Seville Diary, February 2020 – An Englishman abroad
Day 3 – Wednesday
I wander down to the cathedral square and decide to go to the same café – Mateos – and have another of those gorgeous caracolas whilst I wait for the cathedral to open. It’s busier today, so I sit inside. There’s a queue for the cathedral, but it doesn’t take too long. Now, please don’t think me uncultured and I would never pass up the opportunity to see the interior of a cathedral, but to be scrupulously honest, unless your interest is architecture or religious artefacts, when you’ve seen one gothic masterpiece, you’ve seen ‘em all. Nonetheless, I do spend some time inside gaping with a degree of awe. My favourite finds are the head of John the Baptist in a glass case and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
Included is entry to the Giralda. The bell-tower was originally the minaret of a mosque on the site before it was incorporated into the cathedral in the 1400s, with the belfry being added in 1568. It provides fantastic views of the city, but its ascent (and of course, subsequent descent) entails thirty-five ramps and seventeen steps so after vacillating for a while, I bottle it. The exit is via the Patio de los Naranjos, the beautiful courtyard of the orange trees. There is a long rank of horses and carriages outside the cathedral and I am pleased to notice the good condition of the horses, as it is so often not the case.
I make for the river, the Guadalquivir, and cross via the Puente de Isabel II to the district of Triana, famous as the birthplace of flamenco, home of bullfighters and for the manufacture of ceramics. I walk down the riverbank and then strike off in search of another recommended restaurant. It’s a bit of a walk, but my directions are good and I find it easily. La Gamba Blanca. Now if like me, you like an old-fashioned place full of old Spanish men and nobody speaking a word of English, that’s great, but I honestly think the average tourist using the guidebook and looking for a tapas bar might be a bit surprised. They don’t actually do tapas, just raciones and mains. I ask if I could have a mixture of fried fish – pescaito frito – and the obliging waiter says of course. When it arrives, it has everything – red mullet, tuna, squid, octopus, whitebait, all fried in typical Andalusian style. Definitely no room for pudding, but perhaps a fino and a café solo. Very nice.
I make my way back to the river and cross over the San Telmo bridge by the Torre del Oro, the 13th century tower. I walk up to Puerta de Jerez and stop off at La Sureña for a large Cruzcampo for €2. The barman is very friendly and we have a laugh as we practice our Spanish and English respectively. I enjoy a leisurely stroll and have a glass of oloroso outside Cafeteria las Tapas by the Real Alcázar where I watch the world in general and the horses and carriages in particular go by.
My chosen venue for the evening is called El Traga and is actually not far from the hotel. When I arrive, I am looking in the empty building when a waitress opens the door and tells me they don’t open for another thirty minutes. I’m about to apologize and leave when she says I am welcome to have a drink and some ham until they begin service. Churlish to refuse such a nice invitation. I have a 6.4% Cruzcampo Gran Reserva and some very good Ibérico ham. The guidebook says this is a traditional tapas bar, but the modern styling begins on the exterior and continues throughout. A quick glance at the menu tells you that this is something else.
After about ten minutes, the waiter tells me that the chef says he is ready and I can order as I have been waiting a while. I protest that I am fine and they mustn’t go out of their way, but he insists, so my first choice is Huevo @ 65°, Espuma de Payoyo, Migas Crucientes; egg cooked at 65° with payoyo cheese foam and crispy breadcrumbs. They have a number of wines available by the glass, so I begin with Habla del Silencio from Extremadura; syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and tempranillo.
My second choice is Lomo de Bacalao de Anzuelo, Royal de Ortiguillas; line caught cod loin with sea anemone, and the wine is Quadis from Cádiz; merlot, syrah, petit verdot, 12 months in French and American oak.
Next, I have Foie Gras, Albaricoque, Vino de Naranja, Torta de Aceite; foie gras with apricot, orange wine and olive oil biscuit. Now, I know there is an ethical problem with foie gras and I do feel guilty, but this is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. To accompany, Obieta Negre from Priorat; garnacha, fina tinta, and cariñena.
Lastly, I have Carrillada Ibérica, Mole Poblano, Huevo de Codorniz; pata negra pork cheeks in a mole poblano sauce, topped with a quail’s egg. The waiter says that while it might look messy, the idea is to stir the egg into the sauce and it certainly works. The wine is Encomienda from Toro; tinta de toro, six months in oak. Admittedly, some of these dishes may have called for a white or rosé, but I do have a predilection for red and the opportunity to try these is too good to pass up.
I finish with an excellent Oloroso Solera. The bill comes to €62, which is more than reasonable. Everything has been superb; the food and drink, the service, and the ambience. I potter back to the hotel with an air of extreme satisfaction.