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Tasting a bit of a different Tenerife

September 17, 2013 1 comment

Tenerife has always been overshadowed by a reputation for out of control young Brits heading for A&E as fast as cheap beer can take them. But stay away from those spots and there’s an island with history, culture, wine and of course food. Nick Harman splashes down

Who needs a gym? I’m working up quite a sweat in Bodegas Monje restaurant, furiously pounding green peppers, garlic, chili, coriander and almonds and I’m sure my right bicep has perceptibly grown in the last five minutes.

I’m making Mojo, a classic Tenerife sauce, under the watchful eye of the chef and also, I’m guessing, his mother. Her clucking and tutting is interspersed with bursts of terse Spanish and I mutter ‘si’ and ‘bueno’ through teeth clenched with effort. I have absolutely no idea what she’s saying but whatever it is I think the safest thing to do is agree.

I’m told Tenerifians are tough but friendly people, but then living on a volcano probably does that to a person. At 3.718m high the witch’s hat of dormant Mount Teide looms over the island and can be seen from almost everywhere, it’s tonsure of cloud contrasting against the black rock and the blue sky. Travel by cable car to its highest reachable point and it’s cold and getting colder. In winter the slopes will have snow and it’s possible to sunbathe and ski in the same day.

The volcano slopes aside, there are just two seasons in Tenerife: hot and not so hot, which is why Bodegas Monje can grow excellent wine like their unique Monje Tacoronte-Acentejo Tinto Tradicional  from grapes grown on vines that were never affected by Phylloxera. It’s also why the island’s tourist trade benefits all year round from hordes of Germans, Dutch, and of course Brits, looking for virtually guaranteed warmth and sunshine.

And booze. You can’t deny that some parts of the island have become synonymous with tattooed lads auditioning for Channel 4 documentaries. But why go there? Literally why? There’s plenty more of the island to explore and you don’t have to see a single St George’s flag fluttering over someone’s belly.

I’m staying in the capital Santa Cruz. The Iberostar Hotel Grand Mencey is what a hotel should always be; it’s not a bland block of concrete but a kind of castle. It’s cool marble interior bathes you in fresh air as soon you walk in, the central courtyard acting as a kind of chimney funnelling hot air up and out just as the architects no doubt intended when they designed this hotel in 1950 and before the advent of ubiquitous air conditioning.

Not that the hotel hasn’t moved with the times. A recent full refit has kept the old school charm, but modernised where it matters. There’s a state of the art gym for guests and a plush spa too. The rooms are large but restrained and contemporary, the WiFi is powerful and you can plug your MP3 player into the room system for tunes while you shower. Balconies vary from standard size to ones you could hold an after-party on and most look out over the pretty gardens and pool. I couldn’t find a kettle and tea making kit in my room, though. Perhaps it was just an oversight or perhaps the Lipton’s bag on a string has gone forever.

Tea and mojo apart, and I think I may have lost the latter up in that restaurant, I’m here to also try Iberostar’s latest culinary wheeze. They’ve built a smart cooking classroom and are inviting top chefs to show and tell food fans how it’s done. Then in the evening, as part of the deal, the chef cooks a full tasting menu with paired wines for the private room.

The demo is fascinating stuff; headphones deliver non Spanish speakers a fluent simultaneous translation. A good selection of Michelin starred women chefs are lined up to appear here into 2014 and today’s chef, the ebullient holder of two Michelin stars at her Galician restaurant El Stacion, Beatriz Sotelo, is a natural teacher. She talks about her beloved Galicia and its superb seafood and sends out tasters as she works and we fall upon them greedily and get even hungrier for the evening meal.

Which turns out to be very good. Highlights for me were the razor clams, fiercely grilled until open and dressed with citrus and olive oil, and a clever dish of wataki beef and wasabi cream. Add to that a plate featuring Galicia’s shellfish crown jewel, the strange looking percebe, and it was a meal to really remember.

The next day, from Iberostar’s central location, I set off to wander the town of Santa Cruz. It’s a port and has no beaches as such, but it does have the shady Garcia Sanabria parknext door to the hotel with its impressive fountains and sculptures, as well as a preserved  old town with colonial buildings and tempting restaurants that reassuringly have no English menus on display.

Food here is much as you would find in any part of Spain, but some dishes are special such as Canary Island potatoes.  These grow all year round and are cooked, barely covered in water and piled with salt, until the pot is almost dry. With the salt only slightly penetrating their skins, and topped with red or green mojo sauce, they are simple and delicious.

Another treat and which can be found in Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África, Santa Cruz’s busy food market  a place well worth an hour or two’s browsing, are the fish that the locals are nicknamed after, the Chicharrero, as well the local salty, strong cheeses which partner with the local wines very well.

A short ride from Santa Cruz is Puerto Santa Cruz with its beaches of  black sand. It’s a more touristy area but pay to enter the Lago Martianez and you’ll find interlocking pretty pools perfect for swimming and sunbathing and all child friendly.

Large men lie around like walruses in those tiny trunks that only Spanish men have the guts to get away with, mostly because that’s what provides a semi-concealing overhang.

But that really is the only sight you might want to avoid in Tenerife; from wide views to small delights, from whale and dolphin watching to mojo making, from wine tasting to walking in the Teide National Park, the island has plenty to interest and excite those not on an In Betweeners kind of holiday.

And with winter coming up in the UK, just four hours travel in a plane will have you annoying everyone back home with pictures of blue skies, black beaches and your muscular mojo.

Foodepedia were guests of Iberostar. Rooms start from €40 pp per night for a double basic, to €113pp per night for a garden view suite.

www.thegrandcollection.com

Easyjet, Monarch and British Airways all fly to Tenerife.

For further information on Tenerife go to www.webtenerife.co.uk

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Frying tonight. Madrid tapas tour

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

San Sebastian may have all the headlines when it comes to food, but Madrid can still make the grade. And when you get tired of tapas, there’s the museums and art to graze on. With Gastronomica Madrid 2013 now in full effect, Nick Harman hit the city streets to see what’s on offer.

Oh to be young again

Do you like football? Do you like tapas? Then you’ll love Puerta 57 in Madrid. Pass through the busy Barra Cibeles, redolent of garlic and the after shave of well-dressed Madrilenos, into the Salón Madrid and you’re gazing down at the floodlit ground of the Real Madrid stadium. Way down there epic matches have been fought and the sainted feet of Beckham once regularly twinkled over the hallowed turf. Up here your only struggle is to decide which of the premier league tapas on offer to put in the back of the net next.

Crispy prawns

I ate a Russian salad that would have made Lenin turn capitalist and plump prawns robed in a delicate web of dry, crispy batter. A plate of cutely shirt button sized clams, briefly steamed open, drenched in garlic, butter and oil and whisked over to diners from a stove just ten feet away, were sweet and nutty. I could have stayed all night.

La Dorada (obvs)

But the essence of tapas is to taste and move on and so fuelled by Rioja it was off to La Dorada. A seafood place (a dorada is a sea bream) with an ancient wooden bar running deep into the gloom at the back, it has a more informal vibe. The fact that it couldn’t be further from the sea, Madrid being pretty much in the dead center of Spain, doesn’t stop the fish here being first class.

Anchovies. Or whitebait. I don’t know.

Whitebait, or possibly fresh anchovies, came in light batter and in heavy profusion together with seared cubes of dogfish, or rock salmon as we sometimes call it in the UK.  It’s a relative of the shark (the barman resorted to miming Jaws to explain this) and fried it has pleasingly solid texture, almost like monkfish. A plate of fried eggs slipped on top of matchstick sized battered and fried fish was my favourite here, the egg broken as soon as the plate landed so as to ooze out into the fried fish and make a delicious mess.

Plastic chillies, not so hot

Io restaurant was next, my progress now a little slower owing to the amount of fried food I’d taken on board, not to mention all that Rioja. Deep in the financial zone of Madrid, Io looks the part – smart, shiny, sleek and modern and with a bouncer on the door. ‘No I’m not!’ corrected the hombre, ‘I look after people’s cars as the parking’s a nightmare around here.’

Croquetas

The tapas at Io are advertised as modern; meatballs arrive on dinky white mini-plates along with delicate croquetas of jamon and salt cod with a bath of mayonnaise for them to be plunged into. A little lacking in atmosphere in the evening, Io is probably livelier at lunch when the local businesses pop in.

I’ll have three of those

I swung by the Mercado San Miguel in the old town, built in 1916 this was once one of the city’s main covered market places but today it’s been refurbished to be a more modern home of tapas bars and food shops. The original cast iron pillars soar up to support a roof of wooden planks and its location near to Madrid’s main square makes it popular at all times.

Messy eating

There are over 30 food stallsand a great cookbook shop here by day, but at night the tapas bars spill out to occupy any spare space. It’s crowded all the way up to closing time and like our own Borough Market it’s a bit touristy and pricey, but for at least an hour you can happily wander about, shoving through the good-natured crowds and grabbing a bite here and a booze there.

The chef, not bothered by my gastric reaction to his ‘tortilla’

And finally to Estado Puro. Based in a hotel, this is nowhere as bad as that might suggest. The decor is designery and it’s convenient for a post Prado museum stop. They do a modern tapas menu here, but for me the mussel ‘meatball’ went too far and hit the gag reflex. The chef is ex El Bulli, so that means some creative ideas are on offer. Sliders were overly salty, but then you shouldn’t really go to Madrid to eat that kind of stuff anyway. Much better was ‘21st century tortilla’ which came surprisingly in a glass, the potato foamed on top of a runny yolk with some fried onion. You had to down it one and, tasty though it was, I began to get that familiar Fat Duck/El Bulli sense of queasiness coming on, although I suppose after four hours, lots of fried food and big glasses of red wine, it may not have been entirely the tortilla’s fault.

Olives on sweet pastry. About as unpleasant as it sounds

And so to bed, barely scratching the surface of Madrid’s food offerings, and regretting rather the Spanish people’s seeming suicidal disdain for green vegetables in favour of meat and fried things. But then who doesn’t like fried things, and let’s face it you can always eat salad tomorrow!

Madrid’s Gastronomica festival  ‘for the five senses’ runs from 19 January to 3 February offering tapas routes with a signature tapas and a bottle of local beer for €3, as well as selected restaurants serving special set price menus at € 25 and €40. There are also six selected ‘super’ restaurants at €75, one of them being cheffed by our own Simon Rogan from L’Enclume.

Yay chorizo!

The full Madrid Gastronomica programme can be seen here.

Puerta 57, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Access from Gate 57 in Calle Padre Damián

La Dorada, Orense 64, Madrid, SpainIo, Calle Manuel de Falla 28036 Madrid

Mercado San Miguel, Plaza San Miguel, Madrid, S Open until 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and until 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday

Io, Calle Manuel de Falla 28036 Madrid

Estado Puro, Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, 4, Madrid, (Centro, Cortes / Plaza Santa Ana)

Spanish Tourist OfficePO Box 4009London , W1A 6NB

info.londres@tourspain.eswww.spain.info