Tapas time at Sabor in buzzy Heddon Street

Today it’s time for a taste of Spain in lovely Heddon Street. Sabor is the brainchild of Nieves Barragan Mohacho  and Jose Etura who hail from Bilbao, and Valladolid in Castile in central Spain. And it means flavour in Spanish – what a great name for a restaurant.

There are three areas at Sabor, the Counter and Bar on the ground floor and El Asador on the first floor.  The website describes the restaurant as “Taking a journey from the tapas bars of Andalusia through to the asadors of Castile and the seafood restaurants of Galicia”. Now that sounds like the sort of journey I want to embark on.

Made even better by the fact that it’s on one of my favourite London streets, just off Regent Street, a little restaurantland haven steps away from the hustle and bustle of London Town.

What’s on the menu

There really is a fabulous choice of Spanish-ness at Sabor. One of the day’s specials were these amazing, soft and creamy goat’s cheese croquettas. They really should come with a warning, they’re so good, I think I could eat a hundred of them!

Sabor: croquetas

The creamiest and crispiest of croquettas

The tasty stuffed baby squid was crisp and served with a beautiful garlic mayo.

Sabor: baby squid

Stuffed baby squid with silky garlic mayo

I do like a bit of quail but they can be rather an effort to eat for relatively little reward. Not today! These babies were beautifully crisp and flavoursome with a surprising amount of succulent flesh. And just perfect served with one of my favorite of Spanish sauces – Romesco and a head of crisp, refreshing chicory.

Sabor: quail

Crispy, succulent quail with delicious romesco sauce

They do love their pork in Spain which also means they really know how to cook it. Today’s Presa Iberia 5 Jotas with mojo verde was beautifully tender, again backed with those namesake flavours and served with a wonderfully rich gravy and herby accompaniment. Mojo verde is this wonderful green sauce (obviously!) made from fresh coriander, garlic, olive oil and cumin – so yummy with this pork dish – though I could actually imagine it going with plenty more dishes. A good thing to keep handy in your fridge to boost any meal, I’m thinking.

Sabor: Pork

Iberian pork in a league of its own

This is the beautifully illustrated menu at The Counter. Upstairs in El Asador they seem to specialise in suckling pig – one of my Spanish favourites.

Sabor: menu

The menu of deliciousness at The Counter

And here’s the beautiful counter. A place where I want to spend more time enjoying some more deliciously authentic Spanish dishes. Vuelvo enseguida.

Sabor: The Counter

The beautiful Spanish counter

Sabor is at 35-37 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street.

Tasty Indian cuisine tapas-style at Thali

Thali for two

Today we’re heading up bustling Kloof Street to an exciting new Indian restaurant. It’s the brainchild of Chef Liam Tomlin – who runs the successful Chef’s Warehouse in Bree Street (where I still haven’t been – must remedy that soon) and also recently took over the kitchen at Beau Constantia.

Thali has the same menu concept of Tomlin’s other two restaurants – a set menu of dishes to share that come up in groups, making for four tasty courses. Thali literally means “a set meal at an Indian restaurant” which for me means the joy of no menu indecision and a chance to taste everything the chef wants to offer. The food comes served in small dishes arranged on large round copper platters which look stunning but do make photography tricky (food blogger problems!). However, I’ve done my best to give you a good flavour of what’s in store.

What’s on the menu

So first up we received the Aloo Tikki, a beautifully soft and spicy potato cake served topped with yogurt and a touch of tamarind paste. I love potatoes and I could definitely consume this version of my favourite starch on a regular basis. It’s served with curry salt and spices which you keep on your table for the duration of your meal.

Thali: Aloo tikki

Starting off with a delightful potato dish

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Close up on the delicately spiced morsels

Our next course consisted of three dishes (dhal, cauliflower and tandoori chicken), a buttery paratha, two dipping sauces and an onion mix.

Thali: second course

Never have vegetables looked so vibrant and tasty

The cauliflower plate was a veggie revelation with Tandoori cauliflower and cumin cauliflower puree served with a cashew and coconut sauce. A genius way to showcase the humble cauli, producing a dish with incredible depths of flavours and a wonderful range of textures.

Thali: cauliflower

Close up on the spiced-up cauliflower

Beautifully flavourful and creamy smoked tadka dhal was served with the softest of buttery paratha. Dipping heaven.

Thali: dhal

A beautiful bowl of glistening dhal

And the tandoori chicken skewers arrived in their own little tandoor, complete with burning coals. Great theatre and these little morsels were so perfectly cooked they melted in the mouth giving a pop of those tasty tandoori flavours. Another wonderful dish that was very difficult to photograph well, but you get the idea.

Thali: tandoori chicken

Happiness is…your own tandoori oven

Time for some fabulous fish

The fish course added a real freshness to the dinner. The fried fish tacos were packed with juicy cubes of kingklip, crunchy fresh veg and chilli.

Thali: fish tacos

Vibrant fishy tacos with a chilly bite

Unusually for an Indian restaurant, a ceviche-style bowl of raw line fish was served with a Cape Malay dressing, coriander emulsion, saffron and pickled onion. Even more fabulous flavours and textures to savour.

Thali: Linefish

Fresh fish with a Cape Malay dressing

Wonderful curries to finish with

Our final tray of delights brought the curry element to our table. Another incredible combo of dishes. Two curries, served with rice and naan – the perfect ending to our Indian extravaganza. The smokey lamb curry was packed with flavour with a silken sauce and wonderfully tender meat.

Thali: curries

A tray of curries to finish with

The Panch Phorand seafood curry was possibly my favourite dish of the night. Wonderful cubes of flaky fish, plump prawns and the freshest of mussels in a rich and spicy sauce. The mussels are so fabulous in Cape Town at the moment. So I’m eating them whenever I have the chance and boy were they great in this curry.

Thali: seafood curry

A masterpiece of spicy seafood

The rice was also spectacular – which I think is a sign of a really great chef. I battle with cooking good rice dishes – wonder if they’d be available to give me some lessons?

Thali: Rice

Rice doesn’t get better than this

Phew! What a great selection of dishes. Portions are substantial at Thali, and there’s quite a lot of heat in the sauces, dips and spices. You can taste the love and care that everything has been prepared with and you can feel the energy emanating from the busy kitchen.

Thali doesn’t take bookings (one of my pet hates) so we got there just before 6.30 to make sure we could nab a table for six. The restaurant was already about three-quarters full and soon filled up completely. While we were having dinner people queued up at the bar and some didn’t even stay, having been told they would have over an hour to wait. This is one popular place! Because of this service may be inconsistent.

The menu tells you to expect a selection of dishes to share which can take up to 90 minutes – it will probably take longer (as it did in our case). But what’s the rush? Arrive prepared to take your time and enjoy the courses as they come and I guarantee you’ll enjoy a wonderful Indian extravaganza.

Thali: kitchen

There’s plenty of activity in the open kitchen

Thali: kitchen

Making sure the platter looks perfect

Today’s price point

And finally, Thali for two is R700 (about £45 at today’s exchange rate).

Thali is at 3 Park Road, Gardens, Cape Town, just off Kloof Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Great tapas at Chalk & Cork in Kloof Street

Today we’re heading to Chalk & Cork on Cape Town’s Kloof Street. It’s the road that connects the centre of the city to all the City Bowl neighbourhoods and is where Long, Orange and Buitensingel meet. More than that it’s a hive of activity with such a range of places to eat and drink you’re going to get confused if you wander for too long. On the up side you’re definitely going to find something that suits your needs.

Tapas-style eating is everywhere these days. Suits me as it means I get to try more of the dishes on offer and can avoid food envy when others’ orders look better than mine.

The slightly strangely named Chalk & Cork specialise in sharing plates. This small, quirky restaurant has a lovely outside area, perfect for Kloof Street people-watching, a small bar area downstairs and a few tables upstairs. It’s a cosy little place with welcoming service and a great feel. And there are corks all over the place, they’re part of the decor –  not so sure what the chalk has to do with it. Anyway, it’s certainly a name that sticks in the mind.

We shared a range of dishes which were all outstanding. The tempura of East Coast hake came with variations of peas – such a clever idea. Pea puree, peas in and out of the pod and pea shots added a beautiful sweetness to the flakey fish with its perfectly crisp batter.

Chalk & Cork hake

Sweet and crunchy hake tempura with peas

The smoked tomato risotto was served with sour cream and charred corn. The smoking certain gave the dish a unique flavour and the sour cream added extra zest.

Chalk & Cork risotto

Soft and smoky tomato risotto

My favourite of the dishes we ordered was the aged beef steak which was served with pickled carrots atop an aromatic green curry sauce. The steak was so perfectly cooked and the sauce had a lovely creaminess and a real chilli kick. Think I’ll have to keep the whole bowl for myself next time. And doesn’t it look beautiful?

Chalk & Cork steak

Beautifully tender beef on a bed of spicy green curry sauce

Finally, this stunning plate of food is their new potato salad with a herb aioli, walnuts, radishes and celery. Wonderfully crunchy and crisp with the herbiest of dressings.

The herbiest of new potato salads

We did also enjoy a plate of lamb meatballs with mint yogurt, peas and fresh basil. Sorry for the lack of photographic evidence.

I will definitely go back to Chalk & Cork. I loved all their dishes, the service was fabulous and it has a lovely, relaxed feel – and an excellent wine list. Most of all, it’s really great value for money.

Writing about Kloof Street turned out to be more of a challenge than I’d anticipated as my autocorrect kept changing it to Aloof Street, which made me laugh (although it was incredibly annoying!). There’s certainly nothing Aloof about this street!

Today’s price point

Two gin and tonics, five tapas dishes and two bottles of wine cost us R638. (Around £40 at today’s exchange rate).

It was plenty of food for four people.

Chalk & Cork is at 51 Kloof Street, Cape Town.

The many wonders of Catalunya’s Cistercian Route

I was going to call this Spanish story “Eating my way along the Cistercian Route” but decided that sounded rather greedy and most importantly it’s far from the whole truth. Yes, there was a lot of eating going on and very good eating it was, too, but there was so much more to explore and discover in the footsteps of the Cistercians.

The Cistercian Route connects the three monasteries of Santa Creus, Poblet and Vallbona. It’s a beautiful land about an hour’s drive from the region’s vibrant capital, Barcelona. The area’s a hiking paradise with its footpaths of 105 kilometres (the most in Europe) and, as I soon discovered, has amazingly warm and welcoming people, spectacular scenery and some very interesting traditions. Oh and there’s all the amazing food (and wine) of course.

We took to the road ready to explore. First stop Valls, which boasts a unique tradition as the birthplace of the human towers or Castells. The community comes together to rehearse three times a week and there are international competitions with serious rivalry. I was lucky enough to witness a rehearsal and was soon awed by the spectacle as people clamber over each other to create a towering structure. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such combined speed, flexibility, strength and dedication. Simply marvellous.

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The amazing spectacle of human towers

At the restaurant Test  in the Hotel Class Valls we were served up a range of delightful dishes. Like this colourful pineapple carpaccio topped with melt-in-the-mouth Spanish ham and a zesty dressing.

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Pineapple carpaccio topped with succulent jamon

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Savoury and flavourful broth at its best

Another Catalan tradition involves calcots, which are sort of like a sweet spring onion. Their harvest is celebrated every year when they are cooked over fire and peeled and eaten by hand with a generous helping of romesco sauce. It wasn’t harvest time when we were there but I did tuck into tempura calcots which were tasty, sweet, juicy and crunchy. Worth going back for that big celebration, I reckon.

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The delicate sweetness and crispiness of tempura calcots

On to the first monastery in the puzzle. Santa Creus, which was founded in 1168, is amazingly well-preserved and provides a great insight into Cistercian life. The stories are fascinating and the sheer scale of the place and its grand architecture are entrancing, making it easy to imagine a life very different and somewhat magical.

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The spectacular design of Santa Creus monastery

Just outside the imposing gates of the monastery is the cosy local – Restaurant Catalunya. We ordered our main courses and were then fed plate after plate of local specialities – soft and sweet ham, anchovies, tomato toast, aubergines, they just didn’t seem to stop coming. It was a real feast with the warmest of welcomes and plenty of the local vino – that’s the Catalan way.

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A classic paella with fresh seafood

With all the deliciously tempting food to enjoy it’s great that there are plenty of hiking opportunities. Time to burn off some of those calories. We headed up the mountain from Montblanc up to the abandoned L’Ermita Sant Joan. Rocky, winding pathways through the depths of the forest, made even more beautiful by the swirling mist, led us to what felt a bit like the top of the world.

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Peering through L’Ermita Sant Joan into the misty distance

A meandering descent and we headed for today’s lunchtime venue – Riudabella Castle. Yes, lunch in a real castle – just when you think dining can’t get any better. Riudabella has recently started offering accommodation in the form of large studio-style apartments with fabulous vineyard and forest views – providing the perfect retreat.

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Take in the view from your castle on high

We tucked into an amazing lunch in the huge,magnificent dining room, starting with a beautifully colourful array of canapés. For mains a delectable leg of pork which had been cooking in the medieval oven for 15 hours – so succulent!

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A table loaded with tempting tapas

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The tenderest of slow-cooked pork

For dessert a local treat awaited. This is called Gypsy’s Sleeve – a delightfully light sponge rolled with lashings of cream and topped with sugar. One of the tastiest puddings ever, imagine eating sweetly flavoured fluffy clouds.

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Soft, sugary, creamy…heaven on a plate

Poblet is the largest inhabited Cistercian monastery in Europe, so keep your eyes peeled for one of the resident monks as you wander its corridors. A huge rain storm erupted during our visit providing a dramatic atmosphere for our explorations.

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The cloister’s courtyard in the pouring rain

From an ancient monastery it was time to take millions more steps back in history to the Espluga Caves. Take a walk through eerie caves with displays explaining Spain’s prehistoric past and the story of the humans who made these caves their home for thousands of years. It’s a ghostly and somewhat spiritual experience.

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Time to step even further back in history

And then to dinner at the Hostal des Disset Fonts in L’Espluga de Francoli. We ambled through the streets of the sleepy town to our destination – another warming experience of great local food and wine.

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The substantial goat’s cheese salad

One of the nicest starters I’ve had in a long time, the sweetness of the chilled melon soup was perfectly complimented by the saltiness of the Serrano ham. A marriage of Spanish flavours made in heaven.

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The perfect mix of saltiness and sweetness

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Simple ingredients perfectly cooked

Montblanc is known as the centre of the Cistercian Route. It was founded in 1163 by King Alfons I and a lot has happened inside its protective medieval walls. The legendary fight between St George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon is alleged to have taken place here and the day is celebrated every year with a festival and the exchange of flowers and books. I could have meandered its cobbled streets for hours – popping into one (or several) of the many bars, cafes and restaurants scattered along them.

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Medieval terraces in Montblanc

And now it’s time for lunch again. My favourite part of this amazing trip with its myriad highlights was soon turning into lunchtime. And today cemented it. We wound our way up narrow mountain roads to the village of Fores where we were welcomed into the Mirador de Fores, another cosy little restaurant with far-reaching views from on high across to the sea.

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The best village restaurant in the world…possibly

The chef’s passion was clear in his descriptions of every dish (even with my limited Spanish I could get that much). He had our whole menu planned and we started with the juiciest of anchovies atop tomato and olive bread. A rustic classic bursting with flavours.

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Anchovies on toast doesn’t get better than this

And then croquettes – described by the restaurant as the best in the world! A huge claim but a fair one, I’ve eaten my share of croquettes and these are definitely up there. Large, and packed with chunks of chicken and luscious sauce.

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The tastiest chicken croquettas

Next course was this clever assembly of black sausage, a vegetable tower of potato and onion and crunchy crackling on the side. One of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted – I’ve got to try to work out how to make it myself. Or go back there soon!

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My top Spanish dish of the year…well one of them certainly

And the good stuff just kept coming. Slow cooked shoulder of lamb that melted in the mouth, sweetly caramelised onions and a crunch of fried aubergine. Ingredients couldn’t get much simpler or produce a tastier result.

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A totally tempting trio for mains

We also sampled a local stew made from rabbit, snails and chicken, traditionally eaten by the workers on the land. Hearty fare designed to give you strength.

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A hearty traditional stew

Dessert was a luscious cheesecake served with nuts, preserves and local honey. Heavenly.

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Finishing off a delightful lunch with a delightful dessert

One of my Spanish colleagues on our trip through Catalonia introduced me to Orujo – basically the local liquor drunk as a digestive after an indulgent lunch. The appropriate way to finish off your feast that definitely helps with the digestion. Thank you Jose, a new Spanish tradition that I’ve embraced.

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Colourful local liquor at Mirador de Fores

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Here’s the team outside their fabulous restaurant

Phew, that was some lunch – I’d go back to Catalonia just to repeat the experience. Seriously.

A new day dawns and it’s hiking time again. Today we took in scenes from the Spanish Civil War – lookout points, foxholes, bunkers cleverly hidden in rolling hills. A sobering sight and reminder of Spain’s recent and somewhat brutal history. Final destination, the monastery in Vallbona de les Monges, the only female monastery in the region and it still houses eight nuns.

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Vallbona de les Monges and its monastery nestle in the valley

And then of course it’s lunchtime, in another sleepy village. Rocallaura Cafe was full of locals on a sunny Saturday and offered simple, tasty fare.

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Love colourful signage, a great welcome

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Onion bread has never tasted so good

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Sausage, potato, aubergine and jamon, Spanish simplicity at its best

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The joy of the menu del dia

Final stop on our Catalonian odyssey is Verdu. Famous for its handmade ceramics (love a Spanish ceramico), imposing castle and the Miro a la Taula.

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

What better way to encapsulate Catalonia’s many treasures than a last-night dinner celebrating the art, food and wine of Spain. At Miro a Taula you’re guided through two tastings. The art of Miro and his contemporaries, including Dali, Picasso, Calder, Chillida and Barcelo and the food they ate.

Fabulous tapas, great art and the opportunity to absorb it all in peace and without crowds, a truly unique experience. Followed by a delicious dinner in the gallery.

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Some of my favourite Spanish ingredients on a platter

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The zesty fig and pomegranate starter

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Melt-in-the-mouth lamb with apricots

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The dining area in the centre of the gallery

I think this is the longest blog story I’ve ever written. And that’s because there’s just so much to share with you about this party of beautiful Catalonia. What a journey it was.

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The Catalonian flag against the blue Spanish sky

I was a guest of the Catalan Tourist Board on this trip.

I flew to Barcelona on Vueling.com

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