Tuesday, 22 July 2008

A tapas crawl through Seville

The Man of Mode recently visited Seville and immersed himself in the tapas culture of the city.

Seville is known for Islamic architecture, flamenco and bullfighting, but tapas are equally important in the life of the city. Eating and drinking are just as fundamental to life here as in Paris or Rome, but tapas are the best way to absorb what this city is all about.

Timing is crucial. Nothing opens until after 8pm, so have a long, late lunch, and plan to start the tapas crawl around 8.30. Also, don't stay too long in any one place. Have a drink, and two or three small dishes, then move on to the next place.

Las Teresas, on the Calle Santa Teresa in the Barrio Santa Cruz, is a good place to start the evening. It's a classic tapas bar, with hams hanging on hooks over the bar and bullfighting posters on the wall. The ham is the classic jamon iberico, from black pigs raised on acorns, and like at every tapas bar is carved fresh for every order. I recommend a media racion -- tapas menus generally offer three portion sizes, a racion (large plate), media racion (half plate) and tapa (small nibble). A fino sherry matches perfectly to the ham, the dryness of the wine nicely setting off the rich silkiness of the ham.

Next, move around the corner to Alvaro Peregil, on the Calle Mateos Gago. The guidebooks all recommend Las Columnas, a couple of doors further down the street. That's an excellent choice too, but I prefer this hole-in-the-wall. It's a tiny place, with nowhere to sit, and the menu is very short. However, the food and drink are wonderful. I highly recommend the salmorejo, a version of gazpacho originating from Cordoba, that's thickened with breadcrumbs. It's usually served with some crumbled hard boiled egg and bits of ham sprinkled on top. It's available everywhere in Seville, but it's especially rich and garlicky here.

A 10 minute walk away is Bar Alfalfa, a small, cozy place with a lively crowd of customers. The tapas here are very good value.

My best recommendation for food in Seville is Enrique Becerra, on the Calle Gamazo. There's a full restaurant that specializes in traditional Andalucian cooking, as well as a separate bar area with a tapas menu. Unless you're craving a sit-down dinner, I suggest staying in the bar. The tapas menu is more creative than the restaurant menu here, and it has the advantage of allowing you to try a variety of different dishes. The staff is friendly and helpful, and can be relied on for recommendations about what to eat and drink.

A brochette of shrimp and squid.

Elvers (baby eels), topped with a dollop of aioli, resembling little fishy spaghetti.

Finally, on to El Rinconcillo, the oldest bar in Seville which dates from the 1670s. It's a 15 minute walk from the centre of town. The late night crowd there is very mixed -- well-dressed Sevillianos out for a nightcap, 20-somethings starting the evening with a glass of wine and a snack before moving to the next place, and tourists drawn to one of the most atmospheric bars in town.

I prefer the back room, with the usual hams hanging from the ceiling and barrels of sherry lined up behind the bar.

The front room feels more modern (practically into the 20th century), with stained glass windows fronting onto the street and art nouveau shelving lined with wine bottles.

Service is old school. The gruff waiters keep track of your tab (is that the third or fourth glass of fino?) by jotting on the top of the bar with grease pencil.

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