Notes from Seville

Author: Christine Manfield

This is my fifth trip to Seville and my heart always skips a beat when I return to this city; it exudes relaxed charm, sex appeal and history. I'm here for the launch of Nespresso's two new Intensive coffees; they invited me to cook a dinner and conduct a spice-tasting workshop to showcase the flavour profiles of both, so it was a real pleasure to be able to work in one of my favourite Spanish cities and get under its skin.

Seville, the largest city in the south, is different to other parts of Spain because of its Moorish influences; the Arab overlays in its food and the architecture give the city a real complexity and point of difference. Andalucía flourished under the Moorish rule that lasted more than seven centuries. New crops from the Islamic world were introduced, as were spices from India and the Far East such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, mustard, cloves, allspice, anise and ginger.

Today, the legacy continues with food flavoured with honey, perfumed waters (rose and orange blossom), dried fruit and nuts, citrus, saffron, pimentón (paprika), olives, olive oil, salt and vinegar. The region is especially famous for olives (Andalucía produces 75 per cent of Spain's olive oil), sunflowers and the bitter oranges named after the city. In the surrounding hills Ibérian black-footed pigs, or pata negra, are fattened on acorns and olives and bred for jamón Ibérico, perhaps the best-known Spanish gourmet foods, seen hanging from the rafters of almost every tapas bar in the city. Sweet, nutty and intensely flavoured, it's a treat not to be missed.

To the south-west is the Sherry triangle in the province of Cádiz, just over an hour's drive from Seville. The Sherry bodegas dominate the landscape and produce a broad range from manzanilla (exclusively from Sanlúcar de Barrameda), fino, amontillado, oloroso and palo cortado to moscatel and Pedro Ximénez, Sherries I showcased with my menu. From the coast comes a wide range of fish and seafood, including many varieties of clams or gambas rojas - the large, sweet-tasting scarlet prawns, a local specialty.

Seville is famous for its bullfights, flamenco, gypsies and tapas; the city is reputed to have more than 3,000 tapas bars and in my mind does the best tapas in all of Spain. A visit would not be complete without sampling a tostada completa - a toasted bread roll filled with sliced tomato and local jamón Ibérico, and drizzled with olive oil. A pringá, meanwhile, is a mix of tender stewed pork shoulder, chorizo and black pudding, served in a hot toasted bun. Carrillada are slow-cooked pork cheeks often served in a small bowl. Most places serve a version of salmorejo, the tomato-based cold soup of Córdoba, thicker than the regular gazpacho and always made with local olive oil. Along the city streets, you can smell the sweet perfume of Seville's bitter oranges, which I love as a jam spread on toast or served with an aged Manchego, as I did for the dinner.

It's because of this rich food bounty that Seville was chosen as the backdrop for Nespresso's new Intensive (super-strength) coffees launch. My menu was inspired by what I saw at the markets: rabbit, suckling lamb, sea bass, gambas rojas, jamón Ibérico and pork. There are five main markets in Seville. The Mercado de la Encarnación on the ground floor of the Espacio Metropol Parasol (known to locals as the "Mushrooms") is Seville's most avant-garde new building, but my favourite is Mercado de Triana, just across the river from the city centre, which is a more traditional indoor market. It has one of the only spice shops in Seville, an oyster bar, a terrific gourmet food and wine shop and, hidden in the back corner, a tapas bar that does a mean toast with jamón and Manchego, both sliced to order - perfect for breakfast. Finish like a local with churros and a cortado.

Before I went to Seville, I spent five days tasting the new coffees to tease out their characteristics. Kazaar has rich caramel tones and sweet warming spices like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and clove, with an incredible fullness to it; whereas Dharkan has more length on the palate (which comes from a longer roasting time) and fruitier notes, with nigella, Sichuan pepper and cassia as spicy undertones. We used Kazaar in an Espresso Martini, which we called Kazaar Kickstart, as a welcome drink for the dinner and Dharkan in the dessert - Intense Mocha: a dome filled with chocolate mousse studded with chocolate truffle bombs filled with espresso caramel and diced fresh dates, on a bed of espresso ice-cream and finished with gold leaf.

The main difference I noticed on this trip compared with previous ones was that the food scene has become more open and modern, and there's a move away from the classic (though there are plenty of traditional places that will never disappear). So you might see a 60-degree egg served with a vegetable or a foam, for example. At Zelai, they do a rich shellfish broth with tiny mussels and a feather-light, coconut milk foam - which they call mussel cappuccino on the menu. It's totally addictive. Elsewhere, spiced tuna tataki was commonplace. And Nikkei Bar, which does Japanese-Peruvian food, does a good mixed seafood ceviche with tiger's milk dressing spiked with green chilli and lime.

But there's more to Seville than tapas. The royal Alcázar of Seville palace, one of the finest 14th-century examples of Moorish architecture with expansive, beautifully designed and maintained gardens, sits at the heart of the city; a day can easily be spent idly wandering within its ancient walls. Opposite is the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Mary and its gilded tower, La Giralda, originally built in the 12th century as a Moorish minaret. It's simply majestic.

The streets come alive in the early evening so wander around the districts - Santa Cruz, Centro and El Arenal. La Alameda (Alameda de Hércules), situated around a tree-lined promenade, is my favourite. Once a run-down, red-light area, it has been revitalised and is packed with families, plus a mix of gay bars, courtyard restaurants, hip cafés, tapas bars and street theatre - there's real diversity and buzz.

Tapas favourites
Eating out in Seville is all about tapas. These are my top picks.

Calle Eslava 3, La Alameda
Modern tapas - the seafood is fab. There's tiny clams and razor clams, honey-roast pork ribs and beef cheeks braised with Sherry, or squid cooked in its ink and wrapped in brik pastry. The "egg cooked at low temperature with a boletus-mushroom sponge cake" won the gold medal at the city's annual tapas contest in 2010.

Calle Albareda 22, Centro
Tapas with creative flair; must-haves are potato salad with prawns, cappuccino de mejillón (mussels) and risotto Idiazabal.

La Brunilda
Calle Galera 5, El Arenal
An upmarket experience with contemporary food and a relaxed ambience. The Andalusían gazpacho with mackerel, orange and raisins, cod fritters and garlic pear mayo, and foie a la plancha, are signatures. Tuna tataki and tomato salad, cod confit, white sausage and cauliflower cream are also go-to dishes.

La Bulla
Calle 2 de Mayo, El Arenal
New-wave tapas, a terrific wine list (many by the glass), fun friendly service and a funky room. They do a great mushroom risotto and anything with seafood, especially shrimp wrapped in a thin crisp pastry and fried, is excellent. The mini burger is cute and the salad of grilled goat's cheese and honey is also worth seeking out.

Bodeguita Antonio Romero
Calle Antonia Diaz 19, El Arenal
Traditional tapas, buzzy crowd, a real local scene. Must-haves are jamón and Manchego or goose leg with foie gras and sweetbreads.

La Azotea
Calle Jesús del Gran Poder 31, Centro
Serving modern gourmet tapas, this place is always packed. Look for the marinated salmon tartare, tuna ventresca (belly fillet) with soy sauce and grilled morcilla with caramelised onions. Great wine list, too.

Nikkei Bar
Calle Calatrava 34, La Alameda
Come here for ceviche mixto and other dishes that showcase its Japanese-Peruvian bent. It's a funky intimate space with a cool crowd and staff.

La Mojigata
Calle Moratin 15, Centro
Owner Rafa is one of the city's better-known sommeliers, so this wine bar boasts a great list and the one thing to order is the morcilla, potato and egg - cooked in a small glass jar.

Christine Manfield returns to Seville in 2014 to host a week-long residential cooking school.

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