El Campero

Had a fantastic meal at El Campero, Spain’s most famous temple to tuna in Barbate, along the Cadiz coast to the South. Had no reservation, just rocked up to the bar (and waited an hour and change) and kept it simple – some cracking toasts, carpaccio and tartare to start and then a few different grilled cuts (heart, tarantello, parpatana, and ventresca) but it was all top class stuff. No time today for them to explain the terroir of the sea – they were absolutely mobbed – but the service was quick and efficient and I enjoyed it.

Couldn’t resist a glance at the wine list and as you would expect, it wasn’t bad at all. Eight finos (including Tradicion, Tio Pepe, Arroyuelo, Cruz Vieja, and even the Barajuela), five manzanillas, four amontillados, five palo cortados, six olorosos and three creams.

On top of all that they also had some top class unfortified wines from around the region: everything from Viña Matalian and its brother Socaire, through the Marismilla Rosee to Garum, Sumaroca and Tintilla.

Absolutely top bombing – a winelist like this takes the stress out of waiting for a table alright.

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Cataria

It is easy to be carried away after a lunch as good as the one we had today at Cataria.

There were some really top wines flowing, great friends all around the table and a fella was enjoying himself, but even so I am pretty sure the superb sardines, oysters, langostines and gambas rojas, squid, baby squid, corvinata, bucinegro and anenome (and the cheesecake) were as good as I have had. I certainly can’t remember anything like it. And even if I have been on the outside of physical produce of this quality, cooked and prepared with this skill, I certainly have never enjoyed ingesting aquatic protein as much as I did today.

The quality really was outstanding: textures, flavours and aromas that will live long in the memory. Carlos Hernandez and Edu Perez, the crack chef and top man bossing the grill are clearly names to remember. But the presentation and explanations of menu and dishes were even better.

It is by no means unique these days for chefs to come over and explain the dishes, but I have never seen a menu explained and presented like it was today. Fleetingly I felt like I understood the season of the langostine, the cycle of the tides, the breeding patterns of the squid and the best neighbourhoods for anenomes. Sapidity, intensity, muscle, age: no dimension was left unexplained. It was a lot to take in and I wish I had recorded it, not least for the infectious enthusiasm with which Carlos Hernandez dropped his knowledge on us.

And it really enhanced the meal. I have written before about how a little knowledge can increase the pleasure and this was one of the clearest examples I can remember. For the first time I knew how to compare my langostine and my gamba roja, my corvinata and my bucinegro, or what to look for in my squid or anenome. And not just the anenome: I will never throw a fish head away again (even if I couldn’t find any divine presence in the tiny eye bones).

I will write another post about the wines we had: suffice it to say that sherry lovers need have no worries about the liquid accompaniment.

For now, just my sincere congratulations to Carlos, Edu, the team and the sealife around Sancti Petri. It was really outstanding today and will live long in the memory.

Triciclo

It has been far too long since my last visit to Triciclo but I was reminded of it these last few days by the good people of twitter as one of a select handful of top class watering holes (together with La Malaje, Lakasa and Ponzano 12, beloved of this parish) still open amidst the August shutdown. And it was great to go back because a couple of fellas and I had a top, top lunch.

I cannot tell you in any detail about the wine list: I did at one point ask about it but it was one of those lunches where there were more laughs than notes taken, and to be honest it is almost miraculous that there are photos.

All I can tell you is that they certainly have the right stuff to hand: we started with none other than El Muelle de Olaso and that was one of no less than three unfortified palominos on offer, together with the epic UBE Miraflores (which we had later) and another whose name escapes me. In fact strictly speaking they have two more unfortified palominos: the Barajuela Fino from 2014 and even the Oloroso.

Absolutely joyous wines which were the perfect foil to some superb fresh, summer dishes. A lot of imagination in the menu and really fun stuff, and all the tomatoes, ceviches and seaweed could almost have been chosen to accompany the wines of the South. And as for the cheesecake …

Fantastic lunch and great to see my favourite wines strutting it on this kind of stage. Will have to come back after the holidays and have a look at the winelist!

A’Barra and the wonderful world of Valerio Carrera

If the past is a foreign country, at A’Barra you can travel the world.

I went back last night and yet again was treated to an astonishing line up of historic wines: Valdespino Jerez Seco, Viva la Pepa manzanilla (Romate), Fino Macharnudo (also Romate), a Very Pale (Alvear), JR (Bodegas Montulia), Priorato Dom Juan Forte (De Muller), the 2017 cosecha (Ximenez Spinola), Royal Ambrosiante Palo Cortado (Sandeman) and la Bota 81 de Gin (Equipo Navazos).

To be quite honest it was almost too much to take in at once. I am not a great note taker and even less when having dinner, but there were some vivid contrasts: the salted caramel of the Jerez Seco, the pure elegance of the Viva la Pepa, the refined sapidity of the Fino Macharnudo, the piercing, spirity volatile acidity of the Montulia. There were also some common themes: beautiful clarity, colour, and temperature. They were, in summary, top wines, beautifully presented.

What is clear is that there is a world of wines that I have yet to explore: different names and styles, lost bodegas and brands. It is also clear that if you want to explore that world A’Barra is one of the places you can do so. Before going to A’Barra a couple of weeks ago I probably had only had a dozen really old bottles. Fifteen days later I have lost count …

Many many thanks again and many congratulations to Valerio and the guys – really enjoyed last night and will be back again soon!

A’Barra

A fantastic dinner last night at the “gastronomic bar” of A’Barra, where you can dine at a counter while some friendly chefs whip up a really high quality, high flavour and high fun menu, all the while sipping down an imaginative set of pairings by one of Madrid’s very top sommeliers.

You know it is going to be a good night when you are offered as an aperitivo la Bota 70 de Manzanilla Pasada de Equipo Navazos – an absolutely splendid start that, but only just the start. After aperitivos and safely ensconced at the bar the menu took off with Alvear’s Asunción oloroso – just that hint of sweetness making it a really accesible – then a juicy, herbal Assyrtiko, interloping from across the med, a marvellous Fondillón from Alicante and progressing up the coast, a chunky Aureo Añejo Seco from Tarragona.

By this stage I could contain myself no longer and went off piste because I had been told repeatedly that Valerio Carrera, the sommelier in charge here, was a bit of a legend. But even so I wasn’t prepared for the quality of what happened next, with some absolutely exceptional wines: a 1950s manzanilla Jarana from Lustau, a 1920s bottle of Fino Carta Blanca by Agustin Blázquez, a lovely old Romate oloroso and a really fine, elegant old Pukka medium dry, again by Blázquez.

I am going to give it a go in the coming days but it is not going to be easy to put into words the quality of these wines. And not just the wines, but the service, which was perfection. Opened in advance and handled with exquisite care these wines were crystal clear and had no hint of age, reduction or dustiness on the nose. They were impeccable and ready to sing out their considerable qualities. Absolutely outstanding, magical stuff from a sommelier with a superb collection and even better skills.

And oh yes, there was also a dinner. Which was cracking, from start to finish, in a great atmosphere. The bar is a wonderful setting, allowing you to chat with fellow diners, and the food and the wine beg to be discussed. There were lots of smiles and even a fair bit of laughter. As enjoyable a dinner as I have had in a long time and one that I hope to repeat very soon.

Perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

Desencaja

Desencaja is a brilliant restaurant, a bit of a hidden gem but with a lot of faithful customers. It is famed for its game during the season but just high quality at any time of year: a really top class chef – a chef’s chef so they tell me -, some fun presentations, an interesting and fairly priced wine list and a really friendly crew. One of the things I like about it is the choice of menus – you don’t have to go super big to put yourself in their hands.

And the sherry list is not at all shabby. Unusually for me, I have all the information: 21 wines by the glass covering all possible bases and another 13 by the bottle, some of which are pretty special and, well, I already said they were fairly priced …

No doubt about it, this is one for my list.

El Escaparate de Vallehermoso

Terrific lunch today at a cracking little bar in the corner of a market. May sound familiar but today a new venue in a different market – and a top quality find – El Escaparate (and when I say find I mean recommendation – many thanks Javier!)

Nothing too fancy here – classic little plates of high quality produce (we had breasts of barbary duck and wood pigeon from the great Higinio Gomez) including some slow roasted torreznos (little chunks of pork belly with their crackling) that are rightly famous.

All too often lately I have been starting posts with a “not quite a sherry temple” but no worries here – 16 by the glass, including four finos, three manzanillas, two amontillados, two palo cortados, four olorosos, a cream and a pedro ximenez. Jerez, Sanlucar and the other place represented and a strong selection featuring amongst other things the Bien Paga, Williams Añadas and the Fino, Amontillado and Palo Cortado by Bodegas Tradicion.

And although I didn’t study it in detail I had the impression they had a pretty good list in general – in particular if you are a fan of German Blanco (and you should be) – as well as beers of every description. Fun for all the family!