Cuisine ~ The A to Z of Travel Moves on

Now where had we got to?

Covered Food Market Barcelona

oh yes:

And so C is for Cuisine (and Catalonia and chorizo)

This one’s easy. Spanish or perhaps more specifically Catalonian Spanish cuisine is definitely my favourite kind of dining. The heady aroma of smoked pimenton, sea fresh razor clams, paella, chipirones (deep fried baby squid), spicy chorizo sausage, stuffed pimentos, Manchego cheese and patatas bravas, washed down with Estrella lager, chilled rose wine and a brandy seasoned in Jerez sherry casks, all of these things take me back to happy meals shared with family and friends in places like Barcelona, Cambrils and Ibiza. The sharing, wit and conversation as important an element as the wine, food and sunshine.

Paella

Strange thing is that despite spending many of my childhood and teen holidays on the Costa Brava, I never sampled real Spanish cuisine until I went back to the country as an adult in my mid twenties. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the package holidays we went on tended to be full board with the dreaded ‘international cuisine’, as the hoteliers competed to supply menus they thought would appeal to the mass market Brits, Germans and Scandinavians who descended on the new resorts along the Costas. As you would expect trying to provide a gourmet experience on this kind of basis was doomed to epic failure. My overriding memories from these trips tended to involve watery soup, breaded pork and quite indeterminate meat dishes in gloopy sauce.

The one exception to this was the churros, which we discovered at the chip shop in Estartit. Little did we know at the time that these strings of deep fried pastry made the perfect breakfast with a cup of thick chocolate for dipping. Many years later I watched an English holiday maker spoon baked beans on top of churros at a breakfast buffet in Lanzarote, I suspect he thought the Spaniards were a bit mad!

It wasn’t really until the 1980s that I discovered just how much I actually liked real Spanish food. My own pet theory is that Spain went through a resurgence of confidence in its cultures following the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 and this was reflected in the attitude to its cuisine. This was particularly the case in Catalonia where brutal repression of culture and language had taken place. Then in the warly 1980s groundbreaking TV cooks, like the irrepressible Keith Floyd introduced the cuisine to a TV public eager for new experiences and flavours.  And before you say ‘Surely not’, don’t forget it was only in the 1950s that Elizabeth David’s cookbooks introduced French and Italian food to the greater UK public.

La Barca , might not look much but it's home to the best seafood tapas in Cambrils

Now after saying all that, my favourite restaurant is a Hungarian one on London’s Soho!

Huzzah for The Gay Hussar

Indoor Chili Update – Wahaca Chilis still Going Strong and Gay Hussar Doing Well

Thanks to those lovely people at Wahaca we have had free chilis all summer long.  The original plants have long outgrown the kitchen window sill and are now sitting by the French windows in the lounge to catch the best of the winter sunshine.

Wahacca Chilis Still Fruiting

They are still in flower and fruiting even if they are getting a bit spindly. They have been joined recently by a Scotch Bonnet plant that I grew from some seeds scavenged from a supermarket pack.

Scotch Bonnet Bush

It’s a much sturdier plant and although this one has yet to flower, the one in the kitchen has just come into bloom, so with a bit of luck we shall have some of those red hot little peppers in time for Christmas.

Back in the kitchen I have a small crop of chilis grown from the seeds collected from the chili pods used as table decorations in the Gay Hussar.

Gay Hussar Chilis

These have a much more subtle flavour, you can even eat them raw chopped through a salad. I just hope we are not too late in the year for them to produce a fine crop of little fruits.

Sherlock Holmes and Arty Films – Must be Groombridge Place

Just outside Tunbridge Wells on the Kent and East Sussex borders is Groombridge Place.

Groombridge Place

Designed by Philip Packer, with some help from his pal from the Royal Society, Sir Christopher Wren, its a wonderful piece of Restoration architecture. Unfortunately the house is not open to the public but the gardens and woodland are (£9.95).

Formal Gardens Groombridge Place

In fact the gardens may well look familiar having featured in the most recent big screen version of Pride and Prejudice, while this view will resonate with anyone who has seen Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract.

The Draughtsman's View

We took the boat (an extra £1) from the house to the Enchanted Forest, where we encountered some furry Mangalica pigs from Hungary.

Mangalica pigs

and a zedonk, one of only two of the zebra-donkey hybrids in the UK. I thought he was rather handsome with his stripy legs.

Zedonk

There were also lots of birds, including both greylag and Canada geese with goslings and herons, as well as Groombridge’s resident peacocks.

Heron

And some more mystical creatures, that we ran into before getting back to the house,

Forest dweller

via the vinyard, bird of prey centre and the alpacas

Alpaca

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to the house during the later years of his life when he became obsessed with spiritualism. He lived nearby at a house called Windlesham in Crowborough and used to attend seances at Groombridge held by the then owners, Louisa and Eliza Saint. The house even features as the setting for his 1914 Sherlock Holmes mystery The Valley of Fear, although it takes the title Birlstone Manor.

A chalet by the entrance to the formal gardens has been set aside as a small museum to Doyle’s memory.

Conan Doyle Museum

Saturday Night up the Gay Hussar and Drinks at the Coach

Despite spending most of my working week in London’s west end, with a bit of free adult time there really isn’t anywhere else I’d rather hang out.  It has been a few weeks since our last expedition to Soho and at the risk of being predictable first stop was the French House in Dean Street for a couple of pastis. Now while I like the French House it does get very crowded so after two we headed down through Soho to

Hurrah!

The Coach and Horses for a pint before wandering up Greek street to the Gay Hussar

Huzzah for the Hussar

The Gay Hussar has a really interesting story. The founder Victor Sassie was half Swiss and half Welsh, but trained in Budapest (where he worked for MI6 during the Second World War) where he married a local girl. The Hussar used to be the watering hole of choice for the Labour Party, back when they believed in that little thing called socialism, and the walls are festooned with caricatures of people like Robin Cook, Michael Portillo, Mo Mowlam, Will Self and  Keith Waterhouse. George Brown, the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was once chucked out of here for being pissed and groping a lady customer, but its place in history (and infamy) was assured when Tony Blair was offered the leadership of the Labour Party there after the death of John Smith in 1994.

Anyway on to the food. To start I had the Pacolt Hering (herring is sour cream), a beautiful proper herring fillet unlike the sprats they serve in Loch Fyne garnished with red, yellow and green peppers, Mab had the Hortobagyi Husos Palacsinta (chicken pancake in paprika sauce) while Nick had the Liba-Sertes Pastetom (pork and goose pate). My fish was really nice. for mains Mab and I had the Fustolt Libamel (smoked goose with solet and red cabbage)

Fustolt Libamel

The goose comes on top of the solet, which is a bean paste and both are served in a deep fried potato basket. It was really delicious with the red cabbage providing a sharp counterpoint to the goose. Nick had the Kacsasult (crispy roast duck) which came in a very generous helping and looked delicious.

Kacsasolt

For me the meal was finished off with Chestnut puree laced with rum while Mab had the Turos Palacinta or sweet cheese pancakes, followed by a glass of apricot palenka, otherwise known as Hungarian firewater.

Complete with service, a bottle of house wine and coffee the damage came to £122 after the 20% discount for our loyalty card. (apply at the Hussar’s website.

As the pubs were still open when we waddled out of the Hussar we went back to the Coach and Horses for a pint. Things were beginning to swing around the piano despite Betty’s absence. Aside from old favourites like The Lambeth Walk and My Old Man, her substitute manged to pull off a rousing Bohemian Rhapsody, which is no mean feat for a pub pianist!