It’s always great to travel and try new foods and never more so than in Spain, a country that emerged from Franco’s dictatorship to enjoy a new freedom that extends beyond politics to include the arts, literature and food.
Think of El Bulli and spin-offs like El Quim in Barcelona’s la Boqueria market, the Michelin-starred restaurants of San Sebastian, the tapas bars of Seville. Spain now rivals France as one of the finest cuisines in the world.
Ten days in Andalucia and we ate splendidly from modern tapas in Seville to lunches of Iberico ham and young Manchego cheese in our lovely holiday home. We grilled courgettes and sardines, made simple tomato salads and finished with ripe Piel de Sapo melons and slices of chestnut turron.
We ate our best modern tapas in Seville’s San Telmo: black pasta with scallops; pork fillet with pine nuts, red onions and raisins; chunks of marinated salmon and tapenade; even the bull’s tail crepe in curry sauce was surprisingly good.
But it was the traditional rustic tapas we ate at Taverna Coloniales (Plaza Cristo de Burgos) that had me raving: traditional ajo blanco, a thick chilled soup of bread, almonds, olive oil and sherry vinegar, served with white grapes and slices of tuna was superb. Equally delicious were slices of fried chorizo topped with a fried quail’s egg; crisp coated salt cod croquettes; and, on toast, grilled cheese, salmon and anchovies and goats cheese and dates drizzled with honey.
On the coast of the Costa de la Luz we watched the sun go down and settled into some crisp white wine and the best paella of our trip at the lovely La Fontanilla right on the beach at Conil.
It was more rustic (and cheaper) at the thatched beach shack at El Palmar where we ordered from a scribbled blackboard: deep fried calamari, scrambled eggs with asparagus, sardines, boquerones – anchovies cured in vinegar and the wonderful crisp shrimp pancakes: tortillatas de camarones. All this deep fried salty stuff was just right after being pounded by those Atlantic rollers. Una mas cerveza por favor.
We mopped up the juices of clams in manzanilla, ate cool gazpacho served with a plate of finely chopped onions, tomatoes and peppers to add at will. And everywhere – superb jamon whether it was Iberico carved slowly and reverentially at Seville’s atmospheric old bar El Rinconcillo, (Calle Gerona) – the oldest in Seville, Pata Negra at a market bar in Osuna, or some not half bad serrano vacuum packed in the local supermercado.
Forty six thousand acres of vines are cultivated to the north and east of Jerez for sherry, so it was only right to take the advice of Squidbeak’s wine buff Helen Scott. ‘Chilled Manzanilla,’ she said before we left. And she was right. This light, fresh dry fino worked as well with food as it did as an aperitif.
Digestifs were of Pedro Ximenex, the sweet, raisiny sherry you see listed everywhere as just PX and never better when used to soak raisins or figs and poured over ice cream. But the prize for the most outrageous drink must go to a sickly pink cocktail served in Seville’s campest, most sacrilegious drinking hole, the Bar Garlochi which was a cross between a red velvet boudoir and a religious outfitters.
The drink – whisky, champagne and grenadine served in a sugared glass – was called Holy Blood. Lord, forgive us: we all had one.
If you are inspired to cook the dishes from Andalucia, the Moro Cookbook
is the one you need. For ingredients head for DeClare’s Deli in York where they stock Manchego cheese, chorizo, olives, smoked paprika and quince paste from importers Brindisa.