Tasty tapas at La Parada on Cape Town’s Bree Street

Today we’re heading back to Bree Street on the edge of Cape Town’s City Bowl District (CBD). My favourite street in Cape Town – it’s restaurant and bar heaven and perfect to stroll down sampling places along the way. Start at the top (Table Mountain end) of the street and weave your way down the hill.

It’s the sort of street you keep going back to and although there are myriad restaurants to try we regularly find ourselves drawn to La Parada on the corner. We even head straight for the same seats each time – if they’re not available we tend to feel somewhat peeved.

La Parada has been open for several years and serves tapas. A lot of the dishes are authentically Spanish and there’s also a nice South African twist to the menu. While the food has always been good, this year it seems to have been elevated to a different level – and on our first 2018 visit our waitress informed us that they have a new chef. He’s certainly put a little something extra into the dishes.

We visit Spain as often as we can and love Spanish food. Today’s gambas Pil Pil was authentic, with sweet, plump, fresh prawns flash fried in olive oil, chilli, garlic and lemon. The perfect combo of flavours giving a lovely garlic undertone and a real chilli bite.

La Parada: prawns

Luscious prawns in the perfect chilli, garlic sauce

Another Spanish classic – the ham croquettas were made with smoked ham and served with mustard aioli which they were sitting proudly on top of. Loved the slightly non-traditional presentation. The croquettas were delightfully crunchy on the outside, soft and creamy inside and the mustard aioli was a wonderful addition.

La Parada: croquettas

Beautifully soft croquettas with crunch

Served with star anise caramel and toasted sesame, the pork belly was sweet and sticky with crispy crackling and a lovely coleslaw-style salad . The sesame flavours came through wonderfully and I do love a bit of star anise.

La Parada: pork belly

Sweet and sticky pork belly

Possibly our favourite dish we’ve ever devoured at La Parada is the Champinones al Ajillo. A soft-poached egg is served on toast and a bed of mushrooms and truffle oil and topped with grated pecorino. So satisfyingly rich and earthy, I would order this every time I visited – come to think of it, I believe I have.

La Parada: mushrooms

The ultimately indulgent mushroom dish

La Parada: mushrooms

Topped with a perfectly poached egg

And then there’s the Patatas Bravas. Possibly the best-cooked potatoes in the world, this simple dish has been spiced up. After frying the morsels perfectly – crunchy on the outside and wonderfully soft inside – the chef dusts the potatoes with paprika, giving them some heat. They are served with two sauces – aioli and rich tomato chutney. If all potatoes tasted like these I think I’d live off potatoes alone. Who knew such simple food could bring such joy?

La Parada: patatas bravas

Crisp, spicy potatoes with delicious dips

Lunch at La Parada is inevitably accompanied by a bottle of chilled Rose. I love their wine coolers – a sturdy plastic bag of sorts crammed with ice and water. Well, I do love everything about La Parada and I’m sure we’ll be back soon for some more delightful Spanish treats on my favourite street.

La Parada: Rose

A chilled and tasty glass of pinkness

Today’s price point

Finally, here’s what we paid. Our five tapas dishes cost R375 (around £23 at today’s exchange rate). Plenty for a substantial meal for two.

Wine starts from R135 (£8.20) a bottle for rose, R110 (£6.70) for white and R150 (£9.20) for red.

There are three branches of La Parada in Cape Town – Camps Bay, Constantia Nek and our favourite, Bree Street.

 

Savouring Basque delights at Lurra

Today we’re heading into Marylebone in central London. It’s kind of behind Marble Arch (north of Oxford Street) and an easy place to get lost with its labyrinthine streets lined with some of the Capital’s trendiest eateries and bars. Also a good place to get lost – you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty here.

When I first moved to London I lived very close to the Marylebone Road and soon learned of the trickeries the English language throws at you when it comes to correct pronounciation. And the importance on getting it right! How they laughed when I told new friends I lived off the Mary-la-bone road. It’s nothing to do with Mary – despite the spelling – or la either. I was soon murmuring Mar-lee-bone under my breath until it settled for good in my grey matter. Don’t get me started on the hilarity I caused on telling people I worked in Grosvenor Square (even trickier to pronounce), but that’s another story.

Anyway, back to our actual destination for today, set in the lively streets of Mar-lee-bone. Lurra (which means land in Basque) is the second restaurant from Melody and Nemanja and opened in 2015. Their first was Donostia (which is the Basque word for San Sebastian), which opened in 2012 and is just down the road.

The legend goes that the pair were inspired after an unplanned stop in San Sebastian to leave their City careers and go into the restaurant business, opening establishments offering traditional Basque-style cuisine properly done. Must say I’ve had plenty of similar revelations myself but have never actually got down and done anything about it – so good for them…and for making a success of it.

Lurra is bright and modern with lots of pale wood and glass – and a lovely courtyard off to the side. Love a courtyard – straight on my list for next year’s summer eating.

The menu has happy Spanish familiarity about it, though I’ve never been to San Sebastian – something of a culinary hole for a Spainophile like me. Oh well, I’ve put that on one another of my many lists populating my many notebooks.

Gordal olives have happily become a regular fixture in my foodie life recently. Gordal means fat in Spanish and these plump babies are firm and juicy. Truly the king of olives.

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Fat olives make the perfect start to any meal

And then there’s anchovies, another Spanish star. This dish is called Matrimonio which, fairly obviously, means marriage in Spanish – and a great one it is too, with a mix of salted anchovies and boquerones which are marinated in vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Served up with mango vinaigrette and a pile of the sweetest marinated peppers. The flavours hit your taste buds with a real zing, and the different textures complete a joyful dish.

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Two types of anchovies in a pretty row

There’s a range of tapas dishes and a section called Large Sharing Plates, which includes a yummy-sounding slow-cooked suckling lamb shoulder. Feeling like a good meaty hit we went for the 14-year Rubia Gallega – Galician Blond steak dry aged on the bone. It was served on very medium-rare on a hot iron platter with a sprinkling of salt. Plenty for two to share, it’s rich and served with the bone on the side – a bone I wanted to take home to chew on. And somewhat appropriate that I was eating a bone in Mar-lee-bone. Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

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The aromas leap off this beautiful steak, making your mouth water

Steak and tomato is a dream combo for me. And the Spanish know their tomatoes. This is called peeled Pata Negra tomato salad and is marinated in some kind of magic. Sweet, soft and tangy.

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A tomato salad that brings happiness

We started off with a glass of bubbles. Cava is one of my favourite drinks and looks especially tempting in this stylish glass. Oh and there’s the courtyard in the background.

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Cava to go with the Gordal olives…yum

Another happy Spanish lunch in London Town. So happy I can enjoy those irresistible Basque flavours without the need for EasyJet.

Today’s price point

Lunch for two cost £85.50 without wine. Most of that went on the stunning steak which is £65.

White wine starts from £22 a bottle, rose is £34 and red starts from £24. It’s worth mentioning that the restaurant has a very special selection of one of the most fabulous Spanish wines ever (in my opinion), Vega Sicilia, which you can enjoy for £280 a bottle. I better start saving now!

Lurra is at 9 Seymour Place, Marylebone W1H 5BA.

Tucking into tapas at Jose

Today I’m heading to Bermondsey, close to London Bridge station, an area of London I’m not at all familiar with. There’s always something new to discover in this great city. Of course this is no random decision, I’m heading with great purpose for a little tapas bar called Jose which is owned by chef Jose Pizarro.

Jose is inspired by the bustling tapas bars around La Boqueria market in Barcelona – one of my favourite places in the world – so that has to be a good start. You can’t book so to ensure we’d get in and to avoid my dislike of queueing we got there five minutes before it opened at noon. And we weren’t first in line. That’s how popular this little spot is. It is a very small space with two counters along the windows, a central island and a bar and it filled up almost immediately and remained so for the two hours I spent there with some coming and going.

Menus are chalked on two boards above the bar, offering cold and hot delights which change regularly. I recently fell in love with Gordal olives (literally translated it means fat olives) in Catalunya so ordered a bowl while we pondered our other choices. These are the queen of olives, large, luscious, zesty and substantial, once you’ve gone Gordal olive it’s hard to go back. Look how beautiful they are.

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Happiness is a bowl of fat olivesI

I don’t often order octopus, my best memory of it ever is at lunch in the seaside town of Cadaques in Catalonia. Though it was quite a few years back, those Spanish food memories do have a way of staying with me. I also remembered a recent conversation with a Spanish friend who said his favourite dish was Galician-style octopus (polio). So octopus it was, sweet, tender and smoky, served with perfect potatoes and plenty of paprika. I inhaled those paprika aromas as the plate was delivered.

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A simple, totally mouthwatering octopus dish

Beetroot abounds on menus these days, I’m glad to say. Today’s offering came with blue cheese, pine nuts and a rich, silken dressing. Large chunks of beetroot with bite with a sprinkling of chopped chives to finish off a delightful dish.

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A beautiful salad of plump beetroot

Clams are used in a wide range of Spanish classics and these sweet babies were served on a bed of paella-like rice, perfectly capturing the flavours of the sea on a plate.

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Clams lined up on their succulent bed of rice

I loved Jose, it’s totally my sort of place. A buzzy, happy atmosphere, friendly welcoming service and fabulous Spanish food. But do get there at noon if you definitely want to get in.

Today’s price point

Lunch for two including a bottle of wine, coffee and service came to £65.

Jose is at 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1. There’s also his restaurant Pizarro’s down the road at 194 Bermondsey Street where you can book. Think I’ll back Bermondsey-way before too long.

Square Meal

Travel: The sights and flavours of Madrid

My love of Spain is well documented and I can never resist the chance to hop on that short flight from London’s often grey chilliness (even in summer) towards azure skies and sunny days. Today’s destination is the Spanish capital.

Madrid is a comparatively new city as its story doesn’t begin until AD852 when the Moors built a fortress near the Manzanares River. Okay that is a way back, but to put it all into some perspective, that was 21 centuries (yes, centuries) after the Phoenicians founded Cadiz (city of my forefathers incidentally) and six centuries after the Romans constructed Italica near Seville. And it was only established the permanent capital in 1561 by Felipe II.

It’s a city of grand boulevards, myriad plazas and roundabouts abounding with flowers, statues and fountains. Madrilenos (local Madrid-dwellers) are known for their spirited attitude and their refusal to conform to European hours. This is a city that never seems to sleep and one that buzzes with the constant chatter of a passionate and animated society. It’s the only place I can recall leaving a bar at 12.30 (am) and there being a rush to claim our recently vacated table – and that was on a Sunday night. Life here is lived on a different time zone.

Madrid is also a city of art with plenty of galleries and museums for a real culture fix. The Museo Reina Sofia displays a range of 20th century art including some Salvador Dalis and Picassos. The best of all is the amazing Guernica – Picasso’s famous depiction of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. And then there’s the Museo del Prado, known as one of the world’s greatest art galleries with a great collection by Velazquez and Goya.

Tabernas are dotted all around the city – little wine bar/restaurants offering delicious Spanish fare. The oldest of which is Restaurante Botin which was established in 1725 and claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world. It’s certainly pretty old and was said to be a favourite of Ernest Hemingway’s. Hemingway is credited with helping the world fall in love with Spain through his novels and he was a local legend in Madrid, spending long nights sipping gin at the Ritz before weaving his way through the winding streets in his quest for dinner.

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One of our local tabernas with a leg of jamon to tempt you in

He certainly had the right idea – the best way to explore the main areas of this lively city is on foot. We walked everywhere, sometimes getting lost which meant we discovered even more. You’re never far from a light refreshment or somewhere cool to sit. In summer Madrid’s a steamy city – it was around 38C when we were there in July, but there are plenty of trees, umbrellas and canopies and a lot of the bars spray a cooling mist over their customers.

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The colours of Madrid delight

So stop when you need to and take time to inhale the spirit (and scents) of Madrid.

Like in the Museo del Jamon (Ham Museum). How can you not love a city that has a Ham Museum? The aromas emanating from this establishment are incredible and there’s jamon hanging from the ceiling and walls as far as the eye can see. All around a long bar which is always (whatever time of day) packed with jamon eaters.

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You simply have to pay a visit to the Museo del Jamon

There was so much ham I had to use the Panorama function on my camera…you get the picture.

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Jamon…delicious jamon…everywhere

In the heart of Old Madrid, you’ll find the Plaza Mayor – the most famous plaza in Madrid. This beautiful 17th century square is filled with cafes and craft shops these days – its history is a bit bloodier with trials by the Inquisition and executions once being held here.

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The Plaza Mayor is packed with shopping and eating opportunities

Just to the side of the Plaza Mayor is the wonderful Mercado de San Miguel – how I love a Spanish food market. There are plenty of eating spots and lots of food to choose from, like these delicious croquetas in different flavours. The market is crazy-busy over weekends, packed with locals catching up on their social lives and has an amazing energy.

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Choose your croquetas and get them fried

Now that we’re on food, in Madrid it’s excellent, good value for money and varied. There are so many eateries to choose from that I didn’t even do any restaurant research, we just wandered the streets checking out our options until we spotted the one we liked the the look of. It worked for us. Like breakfast one morning in a little cafe right in the centre of Old Madrid where two coffees and my favourite Spanish breakfast – pan con tomato – cost us €4.

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Pan con tomate – the Spanish way to start the day

I also loved the way little tapas often appeared with drinks. You could explore the city by tabernas hopping and get your fill of tasty treats.

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Delicious mussel and smoked fish snacks appear

We loved the lively area around the Plaza De La Cebada where we partook of many beverages and watched the world unfold around us. There’s a lovely market just across the road (Mercado Cebada) where I couldn’t resist snapping the amazing fruity displays.

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Spanish cherries that glisten and gleam

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How I wanted to buy some and make gazpacho

The Puerta del Sol, right on the Calle Mayor and at the gateway to the main shopping area is kind of like the Leicester Square of Madrid. If you want tickets for something you’ll find them here. And just four blocks south of it through more winding lanes is the lively Plaza de Santa Ana. It’s all happening here.

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Sangria and Gin & Tonic – perfect drinks for a Madrid summer evening

We chose to have dinner at Ginger Restaurant in the square. A tasty meal, lovely friendly service and another chance to watch Madrid in all its energy unfolding around us. Ginger was also really good value with my delicious Iberian pork fillet mashed potato and curry oil costing €11.52. I loved the crispy spring onions on top.

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Spanish pork is world-class

Of course, all great cities have great parks and Madrid is no exception. And what could be more perfect than to stock up with delicacies at your local market before heading to Parque del Retiro for a picnic? The park which was once home to Felipe IV’s palace is now a large public oasis (since 1869) with majestic trees, impressively manicured areas and a lake which you can row on. It’s the perfect spot to get away from the busy-ness of the city should you feel the need.

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Meander through the tree-lined avenues of Parque del Retiro

On our way back to Old Madrid after our park-life sojourn we wandered through the trendy Chueca area – suddenly it was time for lunch. We stopped at a pavement cafe called Toma Jamon Tabernas and ordered two deliciously simple dishes. The best of tuna served with the reddest and juiciest of tomatoes and a superb dish of broken eggs and jamon, served on a bed of beautifully cooked potatoes. Wow! Such simple ingredients all bursting with flavour.

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Keeping it simple and delicious

The Palacio Real is on the other side of the Plaza Mayor. This vast and lavish Royal Palace was built to impress, set up on high overlooking the Rio Manzanares. It’s open to the public now as the current Royal family live in the more modest Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid.

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The beautiful palace looks regal against blue skies

Take a view of the palace from the other side – literally and metaphorically. When Joseph (Jose I) Bonaparte was King of Spain he carved out the stirrup-shaped Plaza de Oriente which provides a fabulous view of the vastness of this magnificent building. The square was once an important meeting place for state occasions and kings, queens and dictators all made public appearances on the palace balcony facing the plaza. The surrounding park area is filled with statues of monarchs and dignitaries from way back and you can feel the power the rulers were commanding from up on high.

In the south-west corner is the Cafe de Oriente which has outside tables where you partake of more Spanish deliciousness and ponder history.

Because there’s a lot to ponder when you’re in Madrid. And you feel like you don’t want to sleep because there’s so much Madrid energy to absorb. It’s a fascinating city with a unique spirit and a magnetic draw – I feel I’ll be back many times.

Salud from Madrid, a city to celebrate.

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Late-night brandies in La Latino

We stayed at the HRC Hotel in the La Latina district. A basic but comfortable hotel with good air conditioning (vital in the heat of a Madrid summer), set on a quiet street. And best of all easy walking distance to all the main sights and plenty of bars and restaurants.

Find out more at www.hrc-hotel.com

 

The ingredients of Spain: Paprika and Saffron

I love Spain! It could be partly because it’s in my blood with my ancestors originating from the fishing port of Cadiz. And also because I love their attitude to life, family values, beaches, scenery and ever-blue and sunny weather.

Then there’s the food. This trip I’ve packed several Spanish recipe books for my initial inspiration…the rest I get from checking out the fresh ingredients in local markets and supermarkets. There’s so much stuff to choose from dinner takes a lot of decision making.

This week I decided to make a Catalan-style fish stew. Actually a pretty simple recipe that takes a little bit of time but, most crucially, you need the best ingredients. Which is easily achieved when in Spain.

Two of the key ingredients in this amazingly flavoursome and fresh-tasting dish are paprika and saffron, two classic and frequently-used Spanish ingredients. So I thought I tell you what makes them special.

Paprika (or pimenton in Spanish) is made from air dried peppers. The flavours vary by country and in Spain you tend to get three varieties – dulce (mild), agridulce (moderately spice) and picante (very spicy). The peppers are smoked which gives it a wonderfully earthy flavour and the pimenton dulce has a lovely sweetness that adds a unique taste to any dish.

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A mound of the beautifully smoky and vibrant pimenton

Saffron was introduced to Spain by the Arabs and comes from the stigmas of the beautiful purple crocus flower. They bloom at dawn and need to be picked as soon short as possible as the plant withers quickly and the stigmas lose colour and aroma. It’s harvested in autumn between dawn and 10am, and because of its delicate nature, it needs to be done by hand – a seriously back-pain-inducing process. More than 85,000 flowers are needed to produce 1kg of saffron. That’s a serious amount of flowers. No wonder it’s the most expensive spice in the world.

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The beautiful flowers produce the amazing, delicate stems

Historically, saffron has been used as a dye, in perfumes and as a drug as well as a cooking ingredient. Cleopatra is said to have used it as a seductive essence and in Ancient Greece it was a remedy to sleeplessness and to reduce hangovers as well as being used to perfume baths and as an aphrodisiac.

Most of the world’s saffron comes from Iran and Spain who are generally regarded as having the best quality. And I’m happy to say that it’s sold at my local market in Spain for a bargain price – a tightly sealed box for a snip at €3. You don’t need a lot to flavour dishes, I guess this purchase will last me for about a year’s worth of cooking.

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Saffron makes for a beautiful field of purple

So now you know all about these two amazing spices. And here’s a delicious dish to make using them, which shows how well they work together.

As I’m beside the sea, the fish is all wonderfully fresh and again, great value. I used hake, prawns and clams today but you could include any kind of shellfish or white fish (like monkfish or cod).

Catalan-style fish stew

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Juicy prawns, sweet clams and succulent hake in the rich tomato and pepper sauce

Serves 6

A large pinch of saffron threads

6 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 tbsp dried thyme

4 bay leaves

2 red peppers, cored, deseeded and chopped roughly

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 tsp sweet paprika

250ml fish stock

24 live clams, rinsed in water

18 raw prawns, heads and tails removed

600g hake fillet, skinned and cut into 5cm chunks

Put the saffron threads in a heatproof bowl and pour 4 tbsps boiling water over them. Set aside to infuse while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Fry the onion for about 10 mins until golden but not brown. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves and red peppers and fry for about 10 mins until the peppers are soft.

Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer for another 5 mins, stirring.

Add the fish stock and saffron water and bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce to a simmer for 10-15 mins until the sauce reduces and thickens.

Add the hake gently and spoon the sauce over it – don’t stir it in or it will break up too much. Put in the prawns and clams, making sure they are gently mixed into the liquid. Reduce the heat to very low, put a lid on the pan and simmer very gently for about 10 mins until the hake is cooked through, the prawns turn pink and the clams open. Discard any clams that don’t.

Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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The stew in the pot just after the fish is added

The taste of Spain at La Parada

I love Spain and deep down feel the Spanishness of my ancestors in my genes – even though it was a very long way back. So I was very excited when a tapas bar opened in Cape Town a couple of years ago. La Parada is on buzzy Bree Street and I’m pleased to say simply shouts Spain. The restaurant opens out onto the street and you can sit at a counter on the pavement looking in on the action. I’ve sat in many a tapas bar just like this one on the streets of many Spanish towns, happy days!

La Parada’s dishes are generous in size, amazingly authentic and great value And to make it all even better, a new head chef has been lured over from Spain. Andres Condes worked at the legendary El Bulli with ground-breaking chef Ferran Adria and brings his talented touch to the menu which changes regularly. The initial disappointment of not finding one of your favourites is soon overcome by the excitement of trying something new.

Spicy steak is thinly sliced and served on bread topped with sweet tomato.

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Amazing tender steak tapas with patatas bravas bringing up the rear

Deep fried fish is a Spanish favourite and this yellowtail was amazingly sweet and tasty, served with a saffron mayo.

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Deep fried summer fish that melts in the mouth

The ensalada mixte (mixed salad) has pride of place on every Spanish menu – a simple dish using the freshest of ingredients, topped with hard boiled eggs and a delicate dressing.

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A classic ensalada mixte

One of my La Parada favourites, it’s called smashed eggs. A lovely mix of crisp potatoes, soft egg and spicy sauce. It wasn’t on the menu on my last visit…hoping for its return.

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The delightful combo called smashed eggs

Patatas bravas is a tapas classic and it doesn’t come better than these. Piping hot, crunchy on the outside and soft inside with beautifully spicy sauce. Oh and this portion costs R20 (about £1.10)…such a bargain.

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Perfect patatas bravas

I’ve eaten my share of ham croquettes, and again, I can’t remember ever having such perfect ones. The creaminess and crunchiness mix perfectly.

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Croquettes that are fluffy, crispy and creamy

La Parada also has a fabulous cocktail list – try their Bloody Mary which is made with chorizo vodka. And on a sunny day a bottle of rose completes the meal perfectly. I love this wine bag…have to find out where to buy one.

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Bring on the rose

One of the walls is covered in Spanish posters…just fabulous.

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Love the Spanish wall

As well as tapas, La Parada also has a range of main-course dishes that I’ve yet to try. I’m still enjoying the tapas too much. This little corner of Spain in Cape Town is a great-value, fun place to go and it’s very popular – evenings (especially wind-free warm ones) can be really hectic with crowds spilling out onto the street. Lunch is a quieter time to enjoy the lovely food, friendly service and get your Spanish fix. Regularly!

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La Parada is at 107 Bree Street, Cape Town and its sister is in Kalk Bay.