Gourmet&Tips – The Best Places to Eat in Chamberí

About three months ago, a friend, Roger Casas, who owns a production company, got in touch. He said, “Hey, I know you know a lot about where to eat, drink and make merry in Madrid. And I know you’ve recently become a sommelier. I think I might have something we could work on together.” It was a collaboration with Bodegas Montecillo, the third oldest winery in Rioja (founded in 1874 no less!). They wanted to make an online series where a local gastronome takes viewers around some of the newest, hottest and tastiest spots in Madrid. “Where do I sign?” I said.

So below is the first episode of that series – called Gourmet&Tips. We actually shot each episode in both English and Spanish (my brain melted and dribbled out my ear at the end of each day of filming), but I’m only going to post the English version of each video on my blog. If you’d like to practice your Spanish, do check out Bodegas Montecillo’s YouTube page for all the versions.

And in each little 3 minute video, I hit up a number of establishments in one Madrid barrio and try a signature dish in each… thus acting as a little guide for those lost and hungry in Madrid. I’ll be posting a new episode every two weeks or so.

And in this first episode, we hit Chamberí… for those who don’t know, it’s a little north of the centre, and is one of Madrid’s hippest spots for eating, drinking and growing long well-groomed facial hair. Yes, it’s hipster trendy. But there is A LOT of great food amidst those bearded streets, especially on the famous food street Calle Ponzano. Anyway, I won’t say anymore. Enjoy! (And remember to give the video a thumbs up – or the puppy dies!)

Join me on an exclusive 9-day gourmet Andalusia getaway!

I’m taking a brief break from the videos, to make a very exciting announcement. It’s something that’s been bubbling away for a few years now and finally the time is right.

This September, my Devour Tours partner Lauren Aloise and I will be leading a small group on an exclusive, one-off 9-day gourmet journey through Andalusia!

We’ve designed our dream southern Spain trip, and we’re thrilled to share the incredible hidden corners, delicious tastes, and amazing stories of this absolutely magical part of Spain with a select group of guests.

Read on for more info!

Andalusia is simply dripping with colour and life.

A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING…

Five years ago we began leading our daytime food tours in Madrid. And we quickly learned  that food tours are about so much more than just food. They’re stories about a place, told through local food, and through the family-run vendors we visit. And as we’ve expanded our daytime and evening tours throughout Spain, we’ve travelled (and eaten) all over this country.

The upshot? I’ve felt a growing desire to lead a tour that can go deeper, include more and tell a broader story about this country. As I hope my videos show, lend me your ear, and I’ll fill your mind with everything Spain. And so this Andalusia journey allows us to achieve that wish – to share everything we’ve learned, discovered and fallen in love with with a select group of people.

And the goal? To help our guests see Spain with local eyes, and help them understand the story of this country… while of course eating lots of amazing food!

The region’s white villages are almost dreamlike places. We’ll enjoy a private cooking class in one.

WHY ANDALUSIA?

Andalusia was the obvious choice for both of us. This region is spectacularly ancient, and as a lover of history, it’s always thrilled me. Whether peering on Columbus’ tomb in the cathedral of Seville, exploring the date-palm-oasis-like Mosque of Cordoba or wandering the cracked pavements of ruined seaside Roman town Baelo Claudia, the sense of history here is palpable.

Cordoba’s Mosque-Cathedral is one of the world’s most remarkable monuments.

And the food. Oh, the food. Rich black-hoof jamón from Aracena, magical wines from Jerez, liquid gold olive oil from across the region, and market-fresh seafood pulled up daily all along the coast. This is like the cradle of so much of what we now think of when we think of Spanish cuisine. It’s a land that offers up such variety, with so many rich flavours. And we want to share all those flavours with our guests.

But Andalusian cuisine isn’t only about the past. This region is at the forefront of modern Spanish cuisine. Every time I head to Seville or Cordoba, I’m thrilled by the thought of tasting the dishes that are being produced right now by young, ambitious, and talented chefs. We’ll be tasting both the traditional flavours and the modern ones on the tour, giving our guests a true understanding of the food of this region.

And, of course, the wine. When the Phoenicians arrived in Andalusia 3,000 years ago, they brought wine-making knowhow with them. Which means the wines of this region have a long and fascinating pedigree.

Of course, Andalusia’s most famous and distinct wine is sherry, which many people think of as simply sickly sweet. Fear not, Lauren and I are both certified sommeliers and we will re-introduce you to this fabulous drink (most of it’s dry as a bone). And we’ll also be tasting more traditional red wines at one of my favourite wineries in all of Spain.

Exploring the sherry wineries of Jerez is like stepping back in time.

As a certified sommelier, I love demystifying wine for our guests. Not pretension allowed!

And what so fascinates me about Andalusia are its entangled origins. This region has been the home to Romans, Christians, Muslims, Jews and other, more ancient, people. And that melting pot of inhabitants has created a very unique and evocative modern culture. Of course, flamenco comes first to mind – an art form in which you can hear both the Muslim call to prayer and Christian Gregorian chants. And while the influence of the Moors on the the language, culture and architecture of Spain is clear, I’m also fascinated by the more hidden influences of Spain’s sephardic people. We will be exploring all of this on the tour.

Flamenco is a music that truly reaches into your soul.

SO, WHAT’S INCLUDED?

So what does this dream 9-day Andalusia trip include? Lauren and I have worked for some months figuring out a detailed itinerary that truly represents what is wonderful about southern Spain. It’s the trip that I would want to be on. It’s the trip that I want to take my parents on (maybe next year!). It’s the trip that represents so much of what is dear to me about this astounding country.

So, here are some highlights of the trip. I’m going to limit myself to 10 (and these are in no particular order!):

  1. You’ll be lead by me and Lauren, two people who have travelled this country extensively, read deeply and tasted widely. We love Spain, and, we’re excited to help you fall in love with it too.
  2. Taste Spain’s world-famous black-hoof ham at an organic family-run farm, and learn all about the fascinating process of making jamón.
  3. A private visit to the world’s only ethical foie gras producer (as featured on NPR by my friend journalist Lauren Frayer and in the New York Times) and taste the foie gras (without the guilt!)!
  4. Discover Andalusia’s ancient fish salting and smoking tradition (from the ancient Roman ruins of a seaside town to a modern facility) and indulge in a tuna-focused tasting menu at an internationally celebrated restaurant.
  5. Wander the groves of one of Andalusia’s famed olive oil producers, and enjoy a lead tasting of Spain’s liquid gold (plus learn lots of tips for using it back home).
  6. Head out for an evening of tapas and flamenco in Seville, where you’ll do tapas like a local and understand flamenco’s mystical origins before taking in a spectacular show.
  7. Descend into the astounding Cave of Wonders: otherworldly underground caverns, like something from another planet, that will truly take your breath away.
  8. Hone your skills (with a glass of wine in hand) on a private cooking class in the enchanting white hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera – learning local recipes you can recreate at home.
  9. Explore a 19th century family-owned sherry bodega, where (we promise) if you haven’t re-discovered sherry yet, you will do on this incredible experience.
  10. While we’re talking about wine, we’ll also visit a winery that makes one of my favourite red wines right now in Spain and taste their rich, opulent reds.
  11. Explore the seductive historic centre of Cordoba (including the majestic Mosque-Cathedral) on a private walking tour, followed by a private Sephardic music concert in a beautiful patio.
  12. Enjoy a dinner of creative, modern tapas at the Seville restaurant that leads that way in innovative dishes  (including a private conversation with the owners before dinner).
  13. Relax in hand-picked hotels that are not only sumptuous, but full of fascinating. stories – from Seville where we’ll stay in a splendid 400-year-old palace built atop 1st century Roman villa to Vejer where we’ll be in a fabulous boutique hotel housed in whitewashed buildings that date back to the 10th century.

OK, my 10 highlights became 13. While I could go on, if you’d like to learn all the specifics about the trip, please read on below.

INTERESTED IN JOINING US? HERE ARE THE DETAILS

Dates: 16-24 September, 2017 (9 days, 8 nights)
Price: €2,995 for double occupancy and includes accommodation in splendid hotels, all food & drink (apart from two free meals), myself and Lauren as your expert guides, and a host of private, exclusive experiences, visits and tastings! Price also includes all taxes and fees. Not included is transportation to/from the starting point in Seville but we can help you organise that.
Spaces: There will be only 12 guests on the tour so the experience is highly personalised and intimate.
Cities and villages included: Seville, Cordoba, Vejer de la Frontera, Aracena, Jerez de la Frontera, Arcos de la Frontera

If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’d like a little more information, please contact me at james@devourspain.com. As I mention above, there are only 12 spots available, and as I write this, we’re filling up. So do send me an email, and I’ll get back to you ASAP. I’m also happy to arrange a Skype call if you’d prefer to chat with me personally about the trip.

I hope to see you in Seville in September for the start of an incredible journey!

5 Must-Try Spanish Wine Styles! [Video]

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One of the true joys of living in Spain is the chance to drink Spanish wine! There’s so much variety, amazing quality and it’s so reasonably priced. This country is a wine-drinker’s dream! It’s famous for its reds, but there’s so much more to Spain that just red wines!

In my latest video I really wanted to highlight those different styles (including red wine), as well as five great wine-toting Madrid tapas bars in Madrid where you can drink them. What are the styles I highlight in the video?

1. Vermouth. Everyone knows Martini, but here in Spain we drink Spanish vermouth and often it’s served on tap! The perfect pre-lunch tipple.

2. White wine. When my parents visited Spain from New Zealand, my father fell head over heels for Spanish whites. Look to the north-west of the country for fresh, fascinating white wines that are really making their mark internationally.

3. Cava. Made the same way as champagne, but so much cheaper! Spanish sparkling wine – aka cava – is totally undervalued. Too often consumers outside Spain opt for prosecco (which is fine, but it’s not made using the traditional champagne method). It’s time to pop open the cava people!

4. Sherry. Only a very small slice of sherry is sweet! Most of the stuff we drink is dry, complex and… very cheap (Do you see a trend here? Spanish wine is a steal!).

5. Red wine. The two most famous regions for reds are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. And don’t get me wrong – both regions make amazing wines. But I always try and remind people that there are 69 wine regions in Spain…. so head to a great wine bar and try reds from Catalonia, from Andalusia, from Galicia, from…. Get exploring!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. And if you do, please give it a thumbs up. And subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’d like to see more of my videos about Spain (click this link to subscribe: http://bit.ly/2jYy7L2) Got any questions – ask them below or below the video in YouTube itself. Salud!

Cheap & local seafood in Madrid

What do you think about when you think about the food of Madrid? That’s a curly question that tends to stump people on our food tours. Often guests say paella, or perhaps tapas (which assumes – incorrectly but understandably – that tapas is a food group) or they head for safe ground and simply suggest jamón. The thing is, Madrid’s gastronomic identity is a bit of a conundrum for many new arrivals. Which means they get a hell of a surprise when we tell them that this city has the second largest fish market in the world. In a landlocked city? What gives?!

Well, we Spaniards (me being of the honourary sort) eat a hell of a lot of fish. And Madrid, being the capital of Spain and the centre of power, has long demanded – and been able to pay for – a lot of excellent fish. And that means that the capital is a fabulous place to get your seafood fix. Of course, there are lots of pricey places to chow down on fresh octopus or big ugly monkfish, but there are also a number of rough-and-tumble, cheap-as-chips joints where the locals get their seafood fill. And those are the places I wanted to celebrate in this video.

So, without further ado… My favourite places to eat cheap seafood in Madrid!

(p.s. The largest seafood market in the world is in Tokyo. And p.p.s. No you can’t visit the Madrid one, it’s only for trade customers unfortunately.)

What is Spanish ham? And how to buy the best?

Spanish ham is like wine. It’s one of life’s great pleasures… mysterious, rich, delicious and… very frustrating. Like wine, the more you learn about jamón, the more confused you get. Head down to your local (Spanish) market or deli and there they are, hanging all in a row. And you wonder – what’s the difference? Why should I get that one, and not that one one? Black hoof or white hoof? Acorn-fed? Or was it walnut-fed?

I feel your pain. You’re in Spain, you’ve heard about Spanish ham, and you want to get the good stuff. Because, what is Spanish ham? What is jamón? And how can you tell the great stuff from the just good stuff. Well, that’s why I made this video. To break down some of the confusion and give you a few key tips to keep in mind when that Spanish waiter is breathing down your neck in that sweaty tapas bar, or the market ham vendor is overrun by old lady shoppers and you’ve got get your order in fast.

Ham doesn’t have to be hard. Watch my video, ask any questions, and enjoy one of the greatest food products humanity has ever created. And I’m not one for hyperbole.

Paella, sangria, churros… 5 Spanish food myths busted!

Do Spaniards drink sangria? Are churros for dessert? Where can I get a good paella? Great questions!

When tourists hit Spain, they want to eat! And damn right, too! The food in this country is phenomenal. BUT there is so much misunderstanding about how, when and what we REALLY eat here. And over the years as a tour guide I’ve really enjoyed setting guests straight about how do it proper-like. Why? Because although paella might taste great in the evening, if you know that locals only eat it for lunch, you’ll have… what’s the word… a more organic experience. And the waiters might take you a little more seriously.

Anyway, I’ve made the brief video below to help prevent Spain-bound travellers from falling into typical tourist gastro-mistakes.

So, if you’re winging your way to Spain soon (or just want to know more about real Spanish food), hopefully the next 4 minutes will help you have a tastier, and slightly more authentic culinary experience!

If the info was helpful, please give the video a thumbs up in YouTube (it keeps my spirits up) and why not subscribe to my YouTube channel (little red button on the bottom right of the video) for more cinematic pearls about how to experience the real Spain.

 

Expert tour of the Real Madrid Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

I know, I know. This blog is supposed to be about stuffing our faces with tapas, and drowning in Rioja. But, if you’ll permit me… After living in Madrid for five years, I realised I had a serious gap in my knowledge as a local know-it-all and guide. I’d never been to that big bloody temple of football only ten minutes by Metro from my home – the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Home of Real Madrid (according to FIFA the greatest team of the 20th century). So, I called up my mate Dermot Corrigan, a friend who writes about soccer for ESPNFC.com and who I’ve heard mutter over a beer, “Everything in this country can be understood through the lens of football.” In other words, a total football expert. And I asked him to take me on the tour.

This video is the result of that private little wander through the hallowed halls of football history. And beware Barça fans. Ronaldo gets a few mentions, and, like true Madrid obsessives, we do discuss his underwear.

And remember – anybody can take the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium tour while in Madrid. Just click here for more info.

¡Hala Madrid!

What are tapas? And how to eat tapas like a Spaniard!

What are tapas? Ha! It’s a trick question. Because there’s no easy answer.

Here’s the thing. I remember about two years ago when I was giving a tapas tour in Madrid for my company Devour Spain, and in the first bar one of my guests said to me, “Are we in a tapas bar now?” Boom! That’s when I realised that although tapas have gone global, people who are visiting Spain for the first (and second) time often have no clear idea of what it really means to go out for tapas in this country. Or actually what tapas actually are.

And I don’t blame them. It’s flat out confusing. So, I made this video to try and explain what – after four years in Spain – I think tapas are. And to give you my three hard-won tips for going out for tapas like a local.

 

Devour Barcelona Food Tours, here we go!

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, food tours in Barcelona

I hear you, I hear you. A post about Barcelona on a Madrid blog. But bear with me. And I’ll keep this short. Having spent the last two years leading hungry visitors to Madrid through our favourite tapas bars, markets, bakeries, sweet shops with Madrid Food Tour, we felt it was time to take everything we’d learned and strike out into uncharted territory. So my partners Lauren Aloise, Alejandro Cabrera and myself hopped on the AVE to Barcelona. We picked our favourite neighbourhood in the Catalan capital, and we ate and ate and ate until we’d narrowed down what we thought was the best food made by the most passionate people.

The upshot? What we hope is the best food tour in Barcelona. The Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, by Devour Barcelona Food Tours (now the sister company to Madrid Food Tour).

What’s involved? Over the course of 4 hours, guests taste over 12 different Catalan foods from some of our favorite family-run businesses in the traditional neighbourhood of Gracia. We enjoy everything from a crisp cava and butifarra breakfast to a century-old pastry made only in Gracia, and en route we’ll explore the local market, specialty food shops, an age-old bodega and more. At each stop, guests meet the chefs and families who proudly create the food they’re tasting and between stops, we discover the culture and history of the neighbourhood.

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, butifarra sandwich

 

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, Pep

And the neighbourhood? Gracia was once a village on the outskirts of Barcelona. But in the 19th and early 20th century, it was swallowed up as the city grew. But it still feels like a separate village: quiet and picturesque with a close-knit community. In recent years a young eclectic crowd has joined the older residents, creating a place that’s a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity; an invigorating environment place where classic multigenerational family-run businesses co-exist with side cutting edge art galleries. And, of course, it also means the food is a fabulous blend of old-style Catalan cooking, alongside new thinking and fresh ideas.

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, Devour Barcelona Food Tours

Barcelona is such tourist-soaked city and although it seems anachronistic to say that and yet launch a food tour for tourists there, it’s a shame that many visitors to the city are  blindsided by the overwhelming offer of shonky experiences (whether culinary or not) on offer. Like any other city, separate the wheat from the chaff, and Barcelona is full of fabulously enriching authentic experiences. That’s what we hope our tour provides, along with – of course – lashings of yummy food.

If you want to read more about the tour or book, click this link. Tours start 9 September 2014 but you can book now.

And here are a few more pics from our testing tours…

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, Mostafa Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, best bomb in Barcelona Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, best pastry shop in Barcelona Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, olives Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour

 

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, cured sausage in Barcelona

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, granel

 

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, olives

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, Olisal, olive oil tasting in Barcelona

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour

Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour, bodega Gracia Neighbourhood Food Tour

James Blick

 

 

 

Descent into La Bodega de los Secretos

My father has three rules:

1. Never trust a man who uses the change purse in his wallet;
2. Never trust a man who doesn’t swear;

and, most importantly for our purposes,

3. Never ever eat in a revolving restaurant.

That final rule has held me in good culinary stead (as have the first two when it comes to making friends). You see, restaurants with spectacular views (particularly ones that rotate 360 degrees every hour) tend to get very excited about their view, and rather forget about their food. And my father’s third rule can be applied to any eatery with a spectacular, quirky or original space. Which is why I was skeptical when I read about La Bodega de los Secretos, a new Madrid restaurant ensconced in the vaulted, subterranean tunnels of a seventeenth century wine cellar. Would it all be about the bodega and its secrets, and not at all about the food?

Last week, my wife and I checked it out for lunch. But before we get to the grub, let me describe the descent. It was 2:30pm on a Madrid Friday in July. Hot enough to fry an egg on your forehead. The restaurant is tucked down a Huertas backstreet, and as we descended the stair, the temperature dropped mercifully and dramatically. The interior is a ring of brick and stone tunnels used by monks centuries ago to age and store wine. Now tables fit snuggly into the lamp-lit alcoves that once housed clay vessels.

We began with a pair of bitter-sweet vermouths on ice (one white, one red, one Spanish, one Italian) and our bouches were amused with a cool, slightly sweet melon cream. The menu is happily short and the wine list happily long. We picked a bottle of Remelluri Rioja Reserva 2008, reasonably priced at €26.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, melon cream

And soon came the food proper. First, luscious, buttery slithers of Carpier smoked salmon and eel paired with two glasses of Rimarts Rosae cava, a pink sparkler shot through with a smokey smack. There’s smoked fish and then there’s smoked fish, and this was the latter (which is the better kind). ‘Twas a fine start.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, smoked salmon

On its heels came the steak tartare, a dish regularly so disappointing in Madrid that I’ve given up ordering it. But here the meat was rich and flavoursome, yet still light. And it was served in three mounds, one topped with anchovies, one with wasabi, one with truffle. The tang of each topping was perfectly judged, complementing, but not overpowering the excellent beef.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, steak tartare

Roll on the mains. We ordered secreto ibérico, a juicy grilled cut from just behind the foreleg of the Iberian pig, served with nicely-balanced honey and sweet potato sauces. But it was the bull tail that had me at hello. A little like steak tartare, any food featuring the words rabo de toro is a risky prospect in Madrid (simply because it’s everywhere, and so, according to the law of restaurant averages, is usually bad). Rabo de toro should be densely flavoured and the meat should collapse at the sight of a fork. But too often it’s a tough, flavourless cock-up. Not here, no sir. This bull was as it should be – powerful, meaty but with a mashmellow-like consistency,  and served in a bang-on creamy grenache and truffle mousseline sauce.

The Rioja – elegant and packed with dark fruit – was now starting to kick, and the vaulted ceiling was starting to swim.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, secreto iberico

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, bull tail stew

I generally heed Giles Coren’s dictum that dessert is for fools, but work is work. So we rounded things off with vanilla ice-cream served in a tart, refreshing strawberry ‘soup’ and a slice of cheesecake that was bloody good (I’ve also given up ordering cheesecake in Madrid, so this was a pleasant surprise).

Bodega de los Secretos, madrid restaurant, dessert Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, cheesecake

But what about the secrets? What went on within these walls? As well as a wine cellar, it’s been used variously by Napoleon’s troops when they captured Madrid in the early nineteenth century and as a bolt-hole during the Spanish civil war. Three tunnelled passages run from the bodega to other parts of the city, including one, visible from the dining room, that used to run under Calle Atocha and come up somewhere near the Reina Sofia. During recent excavations a 1920s pistol was discovered in the passageway, an artefact from the civil war when Madrid’s kilometres of underground passageways were chokka with skulduggery and intrigue. The rust-eaten revolver now hangs on the wall.

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, tunnel 3

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, tunnel 4

Bodega de los Secretos, Madrid restaurant, table 2

Long story short? It’s my two thumbs up for La Bodega de los Secretos. And I should add a third thumb up (one of my wife’s I presume) for our two waiters, who were both knowledgable about the food and attentive to our needs. Take your wife, take your lover, go alone with a book (a civil war thriller would pair nicely). Clearly this restaurant is proud of its unique space, but thankfully it’s not simply trading on it.

La Bodega de los Secretos
Calle San Blas, 4, 28014
+34 914 29 03 96