Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Just after I wrote this post, and purely by co-incidence, this article appeared in our local press. Obviously my views differ slightly from that of the author (click on article to enlarge).

A question that I often ask myself, and that is apparently a frequently asked question is – when a restaurant is awarded a Michelin star, does the star belong to the chef or the restaurant? The answer is not quite as clear cut as you might think. Certainly is is the chef who takes the accolades for his menu, but in reality Michelin stars are awarded for the total experience including service, wine list, amenities, general ambiance etc.

Once awarded a star or two does this then mean that the chef has to spend all his waking hours cooking and supervising his kitchen? Well, no, not at all (much to my own chagrin). A chef can apparently train a head chef to prepare his menu and then, if he wishes, move on to set up another enterprise, which explains how a chef can run several different establishments at the same time, clocking up Michelin stars around the country. Indeed there are some celebrity chefs that have been awarded a multitude of stars in a number of different locations (sometimes on different continents!).

Of course, if said chef sells up, moves or forms a different company, then the star rating does not automatically follow him or her, it stays with the restaurant. In these circumstances the restaurant would normally be re-reviewed pretty quickly.

I suppose these ‘roaming’ chefs are a little like flying winemakers, they make their mark and then ‘hover’ around different locations, juggling to keep all the pieces in place.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to see a talented chef where he should be, in his kitchen, showing off his cooking skills to the paying public.

Eagle eyes!

November 27th, 2017

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Browsing on the web the other day I noticed that a delicious new dish that had been added to the menu of a restaurant here in Pontevedra. (A restaurant that we sometimes frequent and owned by one of our very favourite chefs, Xosé Cannas). Thai prawns served, I believe, with a peanut sauce, although the photo on the net didn’t actually specify this. Perhaps not the most traditional Galician dish, but mouth-watering just the same.

On much closer examination I said to myself “hang on a minute, the cork in this photo looks exactly like ours”, and by simply zooming in a bit, I confirmed that it was. Maybe a bit of subliminal advertising, but only if you have very good eyesight. Castro Martin Family Estate – great with Thai prawns served at the Ultramar in Pontevedra!

Yet another Savagnin

October 28th, 2016

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Jura - TissotSeveral weeks ago (before the harvest), I made a post about finding a Savagnin Blanc from the Jura region, here in a local Galician restaurant. It was fabulous, as regular sherry drinkers, we really enjoyed it. Imagine my surprise therefore, to find yet another restaurant in Pontevedra, selling the same wine, same vintage, but from a different producer. OK, so it was not a true comparative tasting, but I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to taste another example. (Opportunities like this can be rare and have to be seized).

2011 Arbois Savagnin, Domaine Bénédicte & Stéphan Tissot: Certainly this wine was not quite as ‘rustic’ as the first example we tasted, perhaps being a bit more pure and refined. It still had a lovely concentrated, tangy fruit, again very much in a lively sherry style, with hints of walnut, but this time a more pronounced saline, salt-lick character. This is a lovely clean and very stylish wine.

Of course, there is one interesting thought arising from this. Normally, when we encounter this salty character (such as in our very own albariño or perhaps a fresh manzanilla from Sanlúcar de Barrameda), we usually attribute this to the proximity of the sea or ocean. In the Jura region of France this couldn’t be further from the truth (or perhaps I should say, further from the sea!). Completely land-locked between Burgundy and Switzerland it is miles from any salt water or ocean influence – the nearest sea is probably the Mediterranean which is some 350km (220 miles) south of the region. I guess therefore, that this apparent saltiness can only be attributed to a combination of factors – grape, soil and climate. In modern tasting vocabulary it is probably just a slight extension to the expression ‘minerality’.

Sad but true

June 27th, 2016

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Sauzet 2010The other day I went out for lunch – not very exciting or unusual I have to admit….. but I went to a ‘Vinoteca’ in Pontevedra (our local town), and was more than delighted to discover a rather interesting wine list that immediately transported me back to my days as a wine buyer. Of course I have found one or two other places that offer a more varied selection than normal, but in this part of the world the are few and far between, which is why I feel compelled to write about them.

Under normal circumstances, and quite understandably, local restaurant wine lists are usually dominated by local wines (a fact quite common to many a wine producing area around the world). That’s fine if you’re a visitor and want to sample the local cuisine and accompanying wines, but if you’re a resident, it can become a little boring and predictable, and that’s why I get just a little excited when I discover something slightly unusual (it doesn’t take much these days!).

As I entered the restaurant there was a display of old (empty) bottles, including quite a few Burgundy producers that I knew, who’s Domaines I had visited, and who’s wines I had bought over the years. Michel Lafarge (Volnay), Etienne Sauzet (Puligny), Alain Michelot (Nuits St Georges), François Raveneau (Chablis), to name but a few. The memories came flooding back, even by just seeing the bottles!

By the time I made my selection, the cork had been pulled, and that first whiff of the bouquet – well, I had been transported to another planet. I had almost forgotten how good a well-made, mature white burgundy could be. As our menus are dominated by fish and seafood I had selected a simple, generic Puligny Montrachet 2010 from one of my favourite producers in the village, Domaine Etienne Sauzet (the others being Jean-Marc Boillot, Paul Pernot and Domaine Carillon). The 2010 vintage was perhaps overshadowed by 2009, but after a difficult flowering, a poor summer and consequently small harvest, the best producers still managed to make some excellent wines. In a classic white Burgundy style they have a firm acidity, are succulent and elegant without being over-concentrated – 2010 was perfectly suited to the style of Puligny (rather than say the slightly richer, fatter wines of Chassagne or Meursault).

I don’t even remember the food that I ate because I was so ‘lost’ in the wine (and a few memories)….

Hot spice!

June 16th, 2016

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CondimentsOn our recent trip to Seattle we visited a diner (actually quite a good restaurant) called the Steelhead Diner, very near to the famous Pike’s market. Quite unusually these days, they had condiments on the table – salt and pepper – but not your run-of-the-mill salt and pepper. For a start the salt was darker in colour than the pepper, but fortunately both were clearly labelled. Smoked salt and garlic pepper (although that is not the full description which I’m afraid I don’t remember). They were both unusual and delicious, and fortunately both were available from a spice shop in the adjacent market. We bought a bag of each, wrapped them in several layers (as they were quite pungent), and packed them in our hand luggage. This was our first mistake….. Both in Seattle and New York the airport security picked them up on x-ray, bags were searched and we had to explain these mysterious powders to U.S. customs officers.

When we eventually arrived back in Spain I at least had the presence of mind to temporarily store them in air-tight glass containers, until I could find some suitable shakers for the table. Now, in Galicia we already have a humidity problem, whereby it’s virtually impossible to keep a pot of free running salt, and so I decided to buy something special, from Switzerland, in order to keep them dry and in good condition. Air tight condiment pots designed for mountain trekking and climbing – these should do the job!

When these fancy spice pots arrived I used a small funnel to fill them, but when one large grain of the pepper spilled onto the work surface I almost instinctively put it on my tongue to try it – mistake number two. This was the hottest thing that I had ever put in my mouth – and this is coming from someone who much prefers their Indian food ‘tear-inducingly’ hot. My mouth was on fire (I can only imagine like eating a super hot chilli), and so I rushed to the fridge and took several large swigs of cold milk direct from the bottle. Just as well that we had no tastings programmed because I  really couldn’t feel my tongue!

The final chapter of my spice story is that not only did we have to put the glass container (that I had used to store these condiments) through the dishwasher, but we also had to wash out the entire cupboard just to get rid of the smoked spice smell. Powerful stuff…..

Sommelier Wine AwardsAs people who read our website will know, I have mixed views about wine competitions for many different reasons that I won’t go into just now. Suffice to say that we do not actively seek to win medals, but rather leave it to our importers to select the most appropriate tastings for their market – once decided, we do of course, support any entry that they decide to make. This being the case, every bottle submitted is drawn directly from the stock held in that country, and absolutely no ‘special’ samples are mailed from Spain. If we are lucky enough to win something, then consumers will be able to enjoy exactly the same quality as the victorious bottle.

Our UK importer recently submitted our Castro Martin Family Estate wine for the Sommelier Wine Awards in London, which is a rather unique competition. It focuses upon wines aimed purely at the UK ‘On-Trade’ – hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants. Wines that are sold more widely on the high street are not permitted, and therefore the competition serves as an ideal reference point for on-trade wine buyers. It is also judged by members of the trade including Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, who look for food-friendliness, versatility, typicity, personality – and value for money.

A day or two ago we were thrilled to learn that we had achieved Gold Medal status, especially as our focus is, and always will be, to make ‘food wines’ aimed largely at the on-trade. Mission accomplished in that respect!

Whilst reading the summary of our award I was puzzled by the comment “Generosity of flavours and a taut freshness gave Castro Martin Gold once more for the latest vintage of its Family Estate Albariño”. Gold once more? What does that mean? I asked myself…… Well, it transpires that the previous vintage of this wine also won Gold last year, and we didn’t even know it! Not only does this say something about our quality, but also, more importantly, proves our consistency.

Chefs tableAnother visit to the Chef’s table @ Pepe Vieira, this time with our friends from Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd. Another memorable evening, great food and a couple of older vintages of our Castro Martin Family Estate Selection to accompany Xosé’s fine cuisine. A marriage made in heaven……

Extract from the Pepe Vieira Facebook page: Hoy compartimos con nuestros amigos de la bodega Castro Martín nuestra cocina para sus representantes norteamericanos……!!!! Menudos vinazos!!!!

Quique-DacostaHispania is a restaurant built on the ground floor of the historical building of Lloyds Bank in the heart of London’s financial district. Indeed, to call it simply a restaurant is probably something of an understatement, with two floors dedicated to exhibiting the very best of Spain, it holds a  license to operate as a restaurant, bar, shop and take-away. With a very accomplished kitchen brigade of it’s own, it recently played host to one of Spain’s top chefs, Quique Dacosta, who holds three Michelin stars for his own restaurant in Alicante. At a special 16 course dinner the guest list was not only studded with luminaries from the UK wine and food press (the BBC, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, Restaurant, Food & Travel, The Times), but also included representatives from the Spanish corporate and institutional community, including ambassadors, executives from Santander, BBVA, Ferrovial and O2. Suffice to say that it was quite well attended…..

Obviously we were completely thrilled that our very own Castro Martin Family Estate 2012 wine was selected to accompany one of the fish courses, and was subsequently described by a journalist from The Spectator as “as good an Albariño as I have ever tasted”. Quite honestly we were just happy to have our wine served to such an illustrious audience.

Table for two?

January 31st, 2013

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Now, call me old fashioned, but when I book a table for two I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a bit of space and relative privacy as we enjoy our meal. These days however, in some restaurants at least, tables can be wedged together, resembling some sort of production line, so close in fact that you can easily share the condiments (and perhaps the conversation) of the table next to you!

For example, in today’s photo, you would be forgiven for thinking that the diners shown are actually eating together, maybe attending a banquet and sharing one long table. Closer examination reveals that they are in fact a series of small tables for two, and that all the diners are eating separately…… well, sort of. I’m afraid to tell you that this is pretty much my idea of hell, and that given the choice, I would actively give such restaurants a miss. I really hate it where there is so little space that you have to re-arrange the table to accommodate your main course plate, or that there is so much noise that you can’t hold a private conversation.

If my memory serves me one of the earliest examples of this style of ‘cosy eating’ was (and perhaps still is), Quaglino’s in London. Created in the early 90’s by Sir Terence Conran, I can clearly remember that the place caused quite a stir, not simply because of it’s overall size, but also because of the close proximity of it’s smaller dining tables – diners were virtually rubbing elbows with their neighbours sitting at adjacent tables.

I remember once going to a small, intimate restaurant in London – our first experience was fantastic. On our second visit they located us on a tiny table at the top of a stair case – a table so small that our cutlery was practically falling off the edges. There was never a third visit!

Foods from Spain

January 23rd, 2013

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Every few months we used to receive an attractive, professionally presented food and wine magazine called Spain Gourmetour. It was produced and distributed free of charge by ICEX, the Spanish Government trade office. The printing of this magazine has now “been suppressed” – no reason was given, but I have absolutely no doubt that it is down to budget cuts. Gourmetour and its accompanying website have now been replaced by a new website called Foods from Spain.

As the name implies this new site is all about the foods (and wine) from the different provinces of Spain, and includes information and recipes from around the country. As you might expect the recipes include wine pairing suggestions, albeit that the real detail of Spanish wine is covered on their sister website…. Wines from Spain (they must have spent hours deliberating over that name!) Believe me, there’s a lot of really useful information to be gleaned from both the food and wine sites, and I would recommend that you add them to your list of favourite tourism web pages too.

For example, if your looking for somewhere to eat there is a page listing some of Spain’s best Chefs, and consequently, their restaurants. It comes as no surprise that my own personal favourite here in Galicia is included on the list. Pepe Vieira, with its fabulous Chef/Proprietor Xosé Cannas. Don’t forget to pay them a visit when you’re next in the area, and tell them that I sent you! Their restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, hidden in the hills above Raxo (mid way between Pontevedra and Sanxenxo), but I can assure you, it’s well worth the detour.

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