Monday, December 5, 2011

Adéu for now

Well my two years have come to an end and I have decided to return to Bristol. People keep asking me why. And I don't completely understand why myself. I love living in Spain. I feel very 'at home' here and yet I will always be a foreigner. But I love conquering all the obstacles presented by being a foreigner. I love it when I realize I have moved up a level in the language, or when I have assimilated a local custom and adopted it as my own. But I have unfinished business in Bristol. I have ghosts to exorcise, dragons to slay. Then I will return stronger and in peace to start the next chapter.
In the mean time follow me on Ant's in Bristol.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bilbao and San Sebastian

Went to Bilbao and San Sebastian at the weekend.
Stunning green mountainous scenery covered with forest. More like Switzerland than most people's idea of Spain.
Very cool, sophisticated and friendly. Where else can you experience Gehry, Foster, Koons, Kapoor, Balenciaga, Gernika, Castles, mountains, beaches all in the same area.And that's just scratching the surface.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Abel's invention

My friend Abel came up with this impromtu late-night snack after a hard day of Tapas eating. By midnight we were peckish if you can believe that.
The result was amazing beyond its simple appearance.
Baked sobrasada and cabra cheese croutes.
Sobrasada is a speciality of Mallorca and is a kind of spreadable paté, yet it is not made with offal.
It has similarities in texture to French rillettes, yet the meat is not cooked.
It is heavily spiced with sweet, smoky paprika and garlic and has a bright red/orange appearance. Usually it is spread, cold, on bread but the genius stroke here was to bake it with the semi-cured goat cheese topping.
Slimming it is not.
Delicious it definitely is.
Well done Abel!

Can you see the irony in this?

I saw this on a Spanish Train and immediately thought of one of those 'impossible drawings' by Dutch Artist MC Escher.
It is the glass-breaking hammer which is locked in .....yes, you've guessed it...... a glass safety case. To get the glass-breaking hammer you need to.... erm..... break the glass...........

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Quick, Essential Giude to The Tarragona coastline

What's to like?
1. Tarragona coast lovely.... city beach beautiful to look at despite railway and commercial Port. Especially if you look at it from above the Roman Amphitheatre where they just did a re-enactment of Gladiator fighting for Roman Week. (see above) But five minutes to the north are my ideal kind of beach. They are populated, but not at all commercial. Golden sandy coves protected by wild rock headlands at each end. Local families in moderate numbers (see below). A great chiringuito at Savinosa and Platja Llarga. Wonderful.

2.North. La mora and Altafulla i Tamarit.
La Mora ....beach nice. Town a bit forgettable. But the best bit is the wild pine forest which hugs the precipitous cliffline. Take a walk on the wild side and follow the barely discernable paths into the woods and discover drop-away cliffs with turquoise seas below, sometime calm, sometimes crashing with waves. Continue the nature walk and you stumble across Tamarit Castle which these days is a wedding venue. Lunch at the beach is also great.

3. What to avoid.
Salou to the South. Unless you're looking for Blackpool-in-the-sun. Also you have to go past the chemical works which despite providing so many jobs and so much wealth to the area are a real eyesore. I'm afraid I couldn't stomach taking any pictures of Salou.....use your imagination. Overweight, pink Brits in football kit, little girls with hideous hairbraids and flamenco outfits etc....

4. Southern gem.
Once passed Salou and you have resisted the charms of "full english breakfast and karaoke" you can breath easier, safe in the knowledge that a little gem is not far away.
Cambrils is also a seaside resort town, but it oozes style and class. The superyachts glisten and wink at you from the marina, the front-line terraced restaurants include a couple of Michelin-starred ones. And I recently discovered these new pieces of public sculpture which were thrilling. There's also a great park (Parc dels Pescadors) for kids.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tapas week in Tarragona 2

Second hit of the Tapas tour of Tarragona went as follows:
We started at L'Etoile on Calle Union.
Dau de bacallà sobre brownie de botifarra negra amb compota de verdures i pols de pernil ibèric.
Cube of Salt Cod on black pudding brownie, pea and asparagus puree and ham dust.

Very striking and vibrant. When eaten all together the flavours were interesting. But have to say it was all disappointing. A classic bit of 'style over substance'. The black pudding didn;t benefit from being turned into a chewey brownie, and the overall taste experience was quite unmemorable.

The next place, however, heralded a contender for BEST TAPA of our entire experience:
"Cómete el Rabo" "Eat the tail"
Braised Oxtail wrapped in sliced ham with crispy artichokes and leeks and vermouth reduction.
It was FANTASTIC. Like the best steak pie filling you've ever had with a great presentation, (ie. it looked like delicious food, not art) We all wanted seconds!

Next was Ramon's, an unassuming local workers bar. I had actually tried this tapa when the owner was deciding what to serve, so I knew what to expect. He called it Black and White and it consists of Morcilla (black pudding) form Jaen and scrambled egg with aioli sauce and raspberry ketchup (!?)
Sounds a bit wierd but it was my all-time second favorite. Served warm, the cinnamon and allspice flavours of the sausage matched really well with the earthieness of the dish. The two sauces together just really worked. Bloody lovely! Who would have thought ..... raspberry ketchup..... and they say Tarragona is provincal!

The last tapa we tried turned out to be our all time favourite, and I think it will win the overall competition. (you can vote online for your favorite)
Cruixent de guatlla amb bolets
Filo pastry parcel of guineafowl with porcini mushrooms and a herb salad. (the first time I have seen anyone use dill in nearly 2 years here) and a light soy sauce.
We had to wait a bit but it was worth it. Fragrant, moist and tasty guineafowl with the rich accent of the awesome boletus wild mushrooms and the savoury soy for extra umami and a modernist nod.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tapas week in Tarragona

Long time no blog. Yes. I know. But here I am. Back with news of life in TGN.
It;s tapas week. Various restaurants sign up to offer a tapa and a drink for €2.50 for the duration of a week or two as a promotion of the city's grastronomy. Choose a district and walk from one to the other during lunchtime or in the evening.
So we went on the trail in the Serallo district.
Here are the results.....(double click any pic to enlarge)

First place.Marisqueris La botigua
Plum Cake de bacallà, broqueta de rap amb arrossejat i esfera de crema catalana
Salt cod muffin, monkfish skewer with rice crust, and (dessert) liquid sphere of crema catalana.

Verdict. Good. Well presented. But pre cooked and served room temperature. Described as 3 courses on a plate. It was nice, specially the crispy rice crust round the monkfish skewer, but not amazing.

Broqueta de popet a l'all cremat
Skewer of baby octopus with tomato, white wine and creamed garlic and croutes.
A great off-the-beaten-track, old fishermans bistro which still clearly retains all it's authenticity and soul. The dish was great. The almost rosmeco-like sauce (but no nuts) was deep and flavoursome. Served with rose cava. Very tasy and rustic. Honest, traditional cooking at its best in no-nonsense surroundings. I'll be back!

Mos de "morteruelo"
A Crostino with a 'rillette-like' pate made of partridge, pork, wild boar and rabbit on spiced bread with tomato and mint garnish. DELICIOUS. Served with red wine. The mint was placed with the halved cherry tomato at one end and we were advised to eat this end last and it was a great final firework in the mouth.

Barquetes de bacallà al perfum d'alls confitats
Crostino of salt cod with confit of young garlic and parsley.
This was simplicity itself, but the fantastic thing was it was cooked to order and seved hot, cloaked in an aioli. It was the best we had had so far. A thick, premium piece of salt-cod, with a faint crust of flour clinging to it and the perfume of sweet young garlic and parsley.Awesome!

"Serrallo'ko Lorea" (Flor del Serrallo)
The flower of the Serallo.
This was a flaky pastry pie containing morcilla (black pudding), membrillo (quince preserve) and calçots (spring onions) with a drizzle of tomato sauce.
It was served warm and flaky with white wine in those funny, flat, Basque tumblers. It was the best thing we had had. Amazing. Sweet, earthy, peppery and slightly haggis-like. Fantastic.

Cruixent de peix. Crispy fish.
A busy , narrow, old fishermans tavern with tanks of lobster, turtles (?!*) and oysters. It had a dizzying array of ingredients, both cooked and raw, on display in that very Spanish, slightly 1970's style of point-and-order restaurateuring. I have a major problem with many of these establishments because they insist on displaying already-fried items such as baby squid and fish, which then get a second bath in the deep fryer once ordered. I try to explain to my Spanish friends (who still think that one cannot eat well in the UK) that we laughed this kind of treatment of seafood out of our kitchens about 20 years ago.
Anyway, we stood and watched 6 hard-core, dyed-in-the wool, post-middle-aged Spanish line chefs crank out dish after dish of pre-prepped seafood in classic cazuelas (terracotta dishes) from an impressive wood oven. We deflected the shoulder barges that were an unavoidable and charming part of the long narrow bar in which we stood, and tried not to spill our drinks on our clothes. The place was noisy and fun. The tapa of fried battered hake fingers with classic romesco was, it has to be said, fresh, crispy and good. Very good. Although I find hake too soft for this kind of thing. There's little to chew once you've penetrated the batter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Night Photography

There's no real news in this post. I just went out one night with the camera to mess around and see if I could snap Tarragona in a different light so to speak. Here's what I came up with. Click on any photo to enlarge, then use the back button to return to the blog.

Nothing cures a spot of homesickness like cooking.

I am amazed at how the human psyche works. In 44 years in England and many of them as a professional chef I have never made my own Pork Pies. So why is it that during the second year of my sabbatical in Catalunya I get the irrepresable urge to make that most quintessential of English treats? Who knows. The great thing is that this region seems to have a fetish for pigs feet. Eating them, I hasten to add, as opposed to any other fetishistic activities you might be thinking of.
So the essential jelly for the pies was.......well.......a piece of cake, if you forgive the mixed metaphore. Boil a pig's foot with aromatics and white wine for a few hours, strain and reduce. Ya esta!
A quick visit to the local Cansaladeria (pork butchers) yielded pork lard for the hot water pasty, bacon and minced pork for the filling.
The result, it has to be said, was rather impressive although I couldn;t find any English mustard to go with it.
They didn't last long.
Now where did I put my extra large jeans?