On a fairly average Wednesday night, I took my first step on the yellow brick road to tapas overdose by visiting the first of the many restaurants bookmarked in my Lonely Planet challenge.
Bodega Santa Cruz.
Located on Calle Mateos Gago, in the Barrio de Santa Cruz (read tapas district), the restaurant is fairly unassuming. It's not trendy nor does it have a waiter poised to pounce on passers by with a menu. It just perches on its little corner with welcoming sound of chatter from within and people, drinks in hand, spilling out to occupy its pavement tables.
Inside menus are posted on chalk boards ready to be erased at a moments notice as dishes things sell out (as they often seem to). Even on a Wednesday, there wasn't a seat in the house so standing it was! I am far from a tapas connoisseur and I was more than slightly bewildered at the scribbles that greeted me from the board. One of the barmen asked what I wanted but there was only so long that I could stall him by asking for a glass of house white. After about 5 minutes, he must have sensed my stupid foreigner vibe as he offered to make my selection for me, asking only if I wanted meat or fish. I decided on one of each.
And this is what arrived:
Solomillo al Whiskey
Buñuelos de bacalao
Now I must say that I wasn't highly impressed in terms of presentation. Their 'put it on a plate and bung a few bread sticks or a slice of bread on top philosophy' wasn't really doing it for me. As for the offering underneath the bread mountain, it looked a bit school dinner-ish.
I braced myself but was pleasantly surprised!
The flavours were great, just like something I imagine a Spanish granny to produce at the drop of a hat for unannounced guests. Fresh ingredients and traditional flavours.
Solomillo al whiskey is pork tenderloin in a garlic and whiskey sauce. Manolo, the barman I struck up conversation with, told me that it is reputed to be the best in town. Though I've not sampled enough examples to know, I will vouch for the fact that it's pretty damn good. I loved the sweetness of the almost clear sauce and thankfully for fellow commuters on my bus home, wasn't too overpoweringly garlicy.
Buñuelos de bacalao translates as cod sweet fritters. The result is like a well seasons fish cake ball. Interesting fact: colloquially buñuelo is used to talk about shoddy work or a botched job.
As you eat what you owe is tallied on the bar with chalk, no bills or receipts here my friends.
At 5.80€ for two (substantial) tapa and a glass of house white, I was more than thrilled with the price.
I left the bar full, with a promise to return to visit my new friend Manolo and wishing I had more space to cram in more delights.
Keeping my word, I visited again on Saturday to find the bar full to bursting. I wasn't going to bother looking for a space when a voice shouting 'Señorita!' over the crowd, ushered me forward to the bar. It was literally elbow room only!
Manolo was nowhere to be seen and left to my own devices I ordered on a wing and a prayer and this is what I was bought:
Salpicón de Mariscos
Pollo al Ajíllo
Flamenquín de Chorizo.
I can't even begin to explain the happiness that these little plates of joy bought me: washed down with a ice cold beer, in a heaving bar, amidst the almost deafening conversation levels of the locals. For me, this is what life in Seville is all about! Welcome to Andalucía.
Perfect for: a quick bite by the Cathedral, an authentic bar experience, home cooking, cheap eats.
Price: 2€ to 2.5€ per plate. Alcohol was fairly darn cheap, though exacts are hard to say when your bill is whatever Manolo shouts at you!
Verdict: The perfect start to a tapas adventure.