Sunday, May 13, 2012
Maggie likes restaurants though and I enjoy the experience of abandoning our English speaking existence for a couple of hours. I'm a big fan of the cheap set meals - the menú del día - available all over Spain. Between 8€ and 12€ for three or four courses with the booze and coffee thrown in. Set meals, though tend to be formulaic. Similar starters, mains and puddings the length and breadth of the land. There are a growing number of slightly better but more expensive set meals but when the quality of the food is an unknown quantity they can simply be standard fare at inflated prices.
Now Spaniards enjoy eating and they are convinced that Spanish cuisine is the best in the world. For evidence they can point to the list of the top 50 restaurants of the world. Three Spanish in the top ten this year for instance as against one in the UK; five Spanish in the top 50 against three British.
In general though Spain isn't foody like the UK. There are cookery programmes on the telly but they are pure demonstration rather than the plethora of food based UK TV programmes. And there are no celebrity chefs go ice dancing programmes either because, with the possible exception of Ferran Adrià, there are no celebrity chefs.
If we do decide to spend a bit more money on a meal the emphasis is usually on traditional dishes prepared with good quality ingredients. So it's paella in a greasy spoon with the telly on and paella in the place with Porsches parked outside and the waiters in grey and black. Recently though, maybe because of the financial crisis, we've noticed a trend towards "25€" degustación menus in the upscale restaurants - a tasting menu. More courses than the traditional set meal but absolutely no choice. You get what you're given. Probably by UK standards the meals are not very adventurous (bear in mind that I haven't eaten in a UK restaurant in eight years now) but putting grapefruit and strawberries in the salad, serving deep fried aubergine crisps or adding a sweet drizzle to a savoury food is pretty adventurous in these here parts.
There are a couple of these degustación type of restaurants near our flat in Cartagena, one of them is probably the place I have most enjoyed a meal anywhere in Spain. Today, just outside Pinoso, we went to a similar sort of place. Brilliant setting, good service and a different menu. A traditional sort of crisp pancake spread with a sweet onion paste, small mushroom stuffed peppers covered in a corn sauce, pork cheek in a fig sauce then grilled chicken with home made all-i-oli followed by a cheesecake.With coffee, water and a bottle of decent local wine the whole lot came in at 62€ for the two of us.
Who knows, one day when I ask one of my students what their favourite food is they will mention something with a beetroot drizzle rather than paella, lentils, tortilla, steak, spaghetti or pizza.