Simply Red – Taking the Gastrobotanical Tomato Tour in Alicante, Spain

stairtomsAnyone stumbling slightly the worse for wear into the lobby in the Hospes Amerigo Hotel might be forgiven for thinking the DTs had set in. Not pink elephants but red globes are everywhere; they’re piled in heaps next to the reception desk, they’re lined up like tubby soldiers on every available spare shelf, they lurk by the lift doors and they offer themselves as trip hazards on the marble stairs. There really are a lot of tomatos hanging about in this chic converted monastery in Alicante old town.

The reason is simple, Hospes Amerigo is launching a new holiday idea for foodies who also love the sun, ‘Discover the Tomato’. For three days guests can immerse themselves in a local product; seeing how it’s grown, how it’s harvested, how it can be cooked and most importantly how it can be eaten. Continue reading

Tapas take centre stage at the Valladolid Tapas Contest

mcith_headsIt’s the annual all comers Tapas contest in Valladolid and Nick Harman has got a ringside seat. But as well as watching the three days of cook offs, he finds time to explore more of what this Spanish epicentre of small plate dining has to offer the food loving visitor.

I don’t mind eating horses but it’s very odd being simultaneously watched by them. Both horses are stone dead but they are very lifelike, very big and very, very stuffed.

They do rather worship horses in this northern part of Spain and when the best ones die they become decoration. I’m eating Shergar in the main hall of a ranch dedicated to the ancient art of fighting bulls on horseback, as evidenced by the sepia photos lining the walls. These days bulls aren’t really harmed, the rider ‘spears’ them with the three foot equivalent of the inside of a toilet roll, but the art is the same as my host shows me later with a macho display in his own private bullring.

First though some lunch. Continue reading

A bite on the ocean wave – all aboard the P&O Azura

Cruise ships can have a bit of a dodgy rep when it comes to food, but P&O’s Azura has plenty to make even fastidious foodies fall in love. Nick Harman waddles up the gangplank

It’s not the first time I’ve eaten Indian food with the sensation that the room’s moving up and down, but it’s the first time that it really is. I’m in Sindhu,  Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar’s restaurant at sea, a fine dining palace on top of Azura, one of the world’s largest cruise ships.

Azura had sailed earlier from Southampton and, even before the sun had set over the Isle of Wight, I was nosing about Sindhu to see how it was possible to create true Michelin star Indian dining on the ocean wave. Continue reading

The madness of Madrid

Another year, another Madrid Fusion. Nick Harman goes to see what chefs are cooking up this time as they bring their tools, their tricks and their taste in tattoos to Europe’s premier culinary showcase.

DSC_0814 Elena Arzak is painting a balloon green, or to be accurate one of her team is painting a balloon green but it isn’t actually paint, it’s a form of edible starch dissolved in fish stock mixed with blended parsley. The luminous result is left to dry before  the balloon is deflated to leave a crisp Mekon-style helmet behind. Continue reading

Pincho me, I’m dreaming

It’s a paradise of pintxos, a terrific place for tapas and it’s only ninety minutes from London. San Sebastian is still the food capital of europe.

It's a blur of food

It’s a blur of food

When Franco was in charge of Spain he tried to outlaw the Basque language. Ostensibly it was to crush dissent from the notoriously feisty Basque people, but it may also have been an attempt to safeguard the country’s stockpile of ‘x’s and ‘k’s. Every word in Basque is a tongue twister and a potential winning score at Scrabble. Continue reading

Get your mojo working in Tenerife

Who needs a gym? I’m working up quite a sweat in Bodegas Monje restaurant, furiously pounding green peppers, coriander and almonds and I swear 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.

Mojo making in Tenerife

Got my mojo working

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. Continue reading

The curious case of the Minervois

The region’s wines are well known, the region less so. Nick Harman attends the yearly festival of art, culture food and wine in Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon.

Red suitcases stand silently on stone islands by the banks of the River Cesse, one of the two rivers whose deep gorges have defended the picture-perfect village of Minerve through the ages. It’s been captured only once, in 1210, when Simon De Montfort’s army smashed the drinking well with massive stone catapults, the largest wryly named ‘bad neighbour’. Forced to choose death by dehydration or to surrender, the inhabitants chose the latter and 140 Cathar refugees, ‘the Perfects’ who refused to give up their faith, were then put to death on the Pope’s orders.

The suitcases symbolise flight and extermination and are just some of the otherwise cheerful installations created by local sculptors for Les Grands Chemins en Minervois, an annual festival in the region. Each chemin, or ‘path’, takes art, food or wine as its theme and guides the visitor through the richness of the area and of its artists, whether they work with a corkscrew, a paintbrush or a frying pan. Continue reading

When the boat comes in – another side to the island of Malta

The expression ‘when the boat comes in’ has a real resonance in the Maltese port of Valleta. Cruise ships the size of high-rise flats make this port a regular stop, disgorging around 3,000 passengers at a time. In high season up to six of these leviathans can all be in at once, that’s 18,000 wobbly-legged tourists all hungry for food, drink, sightseeing and souvenirs. It’s a big litre of the lifeblood of this town, a historic port, once a vital British naval base and home of the Knights of St John.

Behind the busy seafront though, away from the tourist spots that have made the town a bit of a byword for ‘costa’ style excess, there is another Malta visible. One where the Italian, British, Middle Eastern, Greek and Roman influences have created a unique place in the middle of an azure sea, and also an island that surprises the traveller who’s prepared to look beyond the clichés.

Continue reading