Hand-carved Jamon Iberico Bellota and our tapas bill in chalk on the counter
So last year’s European trip for D and I was Spain. We have heard so much about this country – and when we started doing some research into where we wanted to go, the first thing I realised was how much I underestimated the size of this country. With just two weeks we decided to eat our way through just three cities, Seville, Grenada and Barcelona.
Coquinas – small clams cooked on the grill with garlic and flat-leaf parsley
My previous experience of Spanish food has of course been tapas, of which there seem to be many, and if you think about the basics of tapas, shouldn’t really be that difficult – good produce, simply cooked. But similar to my experiences of tapas outside of Spain, even in Spain, there’s a clear divide. If it’s good, then it’s GREAT. If it’s not, well then it’s pretty disappointing – there wasn’t really any inbetween.
We started in Seville. The city where there are over 4,000 tapas bars. Home of sherry and from where apparently tapas originated. Our first night we went on a recommendation of a friend to visit El Rinconcillo – the oldest tapas bar in the region. The tavern is packed to the gills with tourists and locals. Family-run, the men that run the bar (and I assume those in the kitchen – all we saw were hands) are ultra efficient – turnover is the key to this place. Not a lot of smiling goes on here – this is serious business. The interior is dimly lit, lots of dark wood and barrels for people to gather around, and the ubiquitous legs of Iberico ham hanging from the ceiling. We were lucky to score some space at the counter, and there, as each of your order is served, they write the cost down on the counter in chalk.
Slow-cooked pork cheek
Guidebooks tell you that you should go from tapas bar to tapas bar, sampling different things at each, as each will specialise in one or two things. We had so much fun at El Rinconcillo that we racked up a ridiculously long tab, what with all the food we kept ordering while the ice-cold cerveza (beer) and fino (sherry) kept flowing.
Bacalao – battered salt cod
Our favourites ? Coquinas – small clams, simply cooked a la plancha (on the grill) with lashings of garlic and flat-leaf parsley, slow-cooked pork cheek, bacalao – salt cod with a crispy light batter and of course, hand-carved jamon Iberico bellota. This is the best ham in the world, made from free-range pigs which feed on black acorns, cured for five years, giving it a deep, rich, intense flavour that seems to get better the more you chew it.
Definitely a recommendation if you want to get a true experience of Spanish tapas – the atmosphere, service and of course, the food here is excellent.
40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St. 41003 SEVILLE.
Tel: +34 954 223 183.
Open: 1 p.m. to 1.30 a.m daily