BENIJOFAR was one of the first towns in the south of Costa Blanca to start up the “normal” festivities following the Covd pandemic, with their 11th Rueda de las Tapas (Tapas Wheel).
Some 16 bars and restaurants put themselves forward with the intention of winning the accolade and kudos of being ‘Best in Benijofar’.
Over three days from October 1 to 3, thousands of people toured the town – some on a special ‘Tapas Train’ – to sample what was on offer, for only €2,50 per tapas (with drink included).
Diners had the chance to win €500 if their vote for the winning bar was picked at random AND they’d frequented all 16 establishments.
The undercover Olive Press ‘tapas pundit’ found, however, not all bars put the same amount of thought, care or consideration into the weekend – despite a near-guarantee that hundreds of brand new customers would patronise them.
Those that made the effort did see handsome returns and advance booking for meals from those that did enjoy the experience, but some were considered lacklustre, with mixed reviews garnered from the day.
Bar Sonia 3/5
Normally considered the top tapas bar in Benijofar, Bar Sonia had “Mar y Campo” (Sea & Field), which turned out to be deep-fried artichoke and a prawn on a skewer.
The vegetable element is incredibly popular with the Spanish, holding an almost reverent status, but it’s not a favourite for many Brits.
If I liked artichoke, I’m sure this would have been lovely, but I’ve marked Bar Sonia down because they didn’t start the Tapas Wheel until 1pm, when all others had been welcoming guests since 10am.
DH Urban Fusion 2/5
Great location marred by Incredibly slow service from one very overworked waiter.
Anchovy and roasted red pepper on bread was eventually served and although miniscule, a nice mix of flavours.
Another great location with wonderful views across the countryside towards Formentera del Segura, but this place did nothing to banish the reputation of being expensive.
Whilst every other establishment included wine with tapas for the standard €2,50, Bambouzza had the audacity to charge an extra euro.
Nonetheless, the tapas of tender pork with caramelised onion and a green chilli pepper was very well received.
A possible contender, shooting themselves in the foot with an erroneous pricing policy.
Cantina de Polideportivo 5/5
Who’d have thought a functional sports centre cafe could provide such a gastronomic delight? Their ‘Isla Tropical’ was a wonderful medley of seafood, mango and egg, topped with a juicy prawn and a sprinkling of chives.
So much effort and so much taste, all served with a smile.
The American Diner 3/5
Unsurprisingly, we were served a mini-burger at The American Diner which, although cooked well, wasn’t inspiring.
Also, in Covid-conscious times, it would have been nice to have the table cleaned before guests were seated.
Nonetheless, the staff were helpful and friendly, which made for a pleasant change.
Centro Civico “La Barquerena” 2/5
We were told this was crispy-fried duck with a vegetable filling, topped with bacon.
In principle, this sounds lovely, but the taste and presentation of the final product left something missing.
The young waiter, however, was an absolute delight and still made our visit enjoyable.
Bar Panchi 3/5
Hidden away in one of Benijofar’s backstreets, Bar Panchi served us a large mushroom stuffed with caramelised onion, cheese and a fried egg.
What it lacked in terms of aesthetic was certainly made up for in taste.
Bar Lucas 2/5
In the shadow of the town’s main church, Bar Lucas was packed with an atmosphere that was positively crackling.
They advertised a ‘Sencilla’ tapas dish, but this was a little too ‘simple’ for me.
Two tiny albondigas swimming in a pot brimming with a greasy sauce, consisting mainly of olive oil.
El Rinconcito de Esther 5/5
Queues out of the door prevented us from sampling on Saturday, so we went back on Sunday to see what the fuss was about.
We enjoyed ‘Bizcochitos de crema y coco’, which reminded me of a beautifully-formed mini Manchester Tart.
From the first sumptuous taste to the very last, this dessert oozed quality.
Add in the fact that you could have an actual bottle or a full can of beer, instead of a mouthful in a paper cup, and this was a real contender.
Something different of such high quality, Esther’s is now on the list of “go-to” places in Benijofar.
Oasis Bar & Bistro 4/5
Such has been the success of this bar’s Ploughman’s Platter for Two, hosts Steve and Alex invented a tapas twist on their popular dish.
The Mini Ploughmans was a tasty ham, cheese and pickle combo on soft bread, made on the premises.
The Purple Parrot 1/5
Whilst other bars had gone to all the effort of providing thoughtful and inspiring tapas, we were served a tasteless ‘Irish Stew’ that was void of seasoning or taste.
Spooned into a tiny plastic tray with little thought for presentation or panache, we had to eat with a plastic spoon and drink out of a plastic cup.
Over a weekend that was meant to celebrate one of Spain’s most favourite and versatile dishes, this was as far from tapas as one could possibly imagine.
NB: It’s worth mentioning that anecdotal evidence suggests Sunday’s Thai fish cakes were a marked improvement.
Los Dos 4/5
Better known for its fish & chips, Los Dos also had mini-burgers served on Saturday.
Expectation wasn’t high but the burger patty was cooked to perfection, served in the softest of buns with fresh crisp lettuce and a wonderful sauce that complimented the whole dish.
A charming dry white wine finished off our visit nicely, shame we had to go!
El Mundo 2/5
The management are blessed with a very busy establishment but to run out of tapas half-way through the day smacks of poor planning – especially with a Consum and a Mercadona within five minutes away.
Out of politeness we stayed for a wine, and good that we did as tapas restarted at 9pm.
So the chicken sate served was an unexpected belated treat, it was well-cooked with a crunchy peanut sauce that zinged.
The low score is largely down to the state of the customer toilets.
The Ladies’ induced nausea on entry and apparently the Gents was “worse than any 1970’s football ground on a derby day,” according to my friend.
The So Bar 4/5
A typically British twist on the traditional tapas, with a clever use of a tiny Yorkshire Pudding as the base for a sausage-n-mash topping with a drizzle of gravy.
A very uncomplicated but perfectly-executed dish, served quickly and politely.
The Pines 3/5
Charming location in the very heart of the town, The Pines gave us a choice of fish or spicy chicken taco.
Cooked fresh, both were incredibly tasty, but slightly let down by being served in a plastic cup.
And our cerveza was in a paper cup, which didn’t help towards the presentation mark, either.
Plaza Diferente 5/5
Frustratingly, we left the very best until last – had we come here first, it would have been difficult to leave.
Served as a ‘montadito’ (derived from the Spanish word ‘montar’, meaning “to mount”), we enjoyed an utterly exquisite carpaccio with cheese and pine nuts on the softest of bread rolls served with the crispest of rocket and the driest of Sauvignon Blanc.
Table service was superb, and guests could tell that Plaza Diferente wanted to positively contribute to their day. Top marks, thoroughly well-deserved.
WINNER: Plaza Diferente
SECOND: El Rinconcito de Esther
THIRD: Cantina de Polideportivo
The Olive Press spoke with a number of British holiday-makers and residents that enjoyed what Benijofar had to offer.
Catherine Buckley from Liverpool, was amazed at the variety of tapas on offer.
The 49-year-old said, “Many of the dishes were really tasty, and it was great to see the place so busy.”
Plaza Diferente was a class above, but the cafe at the sports centre came close,” claimed the self-employed entrepreneur.
Local resident Nicola Kennerley was impressed with the value-for-money.
The 39-year-old from Formentera del Segura, admitted, “It was nice to have a blanket cost of €2,50 for every dish, especially with a drink included.”
Lamenting about the inconsistency, she said, “I don’t understand why one bar can produce a lovely tapas dish with a glass of wine, yet another chooses to charge extra.”
Holiday-maker Sylvia Degville, started her tapas trail at Bar Sonias, taking the train when she could from one venue to the next.
She enthused, “Every bar was so welcoming and friendly, and all that tapas for €2,50.”
The 67-year-old from the West Midlands praised the bars for maintaining hygiene standards post-Covid, “What a great way to get the community back out mixing again safely.”
Geraldine Clay is on holiday this week from Plymouth, Devon.
The University lecturer commented, “What a wonderful way to see the village with some fabulous food.”
The 62-year-old agreed with The Olive Press on the winner, “there were some indifferent offerings too, but most provided very good food – on their superb service and presentation the best offering had to be Plaza Differente.”
Nearby San Fulgencio, incorporating La Marina Urbanisation, is having their sixth Tapas Route on October 29.
You can count on The Olive Press to report and review in a timely and honest manner.
If you are aware of any other similar festivals in Costa Blanca South, please email email@example.com