Review: Mirador de San Pedro, La Coruña


Nick Harman jumps ship in Galicia and checks out one of La Coruña’s most famous restaurants – Mirador de San Pedro

Lunch at Mirador de San Pedro, by Nick Harman

Lunch at Mirador de San Pedro, by Nick Harman

“Between the sea and the sky” is the slogan for the Mirador de San Pedro, and you certainly can’t fault it on the trade descriptions act. A modern glass box pierced with light, it was built at just about the highest point on the Monte de San Pedro, perched high above the Galician city of La Coruna in Spain. Far below, the giant Atlantic waves crash violently against the peninsular rocks, often the last things sailors saw back in the day, as they were lured to their doom by false lights cheerfully lit by the fun-loving locals. This is the area of Cape Finisterre – famous from those impenetrable long wave shipping forecasts – and the sea regularly gets a bit rough around here.

That’s why, down below, there’s also the Torre de Hércules lighthouse, originally built by the Romans and still in use today. Up from it drifts a strange and unearthly wailing – not the ghosts of sailors lost at sea but something even more terrible: Galician bagpipes, the gaita galega, played by local buskers.

Strategically always important, and often fought over, not least during the Battle of Corunna in the Peninsular War of 1809, San Pedro’s high patch of Teletubbyland green, reached either by a winding road or the remarkable glass ball of a hydraulic funicular, is also home to perhaps the most enormous fixed artillery pieces left in Europe. Now decommissioned, these twin-barrelled harbour defences bedded in concrete bunkers were once capable of lobbing shells the size and weight of a small car up to 35km and were made in England by Vickers. Hurrah! Never fired in anger, they were tested once and the resulting shockwave shattered virtually every glazed window in the town below. Perhaps unsurprisingly they were never tested again.

Health and Safety means that the staff can’t serve the smokers in person and so drinks and food are passed via a dumb-waiter system, a refinement perhaps – no more hovering waiters topping up your glass every time you take a sip

The whole area was once a military base. Then it became a hot-bed of new building, though that stalled with the recession. Now some of the intended blocks of flats are pretty, attractive and complete, while next door others are forlorn Mondrianish grids of concrete frames punctuated by twisted steel and unlikely ever to be finished.

But that doesn’t worry the customers of Mirador: they’re doing okay financially. In fact, a whole room downstairs is reserved for them to smoke their fine cigars using special outsize ashtrays. Health and Safety means that the staff can’t serve the smokers in person and so drinks and food are passed via a dumb-waiter system, a refinement perhaps – no more hovering waiters topping up your glass every time you take a sip and, as a smelly pariah, you can probably slip out without leaving a tip too.

Upstairs, head chef Sven Kretzschmer is actually German. (You can tell this as he has a pigtail despite being the wrong side of 30. Only Germans still believe that both pigtails and Bryan Adams are cool.) His menu is much more up to date than his look, and focuses unsurprisingly on the sea and its seasonality: La Coruña is a massive fish port and Galicia itself a mecca for Spanish fish and shellfish lovers. From the giant windows of the restaurant we could see, as if from a plane, the whole harbour, as well as the cruise ship Azura which had brought me, as well as Atul Kochhar of London’s Benares restaurant, to this town. After a livener of fine Iberico ham, we were into the briny proper with three local scallops served still rather firmly attached to their shells. They’d been dotted with fragments of ham, diced garlic and tomatoes and oil before being whacked into a blisteringly hot oven. Simple enough, but of course delicious, so why complicate matters?

Prawns followed, deep-fried in a tempura-like batter containing puffed rice (in my house we use the technical name for this, Rice Krispies). The result was a coating that was textually varied and as sweet as the prawns themselves, which we washed down with another of Galicia’s great products – white wine. This corner of northwestern Spain has rain in abundance: too much for non-foodie tourists, but a great help in producing distinctive wines. They’re perhaps more Portugese than Spanish in style, but then Portugal is literally just around the corner after all.

We next ate a soi-disant “Fish Duet” of sea bass and monkfish in sea urchin sauce: another prettily plated dish with a textural contrast between the firm monkfish and a sea bass resplendent with properly crispy skin and soft, yielding flesh below. Sea urchin – never a favourite of mine when served whole – here did much better in its puddle of sauce: the sea flavour was strong but the rather unpleasant texture of raw urchin had been eliminated.

The ship was now frantically telephoning the restaurant to get us back. They would probably have happily sailed without me, but Atul was far more important: he has a restaurant on board ship, the excellent Sindhu. We quickly ate almond cake and crème caramel over citrus fruits, almonds being very popular in Galicia (the nut-heavy Tarta de Santiago is sold almost everywhere). The sharp fruits were just what were needed to offset the richness of the cake. Still cramming it in our mouths, we legged it for the car.

We reached the ship just in time: the gangplank was hauled up immediately behind us and the tannoy announced that the ship could sail “now that the lunchers have returned”, provoking an ironic cheer from the pizza-eating masses on the top deck.

As Azura rounded the headland ten minutes later, we could see the guns, still massive at this distance and now looking quite chilling as they squatted darkly on their hill. It was easy to imagine the sense of doom a sailor would feel seeing the barrels ponderously rotate and point his way. We felt rather lucky; at the end of the day all we’d had to survive were those bloody bagpipes. C


Mirador de San Pedro, Monte de San Pedro E – 15011, La Coruña, Spain