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Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

As a long term risotto@home kinda person I made a radical departure into paella maybe 18 months ago. It has become a much requested dinner party staple. My concern was that I hadn’t tried the real thing on its home turf. You always have a sneaking concern that you have the weightings of the flavours slightly out of whack, when you make a classic dish without the frame of reference of trying it in its country of origin.

I have never forgotten the expression on Sarah S’s face when she tried spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna. Outrage. The real thing is very subtle.

When in Barcelona we had very good paella at two restaurants. Can Majo came highly recommend by just about every blog, guide and online and print source we found. This meant that we were unable to get a reservation on the Saturday with our party of six.  Instead we went to L’Arròs in Port Vell which is the slightly more downmarket sister restaurant to La Gavina (also recommended), which is a bit more glam and right on the waterfront.

L’Arròs had a superb menu, very seafood focussed as you would expect but with a meat section for the non fish or rice eaters. The paella were split into seafood and meat. Everyone is served an individual portion direct from the paella pan. Unfortunately for 6 year old Alice (who is allergic to fish), they served a little amuse bouche meatbally dish when we arrived. There was much debate over whether this was chicken, pork, lamb (no!) or something else. It was obviously fish as Alice suffered the after effects some hours later. Delicious for the rest of us.

In the end three of us went for the swordfish, prawn and green garlic paella (below). I was yearning for the lobster or shellfish but given that I am still somewhat allergic to shellfish I figured this was foolhardy.

The paella was cooked to perfection. The fish was tender and delicious. The rice had a little more bite to it than I maybe do at home. Note to my friend Lulu who gnashes her teeth constantly about restaurants undercooking rice. However the subtle flavours of garlic, peppers, onion, smoked paprika, saffron and fennel – all came through.

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic - selected by three of us

Paella with shellfish including scallops

Nick M's choice - paella with scallops

The next day Andrew and I had managed to secure a table at Can Majo. This place is likewise in Port Vell although on the other side. Can Majo is uniformly recommended with the only negatives being some digs at their service. When we arrived some 10 minutes late they were turning people away and looked baffled about the existence of our reservation. Despite Andrew spelling his name, something different had made it to the reservation book. I suggested that we use my name in Spain as Caroline is converted to Carolina as standard and there were fewer chances of mix-ups.

In the end they dragged in a table from somewhere and organised a place for it. I would definitely say that the service there is on the curt side. Having said that, I was feeling somewhat sympathetic for the owner / maitre’d. Can Majo is in a great spot and obviously gets a lot of people just trying for a table on the off-chance. Its reputation has also dropped it onto the tourist radar. The owner has the somewhat edgy air of a man who has created a great restaurant, found himself in the guidebooks, and is faced with a bunch of ignorant twits (I hate to say it – Brits) turning up to dine there. His attitude reminded me of the owners of Two Rooms in Miramar in Wellington with their infamous turfing out of a woman who arrived wearing too much perfume. And hence destroying the palettes of the other diners.

There were a fair number of locals dining there including what looked like an astonishingly well-heeled “Branjelina” family who turned up en masse with about 8 kids of every ethnicity in super designer clothing. Andrew and I were riveted. Eat your heart out Benetton.

Beside us were a couple of middle aged British woman who were attempting to send back their wine. The owner was called over and a scene kicked in. In essence they didn’t like their wine. It wasn’t off. They didn’t like it. They said it was too sweet and they wanted a dry white. The owner said it was the driest white he had. Meanwhile Andrew ordered a glass of Spanish sauvignon blanc. It was much more fruity with a higher sugar content than the NZ or French equivalents. Because Spain is HOTTER! Of course the wine tastes different in Spain (or France, or Germany, or Chile, or Greece, or New Zealand). The terroir is different. The weather is different. My view is that when travelling you take your chances with local winelists. If you are not familiar with the wine you just have to try it. Send it back if it is off. Buy another wine if you don’t like it.

So to the food. Superb. We had a couple of fishy tapas including teeny tiny fried fish. Very tasty. Even if Andrew did mutter that it was miniature fish’n’chips [minus chips]. Cretin.

The paella are for two or more so we were bound to share one. We went for a general seafoody one but in this case in broth which basically meant more soupy than your standard paella. What I like about the Can Majo style is that they bring the pan to the table to show you. Then it is removed and the messy business of portioning onto your plates is done on a table to the side. Plates are brought back with your paella. Plus the pan with leftovers for the most hearty appetites. I have to say I thought that Can Majo had the edge over the previous day.

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

And the leftovers…

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

I am cooking paella on Friday night so will be posting a recipe over the weekend. Kate B has already had a go at my generic base how to make a paella recipe. With much success I understand.

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I was in Barcelona for a very important purpose. My friends Chan (Sri Lankan) and Neasa (Irish) – both New Zealand residents – were getting married in the obvious Kiwi-Asian-Gaelic location. Barcelona.

Chan waiting

Waiting for Neasa

NeasaandChan

Neasa and Chan - the bride and groom

The wedding ceremony - outside

The outside venue for the wedding ceremony

The wedding music courtesy of Neasa's friends

Neasa's Irish friends play the wedding music

The wedding venue - inside

The wedding venue - inside

The musical bride

The musical bride

Strictly speaking this was a blessing only as the legalising ceremony was in New Zealand before I left. Their wedding deserves special mention in a foodie blog due to the quality (and quantity) of the food. Two words. Lavish. Delicious.

One of my pet gripes with weddings is that guests are often abandonned for hours after the ceremony with nothing but glasses of bubbles for sustenance. The bride and groom scarper for photos while friends and family get hammered thanks to drinking on an empty stomach. Well prepared bridal couples sometimes ensure canapes are passed around at this time. Given that canapes are priced per piece the general ratio is 3 to 4 per guest. Or several mouthfuls for the more Survivor-like guests; and nothing for the rest.

Not at this wedding. Copious quantities of tapas were served with Cava (Spanish bubbles). Tapas ranged from tortilla (like a Spanish frittata with eggs and potatoes) to fish croquettes to small Spanish meatballs with caramelised onions.  When the formal ceremonies recommenced the troupe of guests were relaxed and with the edge taken off.

Tapas were followed with a buffet featuring paella, confit duck braised in port wine with pears, and a luscious salad with grilled goats cheese. And this was just a corner.

Things really got out of hand with the desserts. Neasa and Chan were obviously unable to shortlist out of the mouthwatering options of classic Spanish desserts, pastries, chocolates and more. So we got everything in tiny pieces in multiple courses. My table had the inspired thought to each have one of everything. And were floored when we discovered that the options kept being refreshed. Completely done in we were faced with the daunting prospect of the wedding cake. A chocolate, truffle, mousse cake. Each.  I feel slightly queasy remembering choking down a corner. Because I had to. Because it was so delicious.

The dessert - second course

Second round of the dessert

The above is a compliment to the bride and groom. It takes a lot to out cater me and I officially concede to being done-in by the wedding feast. Viva Barcelona. And all my love and best wishes to Neasa and Chan. Should you choose to reconfirm your vows in Barcelona anytime. Count me in.

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I had an absolutely superb few days in Barcelona which is now officially one of my Favourite Places to go in the world. For a total foodie, Barcelona is paradise. And ridiculously gorgeous and quirky and interesting and historic.

It is testament to Barcelona’s charms that I was able to recover from an attempted theft of my wallet by a pickpocket on the metro when arriving from the airport. Fortunately an old lady witnessed the theft and grabbed the pickpocket by one arm and belted him over the head with her handbag using her other hand. I got my wallet back. Feeling somewhat shaken I dragged Andrew off for a tapa and glass of red wine at La Vinya del Senyor, a bijoux little wine bar overlooking the church of Santa Maria del Mar.

La Vinya del Senyor

La Vinya del Senyor opposite Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

This place came well recommended by our usual arsenal of paper and online guides. And was located by Andrew’s iPhone.  It has a comprehensive and astonishingly good value wine list include a fair number by glass. Wine is so cheap in Spain that most places tend to offer a house wine only or no more than one or two wines by the glass. People just order a bottle and leave what they don’t drink.

We had a Gago 2007, from Toro; and a Gran Caus Negre 2002, from Penedes. Both were very lush however we both preferred the former.

For tapas we had a few olives; patates al oli fumat amb pimenton de la vera; and canalons de rostit amb oli ceps. The second was pretty straight forward. New potatoes in some form of smoked olive oil with smoked paprika dusted over. Simple and delicious. Lord knows what the second was. I have tried several online translators all of which drew a blank. The closest description is:

  • kind of a pate-ish mixture (very tasty) in a sort of sausage skin but open on each end
  • looked like pate in a Vietnamese spring roll wet rice paper wrap.

I shall ask Sergio. My sister in law asked if this was the online Spanish version of “Ask Jeeves”. It is not. Sergio is a Spaniard who used to work as part of my team!

Andrew enjoying a tapa

Andrew enjoying a tapa

We were joined at the bar by the Prebble-Markwells en famille from Stockholm. Super to catch up with friends in fabulous places. And enough to drive the purse snatcher from front of mind.

And finally a photo of the church…

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar

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