Last week my wife and I took the opportunity to make a brief jaunt to Andalucía to visit my wife’s sister (in-law) who lives in Chiclana de la Frontera. I always like to describe our short trips as “jaunts” as it sounds tremendously natty. You may recall that earlier in the year we “jaunted” to Valencia and Alicante, so we were looking forward to seeing how Andalucía compared. We had the perfect local guides to explore the area in my sister-in-law and her boyfriend as they know the area very well, including all the best places to eat; but also they could speak Spanish which meant that we could find out all sorts of interesting things. We visited three Andalucían towns together: Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera and found some absolutely wonderful food at phenomenally reasonable prices. We also, of course, made a point of working our way through an impressive number of sherries and local wines, well you know what they say: “When in Spain…”
Sanlúcar de Barrameda
We visited three tapas bars in this charming seaside town. The first was Casa Balbino, a very traditional tapas bar with pictures of Matadors and heads of bulls on the walls. The bar was absolutely buzzing as it was a Friday night and the weight of people pushing to the bar to order was almost intimidating. The barmen (and they were all men) recorded what was ordered on chalkboards at the bar as we shouted orders to them. We ordered the following:
Top-left: Octopus (Pulpo) served with some onions. Top-right: Flaked tuna (Atún) with eggs served with mashed potato and a piquant Salsa Brava. Bottom-left: Squid (Calamari) stuffed with Octopus. Bottom-right: a new Andalucían delicacy – Sea Anemones (Ortiguillas).
There is a view in Andalucía that as the seas become increasingly intensively fished, that people will have to look for alternative sources for people to eat – and they are seeing whether Sea Anemones could provide that alternative. This was a very interesting dish to try, salty – as you would expect, but with a quite deep flavour. I wouldn’t say that I’d be desperately keen to eat more of them, but I’m glad that I tried it. To accompany our dishes we had a round of Manzanilla, which the residents of Sanlúcar drink instead of Fino. In fact, it is worth providing a note of caution here. Do NOT ask for Fino if you come to Sanlúcar; we did as an experiment and we were met rather curtly with “we don’t have Fino – that’s for the people of Jerez”. The Manzanilla was sharp and mildly floral and fragrant, whilst being surprisingly weighty. Not unpleasant, but surprising.
After the first bar we headed to a more modern bar, which I unfortunately didn’t get the name of. At this bar we moved from a fish-heavy selection to a meat-heavy selection:
We went straight for the Ibérico and had some Jamón, Chorizo and Caña de Lomo; these were quite simply wonderful: juicy, flavoursome, rich, unctuous, smooth, soft, salty, meaty and fatty. Iberian pork is one of the great delights of not just Spanish cuisine, but world cuisine. Those acorn-fed pigs provide some of the most superlative meat in the world. We also had some Cuttlefish balls (Albóndigas de choco) with fries and interestingly some Sea Snails. We had a whole plate of these, which we had to extricate using a small sewing needle – not overly easy. These snails tasted somewhat of an aniseed flavour to me and, although they didn’t look particularly appetising, were very pleasant to eat. We had a glass of Amontillado, which is a type of sherry that is a little (only a little) darker and sweeter than a Fino. At first I wasn’t particularly enamoured with it, but it opened up a little and complimented the Ibérico products particularly well due to their saltiness.
The third venue we went to was a Bodega called Bodega Fyuste, where you could buy their wines by the litre from oak barrels in the bar:
At this bar we had a fillet of premium Tuna (Melva) with potatoes, as well as Boquerones in vinegar – which were absolutely lovely, a perfect combination of acidity and fishiness. We accompanied this little selection with a glass of Moscatel, which was sweet without being overly so. This was probably my favourite glass of the evening.
Our guides claimed that Sanlúcar produces the best tapas in the whole of Spain, which is a very bold claim. I certainly felt that the quality and the selection was of particularly high quality and that the real forte of the town was the seafood tapas. But the best in the whole of Spain? For what it’s worth, I think if Valencia were to challenge Sanlúcar to a boxing match, it would go the full twelve rounds, but Valencia would probably win it on points – but that’s just my view.
Cádiz is a very impressive city and port, which is at its picturesque best at sunset. As would be expected we found a number of fantastic little bars to satiate our hunger and thirst…
First up was Casa Manteca, a very traditional bar which like Casa Balbino, was bedecked with photos of Matadors and Flamenco singers.; as well as a fantastic display of old wines/sherries. At this bar we had some cured meats: pork and tuna, which were deliciously salty and peppery. This was complimented by our first glass of Fino, which had a light and delicate bouquet; and due to its dryness, it went well with the salted meats.
After this we headed to Bar Pajaro Pinto where we treated ourselves to Chiclana Peppers (similar to the Padron Peppers I had in Valencia, but bigger), Mackerel fillets, seasoned carrots, croquettes and fried John Dory. The Mackerel, in particular, were absolutely wonderful with plenty of meat to get your fingers into. We washed these treats down with a bottle of Albariño, which was quite acidic and fruity – reminding me of a Pinot Grigio. The wine itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, however the fact that it was €9 a bottle was pretty impressive!
The most impressive bar that we went to was the Cumbres Mayores. We took a space in the bar immediately underneath a simply awe-inspiring selection of Jamóns:
Before I state what we ordered, I should qualify this by noting that we had been joined at this point by my parents-in-law. We went through: another wonderful plate of Jamón Iberico, Kidneys in a Sherry Sauce, Tortilla with Salsa Brava, Tuna Steaks, Pork Meatballs in a Gorgonzola Sauce, Pork Medallions in a Gorgonzola Sauce and three plates of their secret Beef Fillet. The kidneys were particularly memorable, as the rich sherry sauce really complimented their earthy flavour. The other highlight was the beef fillets, which were deliciously tender. The dishes kept coming at as all the time, meaning I couldn’t get a photo of them all together; however, here is a selection of them.
As well as the tapas bars, we also took advantage of Cadiz’s impressive Mercado Central. The selection of fish at this market was absolutely wonderful and it was difficult to choose what we were going to have for our fish BBQ. Particularly memorable was the absolutely huge tuna that is in the bottom photo below. We settled on some tuna, a large selection of prawns and a bevvy of fantastic whole John Dorys.
Jerez de la Frontera
Unfortunately we didn’t leave ourselves a lot of time in Jerez, which was a shame as if we were going to find good sherry anywhere it was going to be there. For those that don’t know, the word “sherry” is actually an Anglicised bastardization of the word “Jerez” as the English couldn’t pronounce Jerez properly! My wife and I did find time to revisit a place that we’d been a couple of years ago called Bar La Moderna for a quick couple of plates and a Caña (small beer), namely: Carne al Toro (beef steak from a male cow), Albondigas con Tomate (meatballs in a tomato sauce), Montadito de Lomo al Oloroso (Pork steak cooked in a medium-sweet sherry sauce) and Patatas Ali Oli (potatoes with garlic mayonnaise).
While we were in Jerez, I did get to try a Pedro Ximenez, which was a deep, dark black colour, smelling strongly of raisins. It had a markedly thick, treacly taste with a slight hint of cinnamon. It gave me the firm impression that when it comes to sherries, I think I prefer the sweeter varieties.
Andalucía is a simply wonderful place to go for food and drink. A lot of the dishes are priced between €1 and €2 a dish and glasses of the local drop are similarly priced. I also find the Spanish approach to alcohol very refreshing; drink is always taken to accompany food meaning that you never really feel worse for wear. I shall be returning, particularly to Jerez and even more particularly to visit some of the Bodegas, next year. I’m excited already!