Foodie Hub Tapas Awards

foodie hubAbout three years ago my Twitter pal Niamh @eatlikeagirl got in touch with me about joining a new foodie venture called Chowzter, headed by the dynamic and totally food obsessed Jeffrey Merrihue @jeffreymerrihue, who is also at the helm of @mofilm, as well as being the driving force behind Chowzter (now the newly rebranded @FoodieHub). So okay, I put up my Seville page on Foodie Hub, which I was very pleased with, and then last summer (2014) Jeffrey showed up close to my doorstep and asked if I was free one day to show him my favourite bars in Sevilla. Well, if there is something I LOVE doing it’s exactly that. Plus I was interested in actually meeting Jeffrey. And it was so much fun. We did a crazy afternoon “tapeo extremo” visiting an outrageous number of Sevilla bars in a ridiculously short amount of time, and then repeated the exercise a couple of days later in Malaga with the newly initiated Victor from @WeLoveMalaga. And not only was it great fun, but I got to meet Jeffrey, which made all the difference from this simply being an interesting project I was adding my name to… well, to being a wonderful and crazy foodie adventure that just gets better and better.

jeffrey me (2)

Fast forward to Summer 2015… Jeffrey was going to be back in Marbella and suggested a meet-up/dinner with all the FoodieHub Spain experts, which (of course!) promptly morphed into an epic tapas weekend in Malaga & Marbella, and also gave birth to the FoodieHub Essential Tapas Guide. I love that this is a “living online guide” that is always growing as we add more to it. Here are some highlights from our Malaga FoodieHub tapas tour…

malaga foodiehub tapas tour (1) malaga foodiehub tapas tour (2) malaga foodiehub tapas tour (3)

After this “light lunch” we were whisked away to Marbella for the Main Event. The Essential Tapas Awards event and an exquisite beach-side dinner at the elegant Restaurante Santiago. Rather than MORE food pics I shall just post this lovely photo taken by Victor, which for me captured the gorgeous ambiance of the setting where we dined like royalty.

victor

Here is a shot of the awards handed out earlier in the evening…

foodiehub winners

It was an amazing weekend and really great to meet up again with some of the Spain food experts I already knew, as well as getting to meet the others. But the extra special treat for me was after I came home and got to present the FoodieHub award for Essential Traditional Tapa to my “family” at Bodeguita Romero. Father and son Pedro & Alejandro Romero were thrilled that their spectacular pringá montadito had won.

romero (2)

romero (1)

You can download the free FoodieHub app here, and keep up with global foodie news on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Also check out the amazing FoodieHub YouTube page, but only if you’re not hungry! It’s a real honour – and also lots of fun – being a part of the FoodieHub team.

Copa Jerez 2015 National Finals

copa jerez spanish finals  (1)Last week I was invited to attend the Spanish finals for the 6th Copa Jerez international food and sherry pairing competition, which will be held in April 2015. I had been at Copa Jerez 2013 and so I was very excited about seeing the finalists in action, preparing and presenting their three-course meals matched with three fabulous sherries. Expectations were high given the stellar reputations of the three participating restaurants: 41º Experience, Atrio and Venta Moncalvillo. The jury of four top Spanish food and wine experts was equally impressive: Beltran Domecq, Paz Ivison, Fernando Córdoba and María Isabel Mijares.

The competition lasted about three hours and we were allowed access to the kitchen as well as the chance to try both the sample dishes and the sherry (though there was more of the latter than the former on hand). Then the judges had the very difficult task of deciding who would respresent Spain in the grand final. Their choice was Atrio (two days later Cáceres was chosen the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2015, so if Atrio wins the Copa Jerez it will be quite a  year for the city).

copa jerez spanish finals  (3)Judges and winners!
Chef Alberto Montes & sommelier José López-Montenegro from Atrio.

Afterwards we were invited to Bodegas Tradición for an elegant lunch prepared by the Jerez Professional Catering School (where the competition had taken place). But first we were treated to a tour of the bodega and its private art gallery by Head of Wine Tourism Activities, Daniel Martínez Becerra. Although I had recently been to a wine tasting there, it’s such a unique experience that you can easily go several times and get something new from it, especially as the paintings change from time to time.

copa jerez spanish finals  (2)The lunch was delicious and each course was paired with sherry from the Sherry Regulatory Council and Bodegas Tradición. I was thrilled (and a bit intimidated) to find myself seated next to Regulatory Council president Beltran Domecq. I was also a bit sorry to have to tell him that I wasn’t from *that* Hennessey family, but he didn’t seem to mind, even later when I referred to my brandy as cognac (oops!). As usual with this type of event, it was a great opportunity to see friends and colleagues again, and also to meet new people. And as always when it comes to sherry, everyone connected to it is both passionate and generous. No wine snobbery or secret societies here. Instead there is a genuine desire to share knowledge along with their exquisite product, which I find refreshing.

Vendimia de Jerez 2014

vendimia 2014The Fiesta de la Vendimia (Autumn Festival and Grape Harvest Fair) kicks off today in Jerez de la Frontera with activites for all ages. The programme includes open days and visits to wineries, master tastings, grape stomping, children’s entertainment, concerts, tapas and wine pairing, routes through the vineyards of Jerez, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, competitions … and don’t miss the gastronomy fair in the Alameda Vieja.

vendimia tapasCheck the official programme for more details.
Vendimia 2014 Programme

Tabancos & Tuna in Jerez

RUTA DE LOS TABANCOS Y EL ATÚN DE ALMADRABA  gastronomía  Guía de Cádiz - Mozilla Firefox 22072014 113426

Yesterday I was thinking about spending a few days in Granada as I haven’t been there in a couple of years, but my usual research tool (Twitter) wasn’t giving me any inspired ideas, so I suddenly switched gears and am now leaving tomorrow for an impromptu Jerez Getaway… and I couldn’t be happier. Seems I am hitting many of the bodegas before they go into serious “summer schedules” and I also get to enjoy this! A special route of Tabancos & Tuna… made to order. Tapas and a drink (sherry of course!) for just 3 euros.

Still looking for accommodation – stay tuned and follow @AzaharTravels and @AzaharTapas for a full report on Jerez in summer, great places to stay, things to do, and … tapas! Hashtag #JerezGetaway

StreetXO in Madrid

streetxo

After seemingly coming out of nowhere and garnering 3 Michelin stars for his playful take on Spanish fusion at DiverXO, chef David Muñoz decided to also bring Michelin quality food to the street. Or in this case to the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience food court in plaza Callao. An unlikely place to find such stunning food, and in fact StreetXO will be moving to larger premises soon (and a London version will be opening in November), but I was happy to have had the chance to sample (actually quite a lot) of this Asian-themed “street show”.

My first visit was late on a Wednesday afternoon, shortly after arriving in Madrid (happily my hotel was just a five-minute walk away) and this was my first destination after checking in. The place was packed, as I had been warned it would be, but I ordered a nice glass of perfectly chilled godello and waited for a space top open up at the horseshoe shaped bar that surrounds the open kitchen. Finally a spot opened up and I went for it. Actually two spots had opened up and suddenly there were two guys behind me politely asking if I’d mind if they squeezed into the single spot, saying they’d both stand and not make me feel crowded… well, how could I say no? Also, I saw my chance to score a deal and said I’d be happy to have them squeeze in and asked if they’d mind me taking photos of their food (I knew I could only manage two or three dishes at the most). Deal struck, my new friends – Antonio & Marco from Valladolid – not only ordered almost the entire menu and let me take pics, they also insisted I taste several of their dishes. And it turned out that Marco owns a rather special place called La Pasión Café, which famously serves up various insect tapas along with its regular fare. But I digress…

I started off with the grilled bone marrow and bacalao cocotxa as it had come highly recommended by Twitter pal @Bacononthebeech and it was heaven. Next I tried the smoked razor clams (wow!) and finished myself off with the chicharrones served with lettuce leaves, three fresh herbs, marinated shitakes and two sauces. All I knew after that was I wanted to eat that last dish every day for the rest of my life. In between I had tastes of a few of my friends’ other dishes and knew I had to come back.

Which I did on my final day in Madrid, meeting my friend @FredShively for my last meal in town. Had to have the pork belly again (of course!), and we also tried the crispy fried pig’s ears on a Jackson Pollock background of sauces, the Pad Thai “paella version”, and the chilli crabs. And if Fred didn’t dislike sardines so much I also would have ordered the one with the sardines and duck tongue… well, wouldn’t you?

As an experience – fun, frenetic and fantastic food. Although people were also getting trays of food from the takeaway counter and taking them to other seating areas, the whole thing for me was watching the show. It was also fun that both David @Dabizdiverxo and chef Jhonny @JhonnyStreetXO got into it, replying to my tweets and even retweeting them. A friendly and down-to-earth touch, especially as I hadn’t met them.

streetxo jhonnychef Jhonny on fire!

A tip for when you go (which may or may not apply to the new place when they move) is to get there just before opening (1pm or 8pm) and hang around like a vulture to grab a spot at the bar. When I went with Fred we ordered a drink at the bar in front of StreeXO and ended up with the best seats in the house. And yeah, the music is a bit loud but not as much as I’d been warned about. A nice range of stuff too. Really wouldn’t be the same experience without it. Below are the pics… enjoy the show!

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Archidona | Almohalla 51

almohalla

I feel a bit late to the party here as so many people I know have stayed at – and totally loved! – Almohalla 51, which this year was voted Best B&B in Spain by Trip Advisor. So I was thrilled to be invited to spend a night there during my recent Andalucía getaway. I had just spent two nights in nearby Antequera and was planning to take the bus over to Archidona (a short 20 minute ride) but then I randomly met two other Almohalla 51 guests while having lunch at Arte de Cozina in Antequera and they offered to give me a lift. Already this short stayover was starting to feel a bit magical.

Almohalla 51 is a charming boutique guesthouse owned and run by former Londoners Myles Rainsford and David Matthews. Made up of two abandoned homes that were basically in ruins, it has been lovingly restored and the five rooms (two standard, three deluxe), along with the various common rooms and terraces, are filled with so many “oh wow, look at that!” moments that I finally had to stop taking photos of everything. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

almohalla collageMyles warmly greeted me when I arrived, showed me to my (GORGEOUS) room and then invited me to a glass of wine in the cosy book nook common room. His partner David was away that weekend, but Myles said not to worry because he was nicer anyhow. Ha. We chatted about the history of the guesthouse and it became clear why it felt so special and intimate as it is clearly a well-loved place, which is not something that can be faked even by the best interior designers. So it came as no surprise to learn that the entire place had been not only designed, but often physically transformed, by Myles and David themselves. So much attention to detail, adding modern comforts (loved the bathroom!) while respecting the tradition and, well, the soul of the buildings.

That evening Myles took me out on a “tapeo” and we hit what are probably THE two places to eat in Archidona. First stop was Bar Central, which had also come highly recommended by friends. We sat at the bar and basically left it to Salvi the barman to decide what we should eat – he chose well. Then we wandered over to Arxiduna, in Plaza Ochivada, Spain’s only octagonal square. We ordered drinks on the terrace and food also appeared – amazing lovely tapas that come with drinks! – but I was still stuffed from not only Salvi’s choices but also that lunch at Arte de Cozina, so I decided then and there I would have to come back the next day for lunch.

archidona eating outNext morning while Myles prepared breakfast for the other guests (fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, eggs cooked to order, molletes, etc), I opted to take myself out for churros and industrial strength coffee at nearby Cafe Bar La Churrería, which I loved. Later on Myles arranged for a taxi to take me up to the stunning hilltop Sanctuary of La Virgen de Gracia and Moorish castle. Well worth a visit for the amazing views, and also walkable (about 45 minutes). Then after a wander through town, and that lunch I’d promised myself at Arxiduna, it was time to head back to Antequera and catch my train hom.

I can see why everyone I know (and plenty of others) have raved about Almohalla 51, yet at the same time not wanting everybody to know about it. It has a very unique and personal style that makes you feel immediately at home. The various common rooms invite chat between guests, but there are also enough of them, including the terraces, so everyone can relax in their own private world if they prefer. Honestly, my only complaint is that my stay was much too short and left me wanting more. Like, I’d have loved to spend a couple of hours reading by the pool or in that cute little cushioned reading nook in my room… next time!

Almohalla 51
Calle Almohalla 51
Archidona, Málaga
Andalucía

Eating Out in Antequera

First I want to thank my friends at Pollo y Ensalada for not only recommending every place we ate in Antequera, but also for joining me in a couple of meals, including the fabulous tasting menu at Arte de Cozina.

I should also point out that although only in Antequera for just over 48 hours I did manage to sample a wide range of tapas from the rustic to the sublime. So this is a quick guide to eating out in Antequera. For more detailed reviews (with more photos!) have a look on the Azahar Tapas Antequera page.

a la fuerza churros A La Fuerza is best known for serving a dynamite breakfast, including fabulous churros & chocolate and the famous molletes of Antequera. It also serves lunch and dinner, but the food we tried there other than breakfast was hit and miss.

A La Fuerza
Calle de la Alameda de Andalucia, 32
Tel 952 841 607

 

arte tapas chorizo burgerGourmet-style tapas without “gastobar” pretentions and, along with “big sister” Arte de Cozina, there is a lovely tradition here of rediscovering lost recipes and creating them anew.

Arte de Tapas
Calle de la Calzada, 29
Tel 952 840 014

rincon lola matrimonio

Rincón de Lola is traditional tapas fare with a few twists thrown in, like the flamenquín filled with avocado and the chorizo “hot dog”.

Rincón de Lola
Encarnación, 8
Tel 625 040 997

5 sentidos bloody mary

New kids on the block, 5 Sentidos is owned and run by two former employees of Rincón de Lola. The food is innovative and interesting, and this very young bar is still evolving. Worth a visit to see what’s new.

5 Sentidos
Plaza Fernández Viagas, 11
Tel 633 353 234 / 693 475 675

porras

Passion and tradition come together at Arte de Cozina. Traditional dishes, previously lost to time, have been rediscovered by owner and chef Charo Carmona, and have been lovingly recreated here. Excellent service in a beautiful rustic ambiance.

Arte de Cozina
Calle de la Calzada, 29
Tel 952 840 014

Azahar Tapas Antequera

A Rare Glimpse…

tapas tourPhotos of yours truly are few and far between online but this was such a lovely “feel good” moment that my friend Peter @SVQconcierge happened to capture at the end of a Sevilla Tapas Tour that I decided not to worry about all my chins showing (that’s me in the middle).

I really do have one of the best jobs in the world. 🙂

Eating Out in Barcelona

Last week I celebrated my birthday here in Sevilla with friends and then two days later took myself off for a special birthday treat – four days in Barcelona! My first trip to that vibrant and colourful city was seven years ago – also to celebrate my birthday – so it was time I went back. I met up with friends, did a LOT of walking around on my own, and enjoyed several good meals. I’ll do another blog post about some of the other great stuff I saw and did, but for now this is all about where I went to eat.

bcn food boqueria

One of my favourite things to do is visit markets and check out what’s going on as market bars traditionally have a good rep for providing super-fresh market food. And although I’d been warned by my very savvy foodie friends that the Boqueria Market on the Ramblas had turned into a touristy nightmare I really wanted to see it again. My first memory was coming across it by chance on a January afternoon just before sunset… I had no idea it was even there and if I hadn’t turned my head to the left at that moment we’d have walked right by. Instead my friend and I went in and I was charmed and delighted by… well, by everything I saw. But it was getting late and we were tired after a long day out and about, so we didn’t stay long.

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