As most of you may know and the loyal followers of this blog may have gathered by now, I simply adore Spanish produce, wine and food. Some of my most favourite experiences, and that normally includes food and wine somewhere, have been either in Spain, Spanish-influenced situations or with Spanish friends. To me, and I mean this sincerely, the more relaxed and informal the situation the better. With this in mind, I truly believe Spain does this so well, the whole tapas lifestyle and culture is wonderful and makes for an enjoyable experience.
The very vibrant and friendly nature of Spain is reflected in its regional gastronomy. Obviously, the better weather conditions help and they have a slower pace of life. However, this can still be re-produced to a certain degree within London. A huge effort has been made by Anna Noble and the team behind Wines of Rioja, in conjunction with charasmatic wine expert Olly Smith and head chef of Brindisa Jose Pizarro. Again for me as a complete Hispanophile, within London, Brindisa are the first people I think about with regards to excellent quality Spanish produce and tapas. Recently, I was invited along with a small elite group of wine and food writers, experts and bloggers to attend the preview tasting for the Tapas Fantasticas event.
Jose Pizarro (left) and Olly Smith (centre) making their introductions to the menu and wine pairings.
As we all know, Summer officially begins in London at the end of June as Tapas Fantasticas, a free Spanish food and wine festival returns to the city, courtesy of Wines of Rioja. Now in its third year, this year's event, promises to be bigger and better than ever, with a new central location plus an extra day of fun! There will be plenty of Rioja wines and delicious dishes to taste.
In addition, savour a diverse selection of tapas from both London's finest Spanish restaurants and tapas chefs from the home of Rioja, who will be flying in for the weekend to cook up and authentic taste of the region.
Even though with last year's location for the event on the vibrant Brick Lane in East London had a street party vibe and was a tremendous success, this year you'll have no excuse to come, as it will be even more central. The venue for Tapas Fantasticas will be on Potters Fields Park, next to Tower Bridge and will run over three days (Friday 25th June to Sunday 27th June).
Vamos muchachos y buen provecho!
Jose Pizarro from Borough Market's Brindisa restaurant will be making live cookery demonstrations. Olly Smith, in his usual exuberant style, will be hosting Rioja wine tastings. There will also be live Spanish music, fun and games for the family to keep you entertained.
On the subject of food and wine...let's crack on with the tasting.
We started our eight-course lunch with Cogollos con anchoas (Baby gem lettuce with anchovies) - lip-smackingly fresh and salty. The dish paired really well with the dry, crisp and fresh 2009 Vina Ijalba, "Genoli", Rioja Blanco. This is an organic wine available from Vintage Roots RRP £7.50
I actually discovered something new: Rioja has the world's only denominacion for cauliflower. Next up was sopa de coliflor, aceite de trufa y jamon serrano. I really enjoyed the velvety-textured cauliflower soup, which had a drizzle of truffle oil and a sprinkling of salty piquant Serrano ham. Olly made a masterstroke with this pairing: the intensely aromatic, deep and tropical 2005 Navajas Blanco Crianza. The creaminess of the oak matched really well with the texture of the soup and the nutty, savoury flavour complemented and balanced up the dish perfectly. Wine is available from Moreno Wine Merchants RRP £8.00
Pochas con almejas (Beans with clams) - quite a simple hearty dish, yet really packs a punch and was delicious. It worked really well with the fruity 2008 Dinastia Vivanco Rosado made from mostly Tempranillo with a dash of Garnacha. Available from Bibendum Wine Ltd RRP £7.99
We moved onto an interesting fish course, which Jose mentioned was a bit of a local delicacy. Bacalao a la Riojana (Salt cod Riojan style). The fish, cooked with the red wine, was juicy and succulent. Olly served a lovely youthful 2005 Conde de Valdemar Crianza, which was very nicely-balanced and didn't overpower the fish at all. Who says you can't drink red wine with fish? Try telling that to a Spaniard. Anyways, the wine is available from Oddbins RRP £10.99
Jose and his brigade of chefs (below) working hard behind the open plan kitchen counter. The smells which were emanating towards us were making our mouths' water in anticipation for the next dish.
Next we enjoyed Cordoniz escabechada con chorizo Riojano (Quail in escabeche with Riojan chorizo). This dish was utterly amazing. Escabeche is a particular style of cooking, which is very integral to Spanish cuisine. A dash of sherry vinegar is added to give a sweet and sour flavour. The little bird was moist and delicate and the piquant chorizo was a great accompaniment which provided a little kick to the dish. Olly came up trumps with the wine pairing 2005 CVNE Reserva (available from Waitrose or Majestic RRP £12.99 was absolutely spot on. Yummy!
I didn't think it would be possible to go one better, but we managed to with the next course. With Spanish wine and food, the first two things which spring to mind are Rioja and lamb. Guess what we had for the main course? We were treated to Caldereta de cordero; Patatas a la importancia (Lamb stew with "important potatoes"). Don't ask me about the latter, but they turned out to resemble gastronomic equivalents of hash browns meets croquette. The mature and wonderful 1995 Campillo Gran Reserva was a triumph and the perfect combination.
We were all starting to get soporific after all this food and wine. After all, it was a lunch and I had to be back at my desk. Thus only one dessert course was presented to us, which was enough in any ways, since most of us couldn't even manage a waffferr thin mint by now.
In typical Spanish style it was something involving eggs and sugar. Leche frita con peras al vino de Rioja (Deep-fried custard with pears cooked in Rioja wine). The fritter was dusted liberally with cinnamon, again a nod to its Moorish heritage and influence with all things sweet, spicy and sticky. The pears were still nice and firm, yet perfectly cooked and coated in a kind of reduced Riojan mulled wine poaching liquor syrupy concoction.
Well...if this is the kind of delicious grub and liquid accompaniments we are all to expect, then we are certainly in for a treat this Summer at Tapas Fantasticas. However, all we need is lovely weather. Looking forward to seeing you there!
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The epicurean odyssey continues...