Category Archives: Spanish

41 Degrees, Barcelona, Spain

Hands down, the best meal I have had. Ever.

41 Degrees started off as a cocktail lounge, attached to the tapas bar, Tickets, by Adrià brothers, Ferran and Albert. The intimate 16-seater bar then started serving a 41 “course” dinner of amuse bouches.

The meal is a totally immersive experience that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who has not yet been. Suffice to say if you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then it’s an absolute must-visit if you are in Barcelona.

It’s also the closest thing to El Bulli, with owners, cooks and many staff from the famed, now-closed legendary restaurant. (Albert Adrià himself has referred to 41 Degrees as a “mini Bulli”).

Make no other plans for the evening – our dinner started at 8 and we left after midnight. And with an almost ridiculous attention to detail, we didn’t stop grinning at each other the entire evening. Every thing is intended to (and does) surprise and delight every one of your senses.

I heard that Albert is planning to return the space to its cocktail roots, and moving the dining experience somewhere nearby in Barcelon’s theatre district, but bookings can only be made via their website.


Restaurant Cal Pep, Barcelona

Assorted fried seafood – crispy deliciousness

An absolute must-go for tapas when in Barcelona. Get to Cal Pep early – you can’t book, and the word is out – the 20 stools in the front room were full as soon as the doors opened for lunch at 1.

We chatted to the waiter at the counter, asked for our favourites (pimentos, clams) and then left it to him to recommend, based on what produce they had that day. There didn’t seem to be an enormous range – the waiter explaining that ingredients are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis on freshness. Just the way we like it.

Every dish was a stunner. Josep Manubens Figueres, the chef and owner (“Pep” is a common Catalan nickname for Josep), ensures the seafood at his tapas bar is the freshest that is available every morning at the fish auctions along the nearby Costa Brava every morning.

Cooks wait patiently until the first order comes in, and then they come in flying, thick and fast, with no reprieve, and what I can only describe as “organised chaos” ensues.

Chick peas with fried spinach and jamon

The dish of deep-fried seafood – lightly floured small fish, squid, calamari rings and small prawns – came out crispy and tasted of each individual piece of seafood, not just randomly of oil. The chick peas and vibrantly green spinach (not at all overcooked or gloppy) had bits of fried jamon, imparting the dish with its flavour and providing a nice contrast in texture.

There was just one meat dish – a speciality of the house – botifarra de porc amb foie d’ànec fresc, pork sausage with foie gras and port wine, served in inch-long slices over white beans.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms cooked on the grill

We also tried for the first time some mushrooms we saw at the Boqueria, the saffron milk cap. Bright orange in colour with deep green stains (which apparently appear when the mushrooms have been handled) – the flavour is mild and the texture is almost “crunchy”.

Simplicity is the key to the beauty of each dish – with every plate, there was nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there.

Remember to get there early – or be prepared to stand impatiently behind diners like us. Their schedule is complicated, so check their website to find when they are open.

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8, Barcelona
Tel: 011-34-93-310-7961


Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain

The entire Alhambra was too big to capture in one picture – this is just one third of the spectacular view from our table

En route from Seville to Barcelona, we stopped off in Granada to visit the breathtaking Palace, the Alhambra. One thing to note if you are visiting – be prepared for hoardes of tourists (of which we were, as well), which to me, slightly diminished the experience of the beauty and tranquillity of the Palace. I have to say that the Alcázar of Seville – although not on as grand a scale as the Alhambra, is (in my humble opinion) equally beautiful, and you get to appreciate the beauty of the palace at your own pace, in peace and quiet, rather than jostling amongst tour groups and photographers.

But I digress.

The Alhambra is not only amazing inside, but can be viewed from a spectacular vantage point across the mountains. And perched on top of that vantage point, is Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas. Book ahead in advance and ask for the table next to the window.

Our hotel in Seville was kind enough to not only recommend this to us, but booked it for us as well, and we found ourselves in the enviable position of being smack bang in the middle of the window, watching the sun set behind the Alhambra. Nothing quite like it, really. And so amazing that I only remembered to take a photo after dark, and it certainly does not do the view any justice.

Creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms

Is the view enough to make Las Estrellas Mirador San Nicolas a must-visit ? The food is good…just not great. I’m being super picky here, but I thought the presentation seemed a bit dated, and to be totally honest – and I do understand that it’s a completely different type of restaurant than the nearby tapas bar Kiki (which you should also visit if you are in Granada) – but the seafood at Las Estrellas just didn’t seem as fresh.

The food we did have was certainly not bad at all, and the service was impeccable. For an amuse bouche we had a cold cauliflower cream with white chocolate and pistachios, starters was a beautifully balanced home made foie gras terrine with a tangy red onion confit (which was actually my favourite dish of the evening).

Vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce

My main was a creamy rice paella with lobster and seasonal wild mushrooms and for dessert we had vanilla ice-cream profiteroles with a hot chocolate sauce.

Having said all that, I do actually think that if you are going to Granada, go to Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas. It’s a nice treat for the taste buds and a spectacular treat for the eyes. Ten stars for atmosphere. Remember to book “that” table !

Las Estrallas Mirador San Nicolas
Callejon Atarazana Vieja, 1
19010, Granada, Spain
Tel: +34 958 288 739
E: estrellasdesan-nicolas@hotmail.fr


Bar Alfalfa, Seville, Spain

Provolone al horno – molten baked cheese

Seville is a compact town where walking around is feasible, and for us, preferable, as you get to appreciate and soak in the atmosphere of new cities faster. As we walked to and from our gorgeous hotel AlmaSevilla – Hotel Palacio de Villapanés to the sights around Seville, we passed by many, many tapas bars, of which one was always full, with people spilling out on to the street late into the night (which was probably just normal for the Spanish as they really do eat late).

Chicharrón – deep-fried pork rinds

On the corner of Alfalfa and Candilejo, and with the easy-to-remember name, it was easy to see just to be there.

In Bar Alfalfa we found a few dishes which we hadn’t seen as often in other bars. A Moroccan-inspired pork belly stew with apricots and raisins, artery-clogging (and of course delicious) chicharrón – seasoned and deep fried pork rinds, and a simple dish of marinated sardines on toast, dressed with a good glug of olive oil. And the amazing Provolone al horno – baked cheese.

Marinated sardines on toast

Add funky tunes and ice-cold beer and sherry and that was a happy afternoon spent in Seville.

Bar Alfalfa
Corner of Calles Alfalfa and Candilejo
Seville, Spain

Open: around lunchtime till late


El Rinconcillo, Seville, Spain

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.

El Rinconcillo
40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St. 41003 SEVILLE.
Tel: +34 954 223 183.
Email: info@elrinconcillo.es

Open: 1 p.m. to 1.30 a.m daily


Pinotxo Bar, Barcelona

Really ? I am quite horrified that I am writing about a bar I went to in OCTOBER LAST YEAR, when we are almost at the end of February ! No excuses, just happy that I finally am finding the time to update my blog.

Barcelona was one of the cities we visited in our Spanish escapade. It was actually after visiting Seville, which is the informal “home of tapas”, so we took a risk with tapas in the super-touristy (but still sublime) Mercat de la Boqueria just off the Ramblas.

But how could we go there and not visit the 14-stool Pinotxo (pee-no cho) – an establishment in the Market. Pinotxo’s nephew, chef Albert Asin, mans the tiny stove in the tiny kitchen. There is a menu, although it’s just easier to look at the produce they have behind the counter, and order what looks good and takes your fancy. (Ok, it was also because everything on the menu was Spanish and they don’t understand me when I speak Spanish). But with the bar inside a foodie’s delight of a market – how much fresher can your produce get ?

Of course we had to start with the requisite Spanish peppers – padron – and crusty bread rubbed with fresh tomato. That was just to whet our appetites, along with icy cold beers.

Some gorgeously plump and red langoustines were cooked a la plancha, with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt at the end and a thick fillet of codfish, also straight on the grill, with a bowl placed over it to steam.

One of the waiters was sitting next to me having his lunch and he was eating a simple pasta, which of course meant that I had to have what he was having ! Penne with a simple ragu sauce. Again delicious.

How they manage to get the food cooked so perfectly, at such a pace, in that tiny space, is beyond me. But then that’s why Pinotxo as been around for almost 100 years now.

Pinotxo Bar
Plaza de la Boqueria
Ramblas, Barcelona


Fettuccine Carbonara

We are in the middle of sorting out the 1000+ photos we took during our trip to the UK and Spain and all the gorgeous food we ate, so in the meantime, I’ve been on a cooking binge, and used my handmade egg pasta to make all sorts of simple pasta meals, like simply stirring through some pesto.

Apart from many fond memories and photos, we brought back with us about 3kg of sliced Jamon Iberico Bellota, the best ham in the world – aged five years. The store we bought from also sold diced off-cuts in vacuum packed bags which we bought a few for just this sort of dish. How to make a simple fettucine carbonara simply decadent.

Ingredients

  1. pasta – use whatever you have – dried or fresh
  2. 1 egg per serve, beaten
  3. 1 – 2 rashers of bacon, sliced per serve (0r 50g diced Jamon Iberico Bellota !)

Method

  1. Cook pasta till a little under al dente – it will cook more in the pan – drain and set aside and keep about 1/4 cup of the starchy water
  2. While the pasta is cooking, fry your bacon/jamon until crispy and the fat has rendered
  3. Turn off the heat and remove your pan from the stove – you want your pan to calm down from “screaming hot” or you’ll just end up scrambling the eggs instead of turning them into a sauce
  4. Add the drained pasta and a few tablespoons of the starchy water and mix
  5. Then add your beaten eggs to the pan and gently coat the pasta and ham
  6. Add a few more tablespoons of the starchy water so you have a silky sauce – the pasta continues to absorb liquid so before it leaves the pan it should almost be too liquidy or you’ll end up with sticky lumps of pasta by the time you want to serve/eat
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste – remember to taste as the ham/bacon will already add salt to the dish
  8. Serve immediately

Bilbao – the sequel

Marinated olives

Keen to check out the restaurant that let brought me Iberico ham from a supermarket, D and I went to visit Bilbao at TripleOne Somerset.

It’s a strange location in a strange shopping centre. There is indoor dining in airconditioned comfort but open to part of the shopping centre, so I think lacks ambience, or outdoor dining, which D and I just can’t do in the current heat of Singapore, but is enclosed and I think would be a much more authentic dining experience.

Iberico ham with fresh tomato puree 

The menu looked fantastic though.  We were feeling indecisive so opted for the tapas which allowed us to sample lots of dishes on the menu, thinking if they were good, we could always come back to try the main courses.

We ordered marinated olives, mixed paella, chorizo, sliced Iberico ham, Cochinillo and calamares.

The paella was really bland and the chorizo came sliced and fried, and I think it was meant to be cooked in white wine, but really it tasted like someone had just splashed white wine over the cooked chorizo before serving.

Cochinillo – rolled suckling pig

Even the Iberico ham didn’t have the depth of colour or flavour as the one that I was able to purchase in the supermarket. It was as if it was not aged as long, but the tomato puree that was served with it, along with toasted bread was absolutely delicious.  Light and refreshing and sweet to complement the saltiness of the ham.

The Cochinillo – a roll of tender suckling pig wrapped in crispy skin and deep fried was lovely, served with a drizzle of vinaigrette.  To be fair though, deep fried suckling pig would be good any which way.

It was quite disappointing to have all those dishes and to have the standout being the side condiment on another dish.  I think for tapas, Tapas Y Bodega is still our favourite in Singapore.

Bibao 
111 Somerset Road #02-16 Singapore (formerly known as the PUB building)
Tel: 6737 0150


Bilbao

Iberico ham from Bilbao

Bilbao’s card says it is a restaurant, gastrobar & delicatessen featuring the cuisines of Spain.  I chanced upon Bilbao on show at the Isetan on Scotts supermarket.  Seemed strange to see Spanish produce in the middle of a Japanese supermarket, but who cares when you see a leg of Iberico ham being sliced for a customer ?

If you’ve read my blog regularly, you’ll know that Iberico ham is one of my favourite foods.  Nothing quite beats the intense sweet and salty flavour of this ham.  If it appears on a menu, you’re pretty much guaranteed it will be ordered by me.  I have only ever seen Iberico ham on offer to the lowly commoner in Burrough Markets in London, so to see it in sale in a supermarket, not sliced by machine and vacuum-packed, but hand sliced (skillfully thin as well, I might add), I was absolutely thrilled.  All other plans for dinner (I think I was planning to roast a chicken) flew out the window.

100g of the ham in my basket, I wandered over to look at the other offerings from Bilbao.  I chose the Spanish pork sausage, which wasn’t anything too dissimilar to the bratwurst sausage you can buy from the supermarket (but which we love) and a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine – the Spanish equivalent of Italian prosecco.

What was left of the Spanish pork sausage before I remembered to take a photo

The sausages were served simply grilled with various mustards and tomato sauce and home-made coleslaw.  I made the coleslaw with extra onions to cut through the richness of the sausages, and the sparkling wine was crisp and dry, which also complemented the salty dinner we had.

We were so excited I forgot to take a picture of the sausages before we ate !  Looking forward to visiting the restaurant and the deli to check out the other goodies Bilbao has to offer.

Bibao
111 Somerset Road #02-16 Singapore (formerly known as the PUB building)
Tel: 6737 0150


Terrific Tapas in Tanglin

Calamares – lightly floured and deep fried squid rings

Well, it’s not officially in Tanglin, but Orchard Road didn’t sound as good 🙂

Good tapas seems to be very hit and miss.  Which surprises me because the preparation of the dishes is relatively simple – tapas relies on good produce to speak for itself.  The few places we’ve tried in Singapore are more for convenience – like Que Pasa, because it’s a lovely place to have a bottle of wine rather than because of the food (although the food there is certainly passable).

Marinated mixed olives

Trying to find a restaurant that was open on the second day of Chinese New Year seemed to be a problem, and we were thrilled that Bodega Y Tapas on Orchard Road was a) open and b) had space for us.  It was busy when we got there, which it always seems to be when I pass it, and we were quickly ushered to our lounge chairs to have our dinner indoors.  The space indoors doesn’t allow for larger groups but it’s a nice intimate area to have dinner for two or maybe three people.

The tapas menu is extensive, which made choosing difficult, but one of the benefits of tapas is that you can sample lots of little dishes.

A generous bowl of marinaded mixed olives started the meal, which worked wonderfully with the sangria that I ordered.

jamon iberico de bellota

Then came 80g of jamon iberico de bellota – ham made from free-range pigs fed exclusively on black acorns and aged for 36 months.  I love that it was hand-carved from the actual leg of the ham – it adds a certain rustic feel to the ham and I swear it makes it taste better than the machine-sliced iberico ham that you get in the hotel buffets.  Although, to be fair, serve it to me any way and I love this stuff.  It’s the sort of ham that you chew and chew and almost don’t want to swallow so that you can savour the intense flavour of the ham (including the fat) in your mouth.  I recall a very good tip from Chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club, which was the longer you chewed jamon Iberico, the better the flavour, as it “excites” all the different taste bud sensations on your tongue.

Cold cut meat platter

We also ordered a platter of cold cuts – the waitress was a bit vague on exactly what was on the plate but we had two types of pork sausage (one with and the other without chilli), air-dried beef (sort of like bresaola but with a more jerky appearance, served with a drizzle of olive oil and slivered almonds) and a dried sliced pork loin.  Also on this dish were baguette slices that had a dollop of delicious finely chopped tomato salsa that you could almost serve as gazpacho.  It was light and refreshing and absolutely worked with the cured meat.

Lightly floured and deep fried anchoview

For warm food we had chorizo – simply fried, and calamari and anchovies, both lightly floured and deep fried, which, for me, were the winners of the evening.  The calamari was soft and tender – not overcooked or tough, and served with a garlic mayonnaise – quite standard, but probably the best I’ve had in a while, and the anchovies just needed a squeeze of lemon juice over them to be eaten whole.  Again, I love anchovies, and these reminded me of the fantastic ones we had at Valentinos.

All in all, this is a brilliant find for D and I and if our dinner last night was anything to judge the rest of the food there by, I know we’ll be back again to work our way through that menu.

Bodega Y Tapas
Orchard Hotel
442 Orchard Road
Tel: 6735 3476