Thursday, 29 January 2015

A Weekend in Seville.

I'm not an expert on Seville by any means although we have visited the city several times. With that in mind, I can offer an overview as a casual tourist. If you are staying longer than a weekend or need more in depth details from someone who lives there, check out Azahar Sevilla. I doubt if there's many people who know more about the city's restaurants than Shawn and she runs tapas tours too.
Where to stay. On our first trip to Seville together, we stayed in Las Casas de la Juderia a collection of rooms in one sprawling combined townhouse on the edge of Santa Cruz . We loved it, it's beautiful and totally unique. The last few visits however, we wanted somewhere nearer to the cathedral. You can't get much closer than the small boutique hotel, the Alminar. Superior Rooms 31 and 32 both have a large outside terrace on the roof with views of The Giralda. And you can certainly hear the hourly bells too. (Inside the room is fine as it's double glazed). Manager Francisco really knows his food too. He will happily give you up to date advice and any help that you need. Below; The sensational view from the hotel balcony.
Where to eat. When in Seville you eat tapas of course. I've been to most of the traditional ones over the years including Bar Giralda, below. We tried four more modern tapas bars on our last trip, all excellent.
 Pura Tasca is over the river in Triana. It's well worth the short taxi ride.
Recommended; The Arroz Meloso. Risotto with mushrooms, parmesan and truffles. (€5.50) is absolutely superb.
La Brunhilda. Everything is good here but you can't visit here without sampling the famous 'crack burgers'.
La Azotea.  You can't go wrong with the Carrillada Ibérica, Slow-cooked pig’s cheeks.
Vineria de San Telmo. Try the Squid ink spaghetti with garlic and grilled scallops.  
Where to Drink.
I'm tempted to say everywhere but we loved the traditional Las Teresas Bar in Santa Cruz for a late night sherry. 
For something different, take a drink in the strange, camp El Garlochi amongst religious icons and drink a blood red cocktail called 'El Sangre de Cristo' -  The Blood of Christ. We found it by mistake one year and couldn't find it on our next trip. We thought it'd been a dream.
Sightseeing. 
If you only do one tourist thing, go into the huge Cathedral and climb the tower.
The nearby Moorish palace, the Alcazar is an absolute must too. It will probably take an hour or two to walk round the palace and extensive gardens.
The Plaza de España is a lovely way to spend an afternoon if you have time, the following day.
Music.  
If you want true flamenco you won't find it at a tourist show. You must go to a bar or small club and hope an impromptu performance happens. We found it at El Tamboril
It's close to midnight and the lights in the bar are lowered. The candles around the Virgin Mary statue are the only lights in the place. One man sings a sorrowful lament unaccompanied. It's one of those moments that makes you glad to be there in that specific time and place. I've had a few of those in Seville.
How to get there. There are no direct flights to Seville from Manchester unfortunately, so you have to fly to Malaga (or Portugal) and drive two hours or fly direct from Gatwick, Luton or Stansted.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

New Menu at Volta, Didsbury.

It is 1999 or is it 2000? It's hard to remember exactly when. But we're in a hot, sweaty basement in Manchester. The heat is almost too much but we carry on dancing anyway. I am quite literally steaming. A man comes round with a big bowl of ice. We crush it on our heads, it turns to water immediately and drips down my back. Then one of the Unabombers drops that tune. I found out a few years later it was Underwater by Harry Thumann. It sounds like a rare, weird twisted disco version of The Loveboat theme. We melt in euphoria.
Tunes from around that time still take me back to The Electric Chair. Josh One, Contemplation, Shades Of Jae by Moodymann and The Detroit Experiment, Think Twice. Pépé Bradock's Deep Burnt still gives me goosebumps and a shiver down the back of my neck, 16 years on.
The Unabombers were never those sort of DJ's that mixed the same BPM house records seamlessly into one another. But it was in their selection of great records that they truly excelled. Fifteen years on and the party is well and truly over for us. So we go and eat instead.
As they selected fine tunes for us then, DJ's Luke and Justin have hand picked a lovely looking menu of small tapas size dishes, partly inspired by Cal Pep in Barcelona amongst others on their travels. (See our review of Cal Pep here. Incidentally this famous tapas restaurant inspired Barrafina in London too).
We've been to Volta twice now, really enjoyed it when it first opened a year ago and had a huge Sunday dinner at the end of last year. They deservedly won Manchester Restaurant of the Year since then.
Luke was keen for us to try their new dishes and give us our honest opinions. "no favours or nepotism", he insists, as ever. This is quite refreshing, most people want you to tell them how brilliant everything is but what's the use of that? So here goes.
*Shredded Lamb Shoulder with Shwarma Slices. (£7.50). This is good, rich, salty, spicy lamb similar to the 'secret kebab house' in Rusholme, although the meat is slightly too dry.
Smoked Feta, Beetroot, Hazlenut and Dill. (£4). A real surprising winner this one, it just works. Cool beetroot flavour against the smoky cheese. Lovely.
 *Duck Fat Confit Scallops, Beetroot and Pear. (£7.50). The texture of the soft, yielding, plump scallop is beautiful but there's very little actual flavour in the scallop itself and I'm looking for that subtle sweet taste of the sea that's missing.
* Gnocchi with Orange Squash and Sage. (£5.50). This is our least favourite of the new dishes. It doesn't work as it's far too sweet. We love the soft texture of the gnocchi with the crunchy bits but the flavours are off. Far better would be to keep it simple, sage, butter and parmesan, job done!
Monte Enebro, beetroot and honey. We enjoy this a lot, what's not to like? Gooey, melted goat's cheese and a fresh beetroot salad.
Our favourites come next. The Beef Cheeks braised in orange zest and star anise (£7) is suitably gelatinous and fatty. 
The Clams with Jerusalem Artichoke and Chorizo (£7) is pretty good too.
We finish off with a very clean Sea Bass, Puy Lentils, charred leaks and Vinaigrette. (£5). The best bit of course is the crispy skin. It's hard to believe that there are people in this world who leave the skin on the plate. We decide to finish it there, full but not overly stuffed.
Volta is successful because they keep it simple with a small very well thought out menu. In all honesty, did we get a 'wow' moment? No.
But the food is solid and very good value for money (especially as we took them up on the 50% offer too). Neither do they charge daft prices for beer either, as seems to be the norm these days. FOH are lovely, special mention for Amy, our waitress.
Volta isn't perfect but they're on the right path because it's really a labour of love serving proper grown up food rather than simply a way to make money selling 'dirty food'. 
Electric chair wasn't perfect either. It was hot and sweaty, the toilets were always awful but it was still, despite the flaws, our place. Volta is shaping up a bit like that too.
 *New dishes are still work in progress.
** We paid 50% off food with a couple of new dishes sent out to sample.

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

10 Greek Island Beaches.

It's that time of the year when we start thinking about our Summer holidays. January is so cold, dark and grim that we desperately need something to look forward to. This year, we're almost certainly going to Parga on the Greek mainland.
We fell in love with the Greek islands several years ago, starting with Kefalonia and have been to a different one pretty much every year since then. Looking back, here's some favourite beaches we've found on the way.
1. Vrika, Anti Paxos. The boat arrives at this turquoise beach flanked by pine trees and you've finally reached paradise (apart from the other people of course). There's a great taverna too. (See my review here).
2. Voutoumi, Anti Paxos.
Crystal clear waters and blinding white sand continue at this beach just a short walk around the headland.
3. Tsougria Island.
The Beatles were said to have considered buying this little island just off Skiathos. You can see why when you take a boat trip out there from Skiathos town.
4. Kipiadi, Paxos. 
We drove over the roughest road I've ever driven on and struggled through overgrown shrubs and brambles to get to this beach. It was worth it though, there were only a couple of other people on it, it was so peaceful and quiet.
 5. Falasarna, Crete. A huge empty, windy beach with pinkish golden sand. 
6. Limnonari, Skopelos. A quiet little emerald green bay of large pebbles and one small hotel. Bliss.
7. Mandraki Elias, Skiathos. 
A walk through pine trees off the beaten track is well worth it.
8. Lourdas, Kefalonia. It's the way in which this beach sits in the landscape of cypress trees and mountains that made it so special for me.
 9. Gerakas, Zakynthos. Protected turtles come here to lay their eggs. A beautiful spot.
10. Myrtos Bay, Kefalonia. One of the most famous beaches in Greece.
We have a long way to go though, there six thousand Greek islands.