Monday, 15 October 2012

Seville - A Gastronaut's Dream

“Seville is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women”

While Lord Byron may have been wrong about some things – certainly his trust in Greek doctors – he was right about Seville on both counts.

Posterity does not record whether he left any other pithy quotes on the particular subject of food in Seville, but if I may, I am going to tack my own less elegant words onto the end of his:

“Seville is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women and fantastic food”

I’ve heard it said that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Well dear reader, I travelled in hope of fabulous Spanish feasts, I arrived, I ate my fill and then went back for seconds! I really can’t think of one unpleasant or disappointing morsel of food that passed my lips during the four days I recently spent in Seville. And for a Yorkshireman (ee by glum) not to have something to complain about, well, it must be a bloody miracle.

I know it can be slightly tedious to listen to someone fresh from a week in foreign climes wax lyrical about what good time they had, how hot it was, and how lovely and friendly the locals were. But in this case you’ll have to put up with it: read what I have to say, book your flights and get excited!

So what to expect? Of course there are the normal run of the mill restaurants in Seville, where you can sit down and have someone serve you three courses, before you pay up and enjoy a leisurely stroll back to your hotel room for an early night. But to do that would miss out on where all the fun is, and that’s in the city’s tapas bars of course.

Seville is reputed to be the home of tapas, and if you want to have that elusive ‘authentic’ experience, you don’t eat, you tapear. To become a tapeador you go out late, find somewhere that’ll give you a glass of chilled Manzanilla for €1.50 and then see where the evening takes you.

Who knows? You might even end up in a lock-in at a tiny bar near your hotel, singing happy birthday to the attractive girl at the other side of the room and trading wisecracks with a guy called Juan-Bosco, while the barman hands you shots of limoncello and ice-cold bottles of €1 beer.

As a broad (and probably incorrect generalisation), we seemed to encounter two fairly distinct types of tapas bar in Seville. The traditional; where it’s all noise, rushing waiters, busy barman, people clamouring for attention, and a female dominated kitchen. And then there are the more modern places, where everything is that little bit calmer, the menu more ambitious, the presentation refined and the cooking is seemingly done by the men.

I’m sure that there’s something interesting here, in a sort of cod-psychological way, about the differing approaches of men and women in the kitchen. But for the moment that is an unnecessary digression, because I have a treat in store for you…

The Gastrolad Seville Tapas Tour

Rather than a simple list of places to go when you’re in Seville, I thought that I’d take you on a virtual journey through the five best plates of tapas I enjoyed there. All the places mentioned are very worthy of your time and money, but these five dishes are where the money is.


1. A glass of chilled Manzanilla and plate of jamon iberico at Casa Morales

Casa Morales is a great place to start your evening off: traditional, unfussy décor (aside from the enormous ceramic jars running along the back wall) and some really great tapas. Don’t expect silver service, but to whet your appetite they’ll give you a glass of cold Manzanilla and a delicious plate of jamon iberico. Although you might think that is perfection itself, there’s plenty more to get stuck into!

2. The pig's cheek with goat’s cheese at La Azotea

La Azotea is a cracker. They open at 9pm and on the evening we went it was packed by half past. No wonder, because the food was superb and oh so cheap for the quality on offer. I’ve really struggled to pick just one dish, but on balance it was the braised pig's cheek with goat’s cheese that gets the spot.

As you’d expect the cheek was deeply savoury and meltingly tender, but the goat’s cheese, that had been added and gratinated just before serving, took the dish to another level. It was a big old smack of umami that coincided very well with my glass of Ribera del Duero.  

Also worthy of a mention was the ajo blanco, tuna belly and some beautiful ham croquetas, which were lightyears away from the usual gluey, tasteless lumps of nothing.

3. The tataky de atun at La Brunilda

One of the things I loved about Seville was that there was very little pretence, even at the smarter tapas bars. La Brunilda is tucked away, unassumingly among Seville’s alleyways, but if it was in London you’d be able to find it easily by the mile long queue out of the door!

Modern, bright and airy, La Brunilda serves up innovative and pretty exciting plates of tapas. Of these my favourite was the tuna tataky. The tuna was cooked to medium, so it was still just about pink in the middle, and served with some fresh tomatoes that had been warmed through in olive oil, and a verdant herb salsa.

4. The salmorejo at Vineria San Telmo

This salmorejo, which is a chilled tomato and garlic soup, was the first thing I ate in Seville (unless you count the apple in the taxi on the way in from the airport). Only a few hours previously I’d been coping with the privations of Pret at Gatwick Airport and now, here I was, sitting in the Spanish sun, eating this delicious bowl of chilled soup.

Again, I couldn’t quite believe: a) the quality of the food at Vineria San Telmo; and b) how cheap it was. The salmorejo was thick, creamy, packed a real punch and was actually very rich; you wouldn’t want to eat more than a bowl of it, but at less than €3 a bowl you probably could.

5. The pringa at Bodeguita Romero

In true fashion, I’ve saved the best until last. You might not have heard of the pringa before, I certainly hadn’t, but such was its impact, I’m considering joining the street food revolution and starting my own stall – Pringa Pringa.

But, I hear you say, stop rabbiting on and tell us what it is. Well, the pringa, like all good things, is beautiful by virtue of its simplicity: just some shredded roast pork, a smear of morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and a little bit of chopped chorizo, all served in a small, crisp bread roll.

Sounds modest, tasted anything but. Ideally your pringa should be consumed while leaning nonchalantly against the bar, shooting the breeze with your friendly host - sarnie in one hand, cold beer in the other. So good that I could have managed one of these for lunch and dinner every day I was in Seville.

Bodeguita Romero was my favourite of all the tapas bars we visited. Very traditional, very busy, lots of action, and people of all shapes and ages jostling for position at the bar. And definitely no pretence, no fripperies or frills and no posers, which is how I prefer things now that I’ve reached my thirties. They also did a great pork cheek and some very good spuds, but the pringa was worth the air fare alone, and at €2 each, you can fill your boots.

So there you have it, five dishes and five places to look out for on your forthcoming trip to the south of Spain…

The last travel guide piece I did here was on Budapest, and I remember saying that I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. So it looks like I’m either very good at picking places to go away or have just got lucky, because the same applies to Seville.

The food and atmosphere was everything I had hoped it to be, there’s plenty of things to do other than stuff your face, and it is only two hours flight from the UK – less time than it takes me get the train up to Leeds…So get booking!

p.s. for more info check out the website run by a friendly Canadian lady called Shawn Hennessey. She’s lived in Seville for many years, knows the city’s tapas bars like the back of her hand and runs group (max 6 people) tapas tours round her favourites.

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