A Tapas Tour? Don't mind if we do...
Andrew and I are feeling a little bit fragile today.
Today is my birthday, and I am not normally one for a great big occasion, but somehow we have found ourselves in the middle of a weekend with a fair amount occasion-ing.
Recently, for the radio programme, I got to meet a fabulous guest in Granada who runs an organisation called Granada Tapas Tours. Gayle Mackie originally hails from Aberdeen but has been in Granada for so long, and is so deeply embedded in the culture, food and wine scene in her adopted city that it is hard to believe that she has lived anywhere other than this glorious place. After the radio chat, Gayle suggested that she took Andrew and I on one of her foodie trails around some of Granada’s hidden bars. As you will have read in a previous post, we have our own small collection of favourite places to go for tapas but, as Gayle mentioned on the radio, Granada has something like 2,400 bars and restaurants, so our collection of 5 favourites seems rather paltry.
We arranged to meet Gayle on the day before my birthday, at lunchtime, allowing us plenty of time before we had to go out for dinner at the restaurant that Andrew had arranged to mark my big day!
Before I go any further, I will need to say that I can’t possibly tell you the names or locations of the four bars we visited with Gayle as they are a secret! If you’d like to sample the Tapas Tours experience then you will have to get in touch with Gayle….that only seems fair.
We met Gayle in one of the main squares in Granada, and had already briefed her on the bars we knew and frequented just so that we would not be disappointed at being taken to a place that was familiar.
All the bars we visited were within was reach of each other, so between drinks and eats, we just had quick trots to the next hostelry. Granada Tapas Tours is a slight misnomer as meeting Gayle and being shown her own side of Granada is far more than a mere sampling of small plates of food. Gail has visited vast numbers of the 2,400 bars and restaurants mentioned above - maybe not 100%, but not too far off! This lunchtime odyssey was about the ambience of the four very different places, the wines, vermouth, sherry, characters and, of course, the tapas.
The first watering hole we went to is one of a small clutch of bars that we walk past regularly, yet we have never really seen this little place. Inside has remained largely unchanged for decades, and this is the place to come to sample wines. There is a huge range, and the bar itself is surrounded by vertical lists of red wines and white wines available by the bottle, and then horizontal lists outline the wines available by the glass. A map on the wall illustrates all the wine producing areas in Spain and the grapes grown, and the bar’s menu allows you to make a selection with ease. We selected two different white wines from the small producing area of Bierzo in the north of Spain: Godello Dominio Tares and Godello Mara Martín. Both were delicious. We tend to take the easy option when we eat out, grabbing a Rueda or a white Rioja, and we really need to widen our horizons. The Godello Dominio Tares was particularly pleasing! This is a bar that fills up in the colder winter months; the owners know their wines, and the interior oozes character. Every time Gayle visits, she is regaled with some new tale - this time, we were shown the brass finger plates on the doors, and in the corner of each one there were etched 3 swords - the hallmark of the maker.
The tapas was a simple but delicious affair; we were here for the wines and the character of the place.
Our next stop was a bar that, again, we have seen before and have said we must visit but have not quite got round to it. The bar has been here for many years, but recently it closed and was left empty until it reopened within the last 3 or 4 months. In fact, Andrew and I were at another bar opposite on what we think might have been the inauguración of the new incarnation. This is a bar to visit for the history and the tapas, as opposed to an inexhaustible wine list. Inside, there are 4 columns supported a very old timber ring beam that used to surround a patio open to the elements. There is one corner in the bar area known as Flamenco corner, and the walls are dotted with images of Flamenco dancers, singers and guitarists. On the other side of the door is Lorca corner, a quiet spot for Granada’s literati, perhaps. Gayle has witnessed a rare impromptu performance of Flamenco in this bar - flamenco these days tends to take the form of a more commercial tablao, or organised performance, and the spontaneous element is difficult to find.
On one wall, en effigy of the Virgin Mary is flanked on both sides by figures of two rather weather-beaten sailors; not quite sure why, but that is part of the charm. A photo on the wall features a regular customer, known as something of an ageing lothario and any women who venture into the bar may become a slight focus of his (harmless) attentions. Gayle received a proposal of marriage in this small establishment on the understanding that she would be fifth in line after the 4 pre-existing and still very much present spouses. Surely a tempting offer?
We had cañas here - quick bursts of ice cold beer - but more tapas than we could shake a stick at! The new owner, Leo, is a charmer and we had carne con salsa (but a particularly good recipe), salted roast almonds on the side, arroz (not to be confused with paella) and another round of drinks!
Andrew had mentioned that he’d like to try Vermouth on this little journey of discovery. Vermouth (Vermut) is a very popular tipple in these parts, and in many of the bars you will find wooden barrels behind the counter bearing the Vermut label. So, we left Bar No 2 and after a short walk we came upon yet another bar we had spied on numerous occasions and remarked that we must try it; we’re full of good intentions. The bar is on a fairly main boulevard, and always looks well populated, and it was here that we sampled vermuth and a delicious Manzanilla.
Again, this bar, now looking fairly modern having been restored and updated, has a lot of history. It used to be very male! An Alpujarra-woven curtain used to hang over the door, and this was a man’s domain with a cobbler located next door. The local men used to tell their wives that they were off to get their shoes repaired, would leave them (the shoes, not the wives) at the cobblers, nip next door for a tipple (or three) and return home some hours later. There was no loo - just a sort of open hole arrangement in one corner (long since gone, I hasten to add).
For some 40 years, the bar was run by two brothers who couldn’t stand the sight of each other, apparently, so one brother manned one length of the bar, and the other manned the part running perpendicular, and never the twain shall meet. The tapas is great, more along the lines of a montadito, and the Manzanilla and Vermut well worth the trip.
Our last bar (we could only really fit in 4 bars, although we had discussed the idea of rounding off proceedings with a healthy dose of gin) was, again, very different. This bar was tucked down a tiny side street, and I kept frantically trying to get my bearings so I would remember where these places were. It is modern in style, both inside and out, and the wines are fabulous and that is why we were here. On one wall, there is a large wooden wine rack that slides, Hogwarts-like, to reveal the owner’s magical cellar. Gayle is like a daughter/sister/best friend to all these bar owners, and she makes herself, and her guests, very much at home. Following a chat with the owner, and clutching 5 or 6 different of bottles, she gave us a mini educative tour of some reds and whites that we might like. Neither Andrew nor I are massive fans of red wine (sacrilegious, we know!) but we did sample one rather lovely example, Honoro Vera. This particular wine was selected, through a blind tasting, to be the official red wine served at one of the Oscar events (in 2015?). My favourite here was a fresh and fruity Viognier called Nicte, and I could have settled in with a bottle of this for the rest of the afternoon.
The tapas in this bar was interesting, beautifully presented and delicious - shredded duck, and the tastiest 3-cheese quiche.
So, four fabulous secret bars. We had a chat in some length about what was special about the Granada Tapas Tour, and we reached the conclusion that Gayle and her team are the secrets behind the experience. Anyone can wander around Granada and dip into one or two of the many bars, and in some cases the experience will be great, and in other cases it might be less great. Many visitors to Granada still can’t get used to the idea that tapas, with drinks, is free, and these small plates do vary in quantity and quality. Many locals will frequent the bars where they know the tapas comes in very generous portions, and will avoid those bars that tend to only serve up a small bowl of olives.
What we got on our little journey was that feeling that you belong. You get introduced to the owners as being ‘friends’ or important visitors. We get an insight into the quirky sides of the city’s history: this is so much more than the Moors, the Christians and the Alhambra - this is about family feuds, men slipping away for a quicky on the pretext of having their shoes repaired, regular patrons who believe they are Don Juan and the chance that a genuine gypsy dancer or singer may well start to feel the Duende. We sampled some delicious and unknown Spanish wines, and ate large amounts of equally scrumptious food. It was a genuinely wonderful experience.
If you would like to find out more information about Granada Tapas Tours go to www.granadatapastours.com