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There’s more to Spanish cheese than manchego – make sure to experiment

Pile Spanish cured meats on bread with piquillo peppers and a drizzle of olive oil



Spain is home to the largest date palm grove in Europe, in the town of Elche in Alicante

SMALL PLATES, BIG CITY Madrid may be known for traditional tapas, but its small plates are now getting a thoroughly modern makeover, finds Mike Gibson

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s with most people who live in London, I’m all too familiar with sharing plates. In fact, I can’t seem to get away from them. In the past few years, the familiar starter and main has largely been replaced by smaller courses, brought out at the chefs’ leisure and shared between diners around the table. Hell, even burgers have successfully downsized to sliders. If you traced back the origins of this ‘family style’, sharing food craze, chances are you’d find yourself in Madrid – and after a short stay in Spain’s capital city, it’s clear exactly why that is. I soon become accustomed to the convivial atmosphere that gives sharing food culture its anchor. It’s been the only way to eat here for centuries, and with good reason.



TABERNA DE CONSPIRADORES 7 Calle Cava Baja; Taberna de Conspiradores comes highly recommended by locals, and serves tapas at its most traditional. Situated on Madrid’s Cava Baja, it’s quiet, unassuming, and at the same time welcoming and homely. Prepare to eat richly and feel stuffed as the waitresses bring out endless platas of hearty, moreish tapas.

Miguel, too, is five minutes’ walk away – a feast for the eyes, not to mention the taste buds. Crowds of hungry locals and swathes of tourists peruse expanses of snacking food under vaulted ceilings; huge beds of seafood, meats and olives make up a mouthwatering canvas, and visitors graze on small portions of moreish morsels. Cava Baja, so I’m told, is the best street in the city for tapas, having been its spiritual home for hundreds of years. Putting this theory to the test, I find myself in La Taberna de Conspiradores, in a tiny room I have to hunch to enter – perfectly at home on a street that translates as the ‘small cave’ – eating proper roots tapas. In keeping with tradition, a small >>

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Sobrino de Botín is one of the oldest restaurants in the world. Opened in 1725, painter Francisco de Goya worked there before going to art school. It’s famed for its cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig, a Madrilenian staple that’s still served there to this day.

For a start, the city itself feels like it’s remained unchanged for years – food vendors filled La Plaza Mayor in the 1600s, and locals still come here for tapas today; people walk in the shadows of various huge, decadent cathedrals, palaces and museums; time seems to stand lazily still in the tiny tapas bars that dot the streets. I find myself in Madrid during Gastrofestival, a city-wide event which, for a month between January and February, gets foodies in a fluster with gastroculture, gastrofashion, and, naturally, non-stop feasting. Food is celebrated in markets, cinemas, museums and pretty much every other cultural centre you can think of, the city providing a thorough self-examination of its culinary scene. And there’s a lot to examine – Madrid is a patchwork, a grouping of distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own identities, and each of which feels totally different from the other. I’m staying in Barrio de las Letras, on the vibrant Plaza de Santa Ana, surrounded by voguish cafés and restaurants – I’m informed that Danny DeVito’s favourite shrimp place is just around the corner. Famed market El Mercado de San

A Taste of Jordan – with the experts MasterChef Travel is an inspiring new collection of culinary holidays, revealing the wonders of the world’s great food destinations in the company of fellow food and travel lovers. The holidays are carefully designed to demystify the ingredients, techniques and dishes at the heart of the region. They also include plenty of time for exploring its most captivating sights. And best of all, they include time with culinary experts who share their passion for cooking and provide an authentic understanding of their region’s cuisine to broaden your culinary horizons.

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foodism ME Madrid’s roof terrace looks out over the warm orange of Madrid’s rooftops

ME MADRID REINA VICTORIA 14 Plaza de Santa Ana; This hotel in the middle of the La Plaza de Santa Ana, in the city’s food centre, oozes sleek modernity. One of the Melia hotel group’s five-star ME locations, it’s all clean, straight lines and airy lobbies. As well as its sprawling roof terrace and bar, its restaurant Ana la Santa brings traditional Madrilenian tapas up to date with inventive flavours and combinations. Doubles from £220 per night + VAT.

>> plate is given free with a caña (that’s a half-pint of beer to you and me – refreshingly not frowned upon to order in Spain), before the orders are taken and the platas are brought out sporadically. Fried potatoes are heavily salted and dusted with paprika; the chorizo swims in oil, honey and wine. It’s heavy going and it’s rich, but it’s very tasty, and hugely comforting to eat. This kind of tapas is what Madrid has thrived on for centuries, eaten at any time


of day, for lunch, dinner and the snack in between. I was skeptical, but it really is ubiquitous, in the same way as the siesta, or the late night (or should that be ‘very early morning’?) partying. For a capital city, the culture is absurdly relaxed. But, even despite the time warp, the city’s food scene is doing what that of every major cosmopolitan city is in the 21st century: it’s globalising, and it’s evolving. In hipper parts of town, there are ultracool, ultra-modern tapas bars springing up on corners of tree-lined streets, where diners sit on stools at high tables and cocktail lists are written in faded fonts on A3 paper menus.

GASTRO BAR LE CABRERA 2 Calle Bárbara de Braganza;

One of the new breed of tapas bars, Le Cabrera, in the city’s Retiro District, serves up arty tapas with culinary flair, visual verve and vigour. It’s tapas, but not as we know it.

Txirimiri is recommended as the best of the new-school tapas in the city (sample dish: ceps croquettes with truffle and Ibérico ham), and it’s done what not many have – expanded its single restaurant to three across different Madrilenian barrios. Even at the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum, after a tour, I’m treated to lamb carpaccio with a garlic and artichoke puree, every part of it first described passionately and in painstaking detail by the chef. The premise of all of these is largely the same – small-plate dining – but as you’d expect, the plates are artful, not rustic, the portions carefully measured, not liberally thrown on. A smear of jus here; a delicately balanced pile of parfait there. These are identifiably Spanish flavours, but given the cosmopolitan treatment. And I have to say, it works. For quintessential Spanish tapas, there are plenty of holes in the wall serving delicious, homely plates, as they have been for decades. But my lasting impression of Madrid’s gastronomical culture is one that’s slowly cultivating the seeds of change. Reductions and herb-infused cocktails might not be classic Spanish fare, but they’re a welcome reminder that every capital city can be a site of cultural and gastronomical evolution. And as for the new school of Spanish sharing plates? They may be challenging tradition, but a little competition never hurt anyone. And anyway, there’s plenty of room for them to dine at Madrid’s table. e


☞ escapism is hiring For more information, contact Alex Watson on 020 7819 9999

PHO 50-52 Battersea Rise, SW11 1EG;

REVIEWS We discover culinary coups in rising areas: Dalston, Battersea and King’s Cross

Rotorino’s chocolate cake with honeycomb, pistachios and soured cream


Chain restaurants once conjured up images of fast food behemoths or kitsch identikit diners. These days, not so much. Each of Vietnamese chain Pho’s restaurants has its own head chef and its own personality, and its latest venture on Battersea Rise is a great weeknight dining spot. Start with at least one deep-fried starter – we opted for excellent tender fried baby squid (£6.50) and homemade pork and lemongrass meatballs (£6.25), before rich noodle platters and a giant, warming bowl of the spicy Pho that lends the company its name (£7.95-£9.25). The chain may be growing, but there’s no weak link in sight. – Mike Gibson

434 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA; Appealing to discerning foodies while staying cool enough for the East London crowd is no easy feat, but on first impression Rotorino, on Dalston’s Kingsland Road, ticks both boxes. A first foray into hipster territory for Dock Kitchen owner Stevie Parle, Rotorino’s menu is full of southern Italian sharing plates – highlights include buffalo mozzarella with broad beans (£6.50), pistachio casarecce (£7.50) and sasso chicken (£24.50 for two) – with an eclectic wine list from consultant Ruth Spivey (if you spot her, make sure you ask to see her ‘secret’ list). If you’re not eating, the bar at the front makes a great place to hunker down, serving a mean brandy negroni, and a great selection of craft beers. It is East London, after all. – Krista Faist

Take a big group and order up a Viet feast at Battersea’s Pho

KARPO 23-27 Euston Rd, NW1 2SD;

In my halcyon student days, places to go in King’s Cross were limited to the dodgy pub on Pentonville Road, followed by the Big Chill until it kicked you out unceremoniously at 3am. Now things are different, and N1 is a seriously trendy (and foodie) postcode. Karpo, an easygoing bistro set in the multicoloured Lego brick-esque Megaro Hotel on Euston Road, is the latest


manifestation of its evolution. The food is simple – think small plates of buffalo mozzarella and pesto (£6) and crispy cod cheeks with tartar sauce (£5), followed by cosy, warming main dishes. The loin of Herdwick lamb (£18) was super tender, with artichokes and hazelnuts giving it a good crunch; while the spiced monkfish tail (£18) was pleasingly playful. If you’re after a laid-back dinner before the train home, you’ve found it. – Cathy Adams



HAIL TO THE CHEFS This year’s Taste of London festival features appearances and masterclasses from some of the world’s best chefs. Here’s three to watch…


f you’re like us, your stomach’s been rumbling ever since foodie haven Taste of London’s list of vendors and exhibitors was released. As well as those, though, there are also some excellent chefs who’ll be giving guests a taste of their skills with intimate and hands-on demonstrations. Here are three you won’t want to miss this June.

THE DETAILS Taste of London is held in Regent’s Park from 18-22 June. To see the list of exhibitors or to book tickets, visit

Ben Tish Charcuterie bar Salt Yard’s head chef will be showing his skills at both the Electrolux Taste Theatre and the Stubbins Kitchen Garden, a brand new outdoor cooking stage complete with fire pit.

Monica Galetti Having worked with Michel Roux Jr for over ten years, Monica Galetti knows all about the pressure and scrutiny of a high-profile kitchen. She’ll be cooking up a storm at the Taste Theatre and the Cook Skills Theatre.

Bobby Chinn As well as taking residence at his House of Ho stand, the Vietnamese chef will be serving up a demonstration at the Taste Theatre on the evening of 20 June. f

The Halo Cooltouch proves that safety can still be cool – quite literally. This innovative barbecue prioritises safe operating temperatures while also increasing efficiency. Looks-wise it’s part-barbecue, part-UFO, with a design that enables the coals to stay hotter for longer.

SLIDE AWAY Weber BBQ Slider Press, £12.99 Misshapen, falling apart and generally a bit ham-fisted, the homemade barbecue burger can emasculate your cookout. This summer, instead of huge patties, why not opt for sliders at your barbecue? This slider press will keep them at least slightly presentable.

WHAT A TOOL Esschert’s Garden BBQ Tools, £40 This excellent tool set from Esschert’s Garden means business. It’s got all the essentials and comes in a rugged green case (outdoorsy, army rugged – honest). A must for any truly committed BBQ chef.





So-called to describe the satin smoothness of this sparkler, Satèn is made with 100% chardonnay, and dishes up delicious, delicate notes of pear and white peach. £26.95;

Made from the three major champagne grapes, this deep rosé is matured for more than three years and has a complex nose of jam and gingerbread. £43.53;

DIGBY FINE ENGLISH 2009 VINTAGE ROSÉ This sparkling brut rosé, made with British pinot noir and chardonnay, is light and exuberant, with notes of strawberries. English sparkling wine continues to make its presence known on the global stage. £39.99;

Sophisticated summer sipping starts with a sparkle. Here are three of our favourites to bring you some frothy fun (if not sun) this season


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Foodism Section, 7, Escapism Magazine Issue 10  

Foodism Section 7 from Escapism Magazine Issue 10

Foodism Section, 7, Escapism Magazine Issue 10  

Foodism Section 7 from Escapism Magazine Issue 10