The staff come out to see us for our last weekend

 

So we are actually safely back in bristol now preparing for Bravas’ reopening on Friday but a lack of internet on the way home means I still have a last couple of blogs to publish…………………..

Churros and chocolate for breakfast

Churros and chocolate for breakfast

On Thursday morning we picked up Hayley, Tom and Dani from Malaga airport.  We wanted to give them a first hand understanding of where our passion for Spanish food comes from and hopefully infect them with our love of tapas bars.

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We have been coming to this part of Spain together for the last 12 years and Kieran’s been coming here for even longer.  We love the unpretentious style of eating and how the most un expected little bars will be serving great food.  Over the weekend we took our staff around bar after bar sampling sherries, beers, wine and gin and tonic and a huge selection of tapas and specialities until everyone was well and truly stuffed.

 

One highlight was the Friday morning visit to Emilio Hidalgo sherry Bodega.  After a few sherries the night before I don’t think anyone was very keen, but Fernando Hidalgo, a fifth generation sherry maker has such a passion for his sherries he had soon won us round and we were happily wandering between the barrels of his maze like Bodega with him tasting different sherries straight from the barrel.  He wanted to show us how unique every sherry is (even though they start of as basically the same wine before they begin the aging process), you can really taste not just how the sherry have been treated (to become for example an oloroso or amontillado) but where in the Bodega it has been matured.  At the moment we stock an Oloroso and a PX made at Hidalgo but after the tour we are planning to stock a few more as we were so impressed.  We also bought a bottle of amazing if very expensive brandy from the Bodega which be bottled straight from the barrel there and then for us.

Then straight from breakfast to sherry tasting.

After the tasting we sampled some fantastic seafood in a really busy little bar.

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Another highlight of the weekend was a trip to Jerez market, which on a saturday morning is so busy with people it’s hard to squeeze through the crowds.  The market bar is a great find it sells the freshest fried fish you will ever taste at dirt cheap prices, so our day begun with sherry and fried fish.

DSC_0420At the market we collected ingredients to go home and try out some dishes.  There is such a special atmosphere at Jerez market, buzzing with people there is always someone ready to step in and tell you  their grandmothers way of cooking any of the ingredients.  It was this sort of advice that lead to Hayley cooking up a fantastic dish with artichokes and chorizo, with Tom on meat and Dani on fish as well as a couple of dishes from me and Kieran we had quite a feast when we got home.

All in all it was a very tiring weekend for all involved, but don’t worry we have given them a few days to recover before we open again.

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Oh dear they really are going to kill me for putting up this photo……but they look so sweet!

Day 16 & 17, Recipe testing, tapas and great sea food

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We have finally reached Andalusia, the place which first inspired Bravas and where we first fell in love with Spanish food.  We have also had our first days of sunshine, the costa del sol might have a bad reputation but you can’t argue with the year round sunshine.  Back from the tacky bars along the front there are plenty of great tapas bars and markets stuffed with beautiful fresh food.

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We visited the market and stocked up with supplies for testing some new dishes for the menu.  After heading home we opened a bottle of local red wine and set about playing with our ingredients to make a selection of dishes, we had pigs ears,pork ribs, prawns, blue cheese, mushrooms, endive and more.

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Cooking the pigs ear was a new one for me, we were told in the restaurant we had it to boil it for one hour then fry it on the plancha.  This was what we did using the flat area of a bbq in lieu of a plancha, I think it needs a little longer than an hour, it’s work in progress, however it did all get wolfed down pretty quickly.

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The ribs we cooked in a typical way from Talavera with potatoes, garlic and pimenton, browned first, then the garlic is browned adding the distinctive nutty flavour of almost burnt garlic, white wine and pimenton are added and they are slowly simmered for 40 minutes before adding the potatoes and cooking on until they become soft.   The result was very different to the sticky american style ribs we are used to in England but equally delicious.

Hitting the coast means we have been digging into seafood like it’s going out of fashion.  They cook it so simply in this part of the world the quality of the fish really stands out and speaks for itself.

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The next day we went for a fantastic seafront lunch of salt baked fish, the best crab any of us had tasted and salad, the perfect thing to be eating in the sunshine.

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Salt baking the fish created very delicately cooked fish which retains all its moisture.

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Day 13, 14 & 15, a weekend in Toledo

I’ve got a little behind on the blogging.  Last weekend three of our friends from Bristol came out to meet us for a weekend of fun in Toledo.  We had chosen to meet them in Toledo because it was close to where the Iberico pork farm is.  We didn’t actually know anything about Toldeo when we picked it as our weekend destination, we really struck it lucky, as it is one of the most beautiful cities in europe and also had plenty of good food for us to sample.

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The city is a maze of ancient buildings and even at the end of the weekend we were still getting lost every time we went out of the front door.    Highlights of the weekend included a brilliant pigs ear dish which all our friends enjoyed and got stuck into.  The ears were sweet, sticky and very porky and didn’t have any of the unpleasant crunch I was expecting.  We have already tried cooking it once since then and it will defiantly be making its way onto the menu at Bravas, look out for Orejas de Cerdo.  The pigs ears came from a busy tapas bar with loads of atmosphere and great food called Taberna Embrujo

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Another slightly less adventurous but equally good dish which will be making its way onto the menu from Toledo was a cazuela of venison and oyster mushrooms cooked with olive oil, garlic and just a touch of chilli.

The research continued late into the night as we sampled some fantastic gin and tonics.  After Taberna Embrujo we moved on to their equallygood bar just up the road, Fazula Taberna.  They take their gin very seriously in Spain and even the smallest bar has a large selection to choose from.  They come in these huge wide fish bowl glasses with a different garnish to compliment the varying flavours of the botanics used in the gins.  This has got us thinking….. gin is a great link between Spain and the UK, most of it is made in the UK and a lot of it is drunk in Spain.  We love a good gin and tonic like the next english man (or woman), it’s part of our heritage, but it seems they are doing them a little more justice over here.  I think it’s time to bring a bit of Spanish influence to our British gins at Bravas.

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I have to say, on Sunday morning some amongst us were  feeling slightly less than sprightly after all the gin ‘research’ the night before.  Kieran wasn’t deterred though first thing the next morning he was looking up where we could buy the gins we had tasted the night before, to get them on the shelf ready for opening again in February.

Day 12, A visit to where our Iberico pork comes from

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The day after the worlds best steak we continued to head south, stopping in Zamora (where Zamarano cheese comes from) for a few lunch time tapas and a visit to the market. It’s really interesting to see how as you move from place to place the produce being sold in the market differs.  Zamora is a small city of around 70,000 people yet there market is as big and varied as in many larger cities.  In Zamora it seems they eat a lot of cows tongue, baby lamb, suckling pig and crestas congeladas (the floppy spikes of skin from the top of a roosters head).  And not surprisingly due to their central location far from the sea there was not much fish at the market.
We stayed overnight in Televera de Reina, which is where our Iberico pork comes from, ready for an 8.30 visit to the cutting plant, then on to visit the farm where the pigs are.
Iberico pork is butchered in a different way from other meats because of the very high fat content. If it is chilled before butchering it becomes so solid it is really hard to deal with.  At De Raza the cutting plant where all the animals are butchered is built next door to the abattoir so the pigs come straight in from the abattoir still warm.  De Raza is a business with an exciting future, they have grown quickly to the point they now have 200 employees and export all over the world with Japan being a particularly big market for them.  At their core is a strong belief in their quality product and it was nice to see that when we visited the father and son owners of the business were still there working in the office.
The hygiene in the cutting plant is amazing and we had to be completely wrapped up and disinfected before we could look around.
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It was impressive to see the skill with which the butchers very quickly and efficiently break down the pigs into the cuts we are more familiar with at Bravas, the presa, pluma and secreto.
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And then we were off to see the other side of the business and meet some very happy pigs….
DSC_0251DSC_0235DSC_0275DSC_0287At the moment it is bellota season at the farm, this is when the very highest quality of pigs are matured.  there are a lot of regulations regarding the official classification of bellota animals one of these is that the pigs need to have been roaming free eating acorns for two months before they are slaughtered.  This diet produces unique meat which is very high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol.
It was great to visit the farm and see the really high welfare standards and happy pigs, the iberico pork is a really expensive product for us but it is one where the quality really shines through.

Day 10, The best steak in the world

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Yesterday we left Asturias, not learning our lesson as well as avoiding toll roads this time we decided to avoid motorways on route too.  Thankfully there hadn’t been any more snow and the snow ploughs had done a very thorough job.  The journey took hours longer than it could have but it was well worth it, we were rewarded with breath-taking snowy mountain vistas of un touched virgin snow. The mountains were dotted with wild deer and the furriest, fattest horses I’ve ever seen (I guess they need to be in all that snow).

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Once down from the mountains we took spur of the moment decision to follow a tip-off from David the supplier of our Spanish produce.  He had told us that in Leon is a restaurant which is alleged to have the best steak in the world, this was coming from a number of sources around the world – Time magazine, the Guardian, American vogue and El Mundo.

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So we decided it was too intriguing and we had to find our for ourselves.  For a place with such world-wide media attention El Capricho is in the middle of a pretty boring version of no where.  Walking Lennie nearby the next morning the whole area has an eerie slightly sinister atmosphere although these cave houses set into the hillside are certainly an interesting feature we didn’t get to the bottom of who or what they are used for.

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Anyway back to the steak, El Capricho’s restaurant is set in cave like tunnels of their basement with each table having its own tunnel.  This distracted from the fact we were the only customers although I imagine with every tunnel full of tables of customers the atmosphere down there must be great.  We quickly settled on sharing a steak El Capricho with some wild mushrooms to start and a simple salad to go with the steak.  The steaks are sold per kilo and after speaking to the waitress we decided to order a kilo. We were surprised and not too happy when a few minutes later they bought our steak over to show us and told us it was 1.6 kilos, at 70 euros a kilo this meant a heafty addition to the menu.  I guess we should have said something but there it was already cut in front of us.  The meal on the whole was not fantastic, the 14 euro starter of mushrooms was small and greasy and the bread we didn’t ask for but were charged for was stale….. However all was forgiven on the arrival of the beef.  This was a piece of beef so good they could do everything else wrong and we would still go back for it.

 

Day 8 and 9, Cider, seafood, rain and snow in Asturias

Yesterday we drove from Leon to Asturias, a brief discussion at the start of our drive resulted in the decision to avoid the toll road.  Three hours into what should have been an hour and a half drive, going at 20 miles an hour and looking warily at the skid track of cars before us we were wondering if that was such a good decision.

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We did eventually make it to Oviedo in Asturias, just in time for Kieran to go to see the local football team play.  This left me to find us a hotel for the night, here came my low point of the trip, it took me 2 hours of traipsing around the dark and rainy streets wet dog in tow to find somewhere which would take us and Lenny.  Needless to say when Kieran returned from the football I wasn’t in highest spirits, however a trip to a few of the many Sidereias in Oviedo is a great way to cheer yourself up.

In Asturias (like the west country) they specialise in cider and they have their own special way of serving it which, well is very entertaining.

photo(7)The bars in Oviedo have an atmosphere similar to an English pub yet they specialise in local cider which is poured by the bar staff in small measures, then downed by the customers. I was quite seriously told off my one barman for not drinking my cider in one.  The other thing the specialise in is seafood. In the second bar we went to every table seemed to be half way through a platter of crab and in every bar we went to everyone one was drinking sidre.

Today we started with a morning visit to the market where we got some ideas for new ingredients to bring to Bravas.

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The rest of the day was spent exploring the countryside and coastline of Asturias which is very green and lush with dramatic densely wooded hillsides.  Asturias looks nothing like what people think of when they think of Spain, it looks more like Wales, with weather to match.

The fishing village of Lastres

The fishing village of Lastres

We stopped for a fantastic lunch overlooking the rugged coastline.  We shared a Ten euro menu del dia and a plate of chipirones (baby squid) cooked on the plancha.  The fish soup came in a huge bowl easily big enough for us to share and teaming with prawns, mussels, crab and clams.  The main course was salt cod cooked in a rich and sweet tomato sauce, perfectly balencing the saltiness of the cod- I think we will be trying a version of this dish at Bravas.

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Day 6 & 7, a night out in Burgos and a family meal.

Today we were very lucky to be invited to a family meal in Burgos. It was at the home of Bea’s parents. She is the girlfriend of Dani who works for us at Bravas and they have taken the time this weekend to show us the best of Burgos. Dani travelled 6 hours from his home in Galicia especially, they certainly did show us a good time even if we did have to bow out of the Calimocho (red wine and coke) drinking games at 2am last night, and there we were thinking the Spanish didn’t drink a lot.Entrance to the old city

Before the evening descended to drinking games, we were taken on a whirlwind tour of the best tapas bars of Burgos as well as the beautiful historic sights. The centre of Burgos is very compact and as we were shown around at about 8pm last night it seemed like the whole city was out on the streets, walking, talking, dipping in and out of tapas bars, kids out playing in the streets, the whole city felt very alive.

morcilla de burgos with fried quails eggs

morcilla de burgos with fried quails eggs

The tapas bars were all busy and we moved quickly between them only stopping for one drink and one tapas in each, with a large group of Dani and Bea’s friends, such a nice way to spend an evening out with friends drinking slowly and having lots of different bits to eat. kieran and I have been on may tapas crawls before but this is the first time we have been with a group of Spanish people of our own age so it was a great experience.

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Today Bea had invited us to lunch at her parents home. Her mother is a fantastic cook and we were treated to a feast starting with morcilla de Burgos Which had been made by a friend of the family. Morcilla is Spanish black pudding and in Burgos they make it with rice, it is a speciality of the city and you find in all the tapas bars but it was a real treat to try some which had been home made, it was soft in texture and very rich in flavour with a good kick of spice we hadn’t expected. Next was a mountain of prawns perfectly cooked on their home plancha and octopus sliced and placed on slices of potato and dressed with oil, sweet and hot paprika. Bea’s mum had consulted Dani’s mum to get the recipie for perfect octopus as they are experts in Galicia.

The meal only got better as we reached the main course of slow cooked milk fed lamb. The meat had an amazing intensity of flavour and was so tender it was falling off the bone. We’ve also noticed on this trip how nice it is that the meat course in Spain is served with a simple salad, with a big fatty piece of meat a light and acidic salad really does seem like the best match.

With very full stomach we are now on the road again, on our way to the city of Leon, where we have been told we will find highest density of tapas bars in Spain.