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.

Jerez | Hotel Palacio Garvey

palacio garvey (1)

The Palacio Garvey was originally built in 1850 as the residence of the Garvey sherry family and still retains its neo-classical architectural style, but is now equipped with all the conveniences of a modern 4-star hotel. Located in the old town of Jerez, just off calle Larga, one of the main shopping streets. It’s a great base for exploring, visiting one of the many sherry bodegas or the famous horse show.

The 16 rooms are spacious and uniquely decorated, with a choice of either a “dark” or “light” theme. Each comes with a modern bathroom equipped with a hydro-massage bath, and have wenge wood floors, flatscreen TV with satellite channels, music system and free Wi-Fi. Downstairs the Patio Andaluz provides a relaxing open air space with plenty of greenery for taking a coffee or reading, and meeting rooms are also available. The two-floor building has several other comfortable common areas with lots of colourful quirky art throughout, mostly Andalusia-related subjects (flamenco, bullfighting, etc).

The La Condesa restaurant serves modern Mediterranean cuisine and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (room service available until 11 pm). It has a lovely terrace that runs alongside a part of the old roman city wall.

palacio garvey (2)My first-floor double room (a light-themed one) was the only one in the hotel with twin (90cm) beds. It had beautiful high ceilings and tall windows overlooking the patios. Modern and traditional are combined nicely in the attractive restored furnishings and sleek electronics. The spacious bathroom came with two sinks, spa bath and shower, nice toiletries and exceptionally fluffy towels. Possibly due to the set up of the rooms my WiFi reception was inadequate, but this was my only complaint (though it was a rather important one). The continental breakfast at 12€ will certainly set you up for the day, with a selection of artesanal breads and pastries, spreads, ham, cheese, fresh juice and excellent coffee. A nice touch is having table service rather than the usual buffet-style. The staff are very helpful, professional and friendly. Recommended.

Hotel Palacio Garvey
Tornería, 24
Jerez de la Frontera
Tel: +34 956 326 700

Jerez | Hotel Asta Regia

asta regia (1)

The Asta Regia (named for the nearby Roman town) is a relatively new hotel just off the Plaza Arenal, the main square in the centre of the old city. It’s also near the Alcázar Palace and just a five-minute walk to the central Market, with plenty of good bars and restaurants nearby.

The building was once a palace, but has been completely renovated to provide all the modern services which you’d expect from a four-star hotel, including swimming pool, sauna and gym, while maintaining some traditional touches – lots of those horseshoe arches, for example. The rooms (31 of them) are spacious, and include twins, standard doubles, superior doubles and junior suites, all with TV and free Wi-Fi. Aside from an attractive dining area (open for breakfast only) there is also a lounge/bar in front of reception. If you want a room with a street view, opt for a superior. The standard double rooms are all interior and open onto the patio.

asta regia (2)Room decór is clean and modern, and is consistent throughout the hotel. Our double superior room, which faced onto the street, had two larger than average (and very comfortable) 105cm twin beds, a desk, plenty of closet space and a mini bar. The bathroom was attractive and well-equipped, with a shower/bath, two sinks, toiletries, and a hair dryer. My only small niggle was the insufficient number of electrical sockets to plug in our devices. But it was a very pleasant stay, with helpful and friendly staff. I highly recommend the Asta Regia for comfort and location.

Hotel Asta Regia
San Agustín, 9
Jerez de la Frontera
Tel: +34 956 327 911

Sherry Sipping in Sevilla

sherry sipsSeana Rizzutto Yee AKA @SherrySips

Some of you may know about my sherry epiphany a couple of years ago, which resulted in the creation of my Introduction to Sherry tours (chosen by The Telegraph this year as one of their top ten food and drink holidays in Spain). Sherry has become quite important in my life and I am always eager to learn more and share that knowledge.

So when I found out that Seana Yee was coming to Jerez I got in touch via Twitter in case she had time to come to Sevilla. Seana lives in Portland and was here on a sherry odyssey lasting the better part of two weeks, visiting bodegas in Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María (sound familiar?). I think because it was becoming apparent that we knew so many of the same people, and also that the planets and stars aligned just right, Seana found she had a free day and took the train to Sevilla to spend last Sunday with me. And what a day it was!

We met late morning and did a quick tour of the Metropol Parasol (which hadn’t existed when Seana was last here) before setting off in search of churros. Instead we ended up having tostadas and cava (don’t ask) at La Azotea in Barrio Santa Cruz, which proved to be a good start to what was to be my first ever Tapeo Extremo con Jerez.

sherry sipping collage[click on image to enlarge, but not if you’re hungry… or thirsty]

First up was Las Teresas for some jamón, queso and caña de lomo, paired with wonderful Botaina amontillado from Bodegas Lustau. Seana had a bodega tour (her last) booked with Lustau the following day so this proved to be a nice preview. Then we stopped in at Casa Morales for some fabulous lomo en manteca – we told barman Diego we were looking for a special manzanilla and he pulled out a bottle of manzanilla pasada from Bodegas Sacristia AB… perfection. Then we headed over to visit my “family” at Bodeguita Romero. Of course Seana had to try their famous pringá montadito, along with Pedro Romero’s equally famous papas aliñás… with these we had a nice Alfonso oloroso. Moving on to my favourite braised pork cheeks in town, Alejandro Romero recommended Palo Cortado Leanor from Bodegas Gonzalez Byass. We were pretty much stuffed at this point but I wanted to take Seana to the home of the “crackburger” La Brunilda, which was just around the corner. We were too full for a burger so opted for some lovely payoyo cheese from Cádiz instead, which was paired with La Bota de Manzanilla 55 from Equipos Navazos.

Last but not least I took Seana to meet the lovely Silvia Flores @vinosyflores who works as sommelier and event organizer for the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience. There we enjoyed a perfectly chilled glass of Tío Pepe en Rama 2015 (which I’d had the pleasure of trying at the annual presentation earlier that week) and then Silvia surprised us with a glass of Apostoles VORS Palo Cortado and a plate of exquisite Michel Cluizel chocolates. Oh my!

palo cortado

We headed back to my place after this for a short rest before going to an early flamenco show at the Flamenco Museum. Then we said our “hasta luegos” as Seana left to catch the train back to Jerez and I headed off on a tapas tour. Honestly, in just one short (and seriously sherry-filled) day I felt like I’d made a friend for life. I’m also thinking of adding a Gourmet Sherry Tour to my repertoire after this, to complement the “beginners course”. We shall see.

Thanks so much for coming to visit me, Seana. Our love of sherry and cats shall endure! xx

You can also follow me and Seana on Instagram (go on, you know you want to)…
SherrySips  |  azahar

Granada | Hotel Casa 1800

hotel casa 1800 granada

A few years ago I watched the Hotel Casa 1800 in Sevilla transform the large family home next to my barrio Santa Cruz apartment into a lovely boutique hotel and, when asked for a tour upon completion, could not believe what they’d done to the place. Every room was unique and sumptuously decorated. So when I recently planned to revisit Granada I thought a night in their new hotel there would be just the thing. And it was. The Hotel Casa 1800 in Granada is a charming 25 room hotel in a traditional 17th century Granada townhouse (the Migueletes) that bats far above its 3-star rating in terms of comfort and convenience.

hotel casa 1800 granadajunior suite

Rooms range from standard doubles to a Grand Deluxe Suite Room with Jacuzzi. My superior double booking got upgraded to a junior suite, which was spacious and elegant, with a king-size bed with an ornate gilt headboard, and a sofa and coffee table for relaxing with the complimentary water, tea or coffee. Some of the rooms have views of the Alhambra (standard rooms, however, mostly overlook the street or central patio). The marble-lined bathroom was equipped with both a shower and bath, a proper hairdryer, nice fluffy robes and lovely toiletries.

hotel casa 1800 granada s

It’s in an excellent location, just one block away from the River Darro, which runs between the Alhambra and Albaicín (old Moorish quarter) hills, with easy access to all the main sights, shopping, and bars and restaurants. Like their sister hotel in Sevilla, the conversion from house to hotel has maintained the rustic and picturesque appearance of the building, especially the central patio – flagstone floors, wood pillars and railings, and a fountain with water spout grotesques. All the standard services which you’d expect are available, including free Wi-Fi, but they also do a free afternoon merienda (tea and snack) between 4 – 6 pm, which is a nice touch and very welcome after a long day of sightseeing. In fact, it was a struggle to decide whether to relax in my gorgeous room or in the charming courtyard. The staff all speak English and will arrange any reservations for shows and restaurants for you. Highly recommended for both comfort and style, though I’d spend that bit extra for a superior room.

Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
Benalúa, 11
Tel 958 210 700

Granada| RoomMate Hotel Leo

roommate leo granada

Behind a discrete door in a quiet pedestrian street in the centre of Granada is one of the best of the city’s boutique hotels. The building is traditional, but has been completely refurbished to the highest modern hotel standards, though access to the main lift is down a twisty ramp that seems left over from an earlier age. I have to say that I’ve quite fallen in love with RoomMates all over Spain – there is something comforting about knowing you’re going to get excellent quality but not ever feel like you are dealing with an impersonal corporate hotel chain. It always feels like coming home.

roommate leo collageThe location is between the Bib-Rambla square and the Cathedral on one side, and the main shopping street on the other, and is also close to the bustling bars and restaurants around Calle Navas. Plaza Nueva, the Alhambra, and the Albaicín are within easy reach.

The hotel serves breakfast throughout the morning in a pleasant little breakfast room in an interior patio, but the star of the show has to be the comfortable lounge on the top floor with a roof terrace outside that has a stunning view of the Alhambra.

roommate leo upstairs

There are 32 rooms, the majority standard double or twin, but also Executive suites. My room was a spacious standard, decorated in black, white and gold, with a big mirror, desk, and square leather armchair. Nice bathroom with a proper hairdryer (not one of those attached-to-the-wall types) and  the usual fabulous RoomMate toiletries. Free Wi-Fi that actually worked and a good sized wardrobe with plenty of hangers.

roommate leo rooftop

RoomMate Hotel Leo
Mesones, 15
Tel: 958 535 579

Córdoba | Hotel Balcón de Córdoba

balcon cordoba bedroomAlthough “just” a 4-star hotel, Balcón de Córdoba is one of the growing number of luxury boutique hotels that has the look and feel of a 5-star and offers exquisite attention to detail. Just a couple of minutes from the Mezquita, and with a discreet back entrance into the small square at the top of Calle de las Flores, it’s a friendly and comfortable 10 room hotel in a 17th century building arranged around three courtyards. The style is a blend of Moorish, Castilian and Flemish, with intricate “china Cordobés” floors in the patios, over 100 archaeological pieces to delight the eye, and rooftop terraces looking over the city.

balcon cordobaGuests can opt for a chauffeured pick up at the Cordoba train station or from any airport in Andalucia, and valet parking is also available. Upon arrival you are given a short tour of the hotel, its patios and rooftop views before being shown to your room. I like this very personal touch and especially that it is at once very professional without being stuffy. From the moment you arrive you feel at once at home and very well looked after.

balcon cordoba royal suiteThe Royal Suite is 72 square metres and is immediately welcoming. Like all the rooms in the hotel it is tastefully done out in pale whites, off-whites and soothing earth-tones. You enter through a lovely reception area, which has a desk and small table in front of a large window overlooking the central courtyard, and then continue on to a cosy salon with comfy chairs and a sofa. The charming bathroom and spacious bedroom comprise the second half of the L-shaped space, with a claw-footed bathtub at the far end of the bedroom. Fluffy robes and slippers are placed at the foot of the bed.

balcon cordoba rooftopsFor the record I was hosted by Hotel Balcón de Córdoba, but all opinions here are my own. Frankly it was hard to find any fault as every detail was perfection. My only honest “complaint” was that the potato in the breakfast tortilla was a bit undercooked. There is excellent WiFi connection throughout the hotel, the staff are attentive and truly understand the needs of a diverse clientelle. It’s a great small team that truly enjoys interacting and being a part of creating a very special Cordoba experience. Highly recommended.

Hotel Balcón de Córdoba
Encarnación, 8
Tel 957 498 478

 

Cádiz | Parador Hotel Atlántico

parador cadiz (1)

Well, I’d certainly come back here again! This is the second time I’ve stayed at a Parador (first was in Antequera), and both times the experience has been exceptional. It’s true that the exterior of the recently renovated Cádiz hotel is, to my mind, a not-very-attractive modern style (okay, I’ll just say it – UGLY) and that at street-level it appears at first glance to be in a fairly mundane setting. But take a slightly longer look around, or better still go up to a higher level inside the hotel, and you find it’s actually in a very good location, with the Caleta Beach on one side, and the Parque Genovese botanical garden on the other. It lives up to its Atlantico name, too – right on the sea-front with the ocean stretching away into the distance.

parador cadiz collageOur superior room on the sixth floor was wonderful. It was already big, but with a picture window and balcony to let in the light and give an added sense of spaciousness, it felt quite palatial. Great view of the Castillo San Sebastian and the ocean beyond – and of a spectacular sunset too (though the flashing of the lighthouse during the night was a mild annoyance). Useful sized desk with suitcase platform, headboard shelves, well thought out lighting, and a couple of easy chairs, too. Also great were the walk-in shower and a massive 2 metre long bathtub; so nice to be able to stretch out in lots of hot water!

parador cadiz (2)sunset view from balcony

When we first arrived and were getting settled in I realised how thirsty I was and suddenly there was a knock on the door. A waiter stood there offering a very welcome chilled bottle of mineral water. Later after we returned from lunch I kept looking at that long stone tub thinking a good lazy bath would be just the thing. Another knock on the door. This time we were brought a couple of chocolate desserts and a selection of fragrant bath salts. Like, what? Was the Parador reading my mind? So I tried conjuring up a nice bottle of cava, but that one didn’t work. Still, between all that and fluffy robes and our cosy table out on the terrace, it was almost a shame we had ot go out and explore the rest of Cádiz.

Hotel facilities generally were what you’d expect from a good 4-star hotel. Functioning Wi-Fi throughout, a couple of big swimming pools (including an all-year indoor pool) and sauna and solarium (looking a little wind-swept in November, but clearly would be great in the summer). Likewise the dining areas had seafront terraces that are in use outside the winter months and would make you feel like you are eating and drinking directly over the Atlantic. There was a plentiful breakfast in an breakfast room alongside the pool area, which we enjoyed at a table overlooking the park.

Paradors are pricy, of course, but it’s well worth checking the website for special offers. I’d come back here in a heartbeat, especially as Cádiz is one of my favourite cities.

Parador Hotel Atlantico

Avenida Duque de Nájera, 9
Tel: +34 956 226 905

Cádiz | Hotel La Cátedral

hotel catedral cadiz (1)

The Hotel la Catedral is a relatively new boutique hotel (just 14 rooms) in a great location just inside the old city and directly in front of the Cathedral. Pretty much everything you want to see and do in Cádiz is just a few minutes walk away. Despite a few specific problems I found it hard not to like the place, which had a generally friendly and comfortable atmosphere and very helpful staff.

hotel catedral cadiz (2)Our room at the front of the hotel had a wonderful view over the plaza to the Cathedral, but lacked a table or anywhere to put the suitcase. The rooms at the back, which are slightly larger, have the extra furniture but lack the view. We also found the twin beds too narrow (just 80 cm though with good mattresses and pillows), and the hot water supply was unreliable. Upstairs there’s a fabulous roof terrace with a little pool, though since it was mid-November we didn’t take advantage of it other than to pop up and take some photos.

hotel catedral cadiz (3)On the main floor there’s a cosy breakfast room with a little nook that has a comfy sofa in one corner, and there’s a bar next to reception that has a tapas menu and seating both inside and out on the sidewalk terrace. The breakfast itself was more modest than some of the rather wasteful-looking displays you see, but it was above average quality with excellent made-to-order coffee – a good start to the day.

Lastly, that almost universal complaint, the WiFi was really slow and, in spite of the website guaranteeing free WiFi, it really only worked in the reception area. We were told that they are working on changing this, along with a few other things (like putting desks in all the rooms) and it does seem like they are sincere about this. You get the feeling that it’s still early days and that they are doing their best, and so I do recommend it for a short stay of a night or two.

Hotel la Catedral
Plaza Catedral, 9
Cádiz
Tel 956 291 142

 

Sherry Tasting in El Puerto de Santa María

el puertoThe thing I like best about all my bodega visits is that everyone involved is so passionate about sherry, a passion I have come to share over the last couple of years, and that even very important people in the business are prepared to give their time to anyone who shares their interest. After recent trips to visit bodegas in Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, I knew I had to revisit one of my favourites in El Puerto de Santa María and get to know at least one other in order to round out this year’s Sherry Education. All of which helps me to give better and better Introduction to Sherry Tours in Sevilla.

Bodegas Caballero
caballeroCaballero is now one of the big players in the world of wine, with bodegas all over Spain (and they’re owners of Lustau of Jerez, too), but our visit was to the modestly-sized San Francisco bodega in El Puerto de Santa Maria, the production centre for their Fino Pavón sherry. As with a lot of bodegas, a rather warehouse-like exterior conceals not only the “cathedrals”, but some pleasant open spaces and gardens, in this case including a Drago Milenario, which seems to be something of a city symbol.

Our guide was Verónica, who showed us around the vast bodega while explaining the methods of ageing sherry and the solera/crianza system. We also saw the sacristy, the special room in every bodega that houses the unusual and high value products. Afterwards we moved on to the Castillo San Marcos a few minutes walk away, for a tasting of some Cabellero and Lustau sherries, along with some lovely snacks of jamón Ibérico, olives, cheese, and one of the best tortilla de patatas I’ve ever tasted. The castle, also owned by Caballero, was an impressive and perfect backdrop – a 13th century fortified church built over a former mosque, complete with Roman walls under the basement.

Bodega visits are by appointment only.

Bodegas Caballero

Calle San Francisco, 32
Tel: +34 956 851 751

Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia
gutierrez colosiaGutiérrez Colosia is a family run bodega down on the riverside in El Puerto de Santa Maráa, producing a full range of sherries including a top of the range Palo Cortado. The original bodega on this prime site near the mouth of the Guadalete River, where the moist winds off the sea help to maintain the best environment for making sherry, was built in 1838. It was bought by the great grandfather of the current generation of the Gutiérrez family around the beginning of the 20th century.

This was actually my second visit, but the atmosphere (in both senses) of these sherry cathedrals, with their yeasty smell, coolness and dimness, is always both novelty and homecoming. Our guide Carmen (daughter of bodega co-owner Carmen Gutiérrez) took us through the history of winemaking in the region, and of the bodega, with the natural passion of someone born to sherry making.

After the bodega tour we went to the tasting room to sample six fabulous sherries accompanied by snacks, and we were joined by Carmen “madre” who added a few personal anecdotes and answered more of our questions. This is a family run bodega in the very real sense that only half a dozen people take care of everything. Very rare these days, and very special.

Bodega visits in both Spanish and English are held every day at 12.15 pm and cost 6€ per person. For larger groups or special requests get in touch with the winery directly.

Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia
Avenida Bajamar, 40
Tel: +34 956 852 852