with my final dish – a handful anchovies presented proudly on top of a plate of ready salted crisps.
I could be lost. Every time I think I have a vague handle on the city, I find myself taking a wrong turn up the winding, cobbled streets. But Calle Reyes Católicos is famed among foodies. Indeed, the locals are positively evangelical about Los Manueles, known for the giant croquetas they’ve been serving up since they opened way back in 1917. In this case, free tapas be damned. This was one dish I had to try. And despite all the rave reviews, I underestimated just how grande these croquetas really are.
“Solo croqueta?” the waitress enquiries. Knowing solo is usually a big no-no I try “Tres? Quatro, quiza?”
She howls with laughter. “Una croqueta es muy, MUY grande,” she reassures me. “Solo es perfecto.”
And she’s right. Mouthwateringly creamy and filled with Ibérico de Bellota, I’d finally found that eating solo in Granada is indeed perfecto.