Elkano

Felt obliged to write something about what was nearly a religious experience this summer up on the basque coast near Sebastian: Elkano in Getaria.

On the night we didn’t even have any sherry, preferring to stick to more local brews, but they had a superb list – including the De la Riva blanco macharnudo and many others, so sherry lovers should feel no qualms about going. And indeed even if they didn’t and whatever qualms you may have you should go anyway.

You may have heard or read about Elkano and its famous rodaballo (turbot), grilled on the coals outside the restaurant. You may even, given the appearance recently of ever fancier grill restaurants all over Spain and further afield, have had other exceptional rodaballos or similar fishes that have been mentioned in the same breath. In my case I had even been to Cataria, Elkano’s sister restaurant down in Cadiz, where I had had the best fish that I had ever been served in my life.

But even then I honestly never imagined how absolutely superb this meal was going to turn out to be. Everything was good – the lobster cooked two ways, the hake cheeks three, and the other little fish that came and went – but the turbot was just out of this world. What was staggering was not simply how rich, how juicy, and how perfectly white and fluffy/flakey the fish was, but the sheer range of flavours and consistencies, all of them expertly pointed out by the resident genius Aitor Arregi.

I can still remember how the guys down in Cataria were full of life, literally bouncing around in their excitement as they explained the fish to us. By comparison, Aitor was a man of few words but maximum information. A priest in the temple of the turbot rather than a ringmaster, no frills added and none needed.

Really exceptional and one of those very rare meals you will remember for your whole life. Turbots never tasted that like before and may never do so again.

La Buena Vida

La Buena Vida is a really top class little bistro run by really nice people with top class cooking (including world class cheesecake) and an excellent winelist, including more than enough sherries for even the most obsessive palominohead.

True to its name, it is one of those places where you can try the things that make life worth living: simple or flamboyant cooking (in truffle season oyoyoy) and wines from every corner of the world and right across the spectrum.

A colleague and I had a relatively simple lunch by la Buena Vida standards – níscalos (saffron cap mushrooms) with potatoes, mallard and that quite splendid cheesecake, washed down pretty liberally with Fino Innocente (not as easy to find as it should be) and the majestic Tradición Amontillado.

The good life indeed!

A 2017 manzanilla La Jaca in Taberna Verdejo

Whereas I tend to pull faces when I get given really old wines I have no problem with the occasional manzanilla with a couple of years in the bottle. They get that touch of oxidation but remain very fine – no inclination towards the potency of a manzanilla pasada but a little bit of the flavour.

This one, a half bottle of La Jaca that had been filled in June 2017, was no exception to the rule. Still fragrant on the nose, but a little bit of old fruit in there with the chamomile, like one of those fruit teas, but wheras the fruit teas always smell better than they taste, this was just fine on the palate. Still fresh and zingy, had a nice dry, nutty palate and if not quite a hint of toffee maybe just a suggestion of nougat.

Very nice little wine, and absolutely at home in what is surely the loveliest little tavern in town.

El Huerto de Carabaña

A moment to reflect on a cracking lunch yesterday at the Bistro of el Huerto de Carabaña.

The bistro is not much to look at. The restaurant section around the corer is fancier, but the bistro is an old school neighbourhood eatery with lighting you would call discreet, smallish tables with even smaller tablecloths, tiled walls, a glass front at one end and the kitchen widen open to view at the other. And given that it is smack in the middle of a neighbourhood full of restaurants at the very top end of whatever interior decoration ranking there may be (and getting higher every week) this is not the place fashionistas in the neighborhood would pick.

And neither was there anything fancy about the food: tomatoes, boletus and callos (and cheesecake). But there is absolutely nothing wrong with tomatoes, boletus and callos. The place is named for a garden and the motif is rustic: a menu full of grilled and fresh vegetables. Good quality, country cooking. In fact the only “but” I would attach to the solids was that the callos seemed to have a little too much of the garden about them – warm, rich and savoury rather than sharp and spicey.

But the best thing about the lunch was the wine, and everything about the wine. First, no sooner than I sat down than I had a glass of la Maruja in my hand – a really excellent one too from a bottle filled in August (so this has not been sat on a shelf waiting its turn) and served in a Gabriel glass.

Even better was to come. Instead of a wine list, what these guys have is a walk-in wine cellar where you can go and have a look, it is around the corner in the restaurant, and the way to get there is a Goodfellas-style shortcut through the kitchen. Now not everyone would be up for it, but if you don’t love walk-in wine cellars then I wonder why you are reading this blog, and you will have to believe me when I tell you there were some exciting wines in there – a wine loving truffle pig would have a field day.

A sherry loving truffle pig too. They had some quality wines by Tradición and Emilio Hidalgo, including some you don’t see every day, and some classics from the bigger bodegas too, all of them very fairly priced by the glass.

For winelovers they also had some of the rarer, newer wines from Jerez, and we didn’t even have to hunt them out. The sommelier, whose name I didn’t catch but I wish I had, saw our enthusiasm for the Maruja and the Marques de Rodil and proceeded to fish out a bottle of Muchada Leclapart that he had coravined (that cork was not needed any further and a bit of argon was released into the atmosphere).

It all added up to a great lunch, with some terrific wine – from the singing Maruja to an absolutely class, elegant Marques de Rodil – without breaking anyone’s bank and with the minimum of fuss. You may not have noticed the Huerto de Carabaña before, but if you get the chance you should definitely stick your neck in there.

 

Angelita Madrid

I never get bored of Angelita Madrid (and how could you given their astonishing wine list, ever better cooking and their superb range of cheeses?) but I am aware that for those readers that aren’t actually in there with me (and on some days half my readership are) it may not be the most thrilling subject matter to always be reading about the same place. Fortunately they are not the same wines.

Here are a selection of the wines from a recent lunch with a colleague (not a comprehensive reportage) and you can see just what a marvellous spot it is.

First, a genuine cult wine: one by Alba Viticultores. This guy’s wines are not easy to get but Angelita is one of the places to get them. This was the last couple of glasses of a lovely effort – just enough fizz to set off the fine aromas and salinity of the palomino.

Second, the limited edition la Gitana en rama, which is really a good manzanilla. Pungent bitter almond in a fresh package – zingy upfront and mouth watering behind.

Then a couple of ringers to keep things interesting – including an absolutely superb Arbois by your man Lucien Aviet.

And finally a quite majestic amontillado from Toro Albala in Montilla Moriles – the Marques de Poley 1964, which I would put up there with the very finest amontillados I have ever had. Superbly fragrant, sharp and fine, a lovely array of flavours unfolding through the palate.

Cofiño

It has been an exceptional summer in terms of visiting places I had long heard about and amongst some bigger names one of the nicest surprises was at Cofiño, tucked away in the Cantabrian hills.

It is a respectful distance from the glamour of the beaches and towns on the coast and there is absolutely nothing pretentious about it from the outside. If you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t give it a second glance (were it not for the dozens of parked cars). Inside too, while it is an extremely pleasant space, there is no indication you are in anything other than a rustic tavern – while you cannot argue with a menu heavy in mixed salads, fried eggs and potatoes, meatballs and steaks.

But then you see the winelist, and the little cellar on display to one side of the dining room, and you realize that everything you had been told was true.

Absolutely cracking – as good a selection of current releases from around Spain as I have seen and a nicely chosen selection of wines from all over. Sherries are superbly represented – those that are listed and those that are not, with some real treasures, and the prices are absolutely fantastic all the way down the winelist (you would not believe how little we paid for the wines above). Or should I say list of wines and spirits – a really exceptional list of spirits of every kind, including a pretty encyclopedic list of brandies de jerez.

Eggs, ham and chips, meatballs and top quality wines for a song. Paradise!

La Corte de Pelayo, Oviedo

Your correspondent has been enjoying a much needed break travelling across the North of Spain, greatly enjoying the local hostelry along the way. And despite some big names, none have impressed me more than Restaurante La Corte de Pelayo, here in Oviedo.

It was recommended by a reliable trencherman and good friend as having a “good list of generosos” and if anything he sold them short – it is a superb list, of generosos (and wines of every kind) and once Hector, co-owner and Jefe de Sala spotted our interest, he revealed that that superb list only scratched the surface.

The restaurant itself is beautifully located and right up this blogger’s alley style-wise – friendly and unfussy but classy and elegant – and the food too was a great balance of hearty Asturian fare with a touch of class. We had two grand prix level dishes – fabada (ranked 4th in the world in 2019) and cachopo (the all Asturias champion) – and with no disrespect to the cider we have been swigging away the wines here were the perfect accompaniment.

Superb stuff and many many thanks for a cracking lunch.

Finos San Patricio in Taberneros

Took me far too long to get to Taberneros – the very first time I posted my list of restaurants for sherry lovers I was told I should go there and it ended up taking me over three years – shocking really. When I finally did duck my head in last week there were friendly smiles all round, an entire cocido was miraculously found despite the late hour and, even more miraculously, while I stepped outside to take a call three bottles of a fine old fino appeared on the bar. To be precise, three bottles of Fino San Patricio – the famous Garvey marque – from 1977, 1972 and 1967, respectively.

As a result a fella found himself under an obligation to pay a bit more attention than has lately been the custom, and found himself enjoying the experience all the more as a result. Nothing in it really color wise – and no surprise if you think you are drinking wines that are 41, 46 and 51 years in the bottle – but some quite telling differences on the nozzle and in particular on the palate.

The 1977 was piercing and saline on the nose, any hay bales appeared to have faded to sea air and brackish sea weed, the 1972 was a little bit closed and whiffy while the 1967 had a really intriguing nose of salty bacon flavoured crisps (frazzles) with a background of a little bit of ginger. Then on the palate the 1977 was intriguingly the least substantial of the three – vertical, bitter but fresh, the 1972 had that same profile with just an ounce more oomph and pungency but the 1967 seemed to have gone a little over the top, a much softer, mushier profile and clear signs of oxidation in the wine.

Very interesting and a real treat. I am by no means a fan of these older bottles but there is no denying how interesting the comparisons can be. The cocido, though, was even better. I will be back!

Fish and chips Media Ración style … feat. La Panesa

The bar of Media Ración is a special place: top class food, wine, service, comfort and condiments – it really has everything. Including fish and chips. Not on the menu, admittedly, but if you simply take the soldaditos de pavia (deep fried cod “soldiers”) and request some chips, Robert is your father’s brother as they say.

Best of all, and as previously reported on this blog, you can splash the resulting plate with a liberal quantity of really top class, tasty vinegar, sprinkle on some salt and wash it down with an absolutely superb fino: la Panesa.

El Señor Martin

Absolutely top trucking tonight at El Señor Martin, a classy fish and seafood grill here in town that opened a few months ago but is still chock full to the rafters.

At the end of the night it was no surprise. We were wonderfully looked after by Antonio, one of Madrid’s top, most under rated maitres, stuffed absolutely full of beautifully cooked aquatic protein and spoiled rotten by Patric the sommelier.

No worries with the list of sherries – eleven all told, plus two Montilla Moriles wines, and all the bases covered. In addition they had the white, rose, and red wines of Forlong and the 30 del Cuadrado – one of the few places I have seen it. It must be said that the prices by the glass were extremely fair – this is somewhere you can come and try a few things.

But forget about the wine, look at the cabracho! We ate superbly – everything from the oysters, the borriquete, clams, winkles, razor shells and scallops were spot on, but the cabracho (scorpion fish) took the cake. Even better, your man came and dissected the head for us, winkling out the muscles that had had the benefit of the eye juices in the cooking or the frequent bruising of a life spent feeding off rocks in strong currents. It was absolutely delicious.

No doubt that this place is going on the list – a great night and not the last.