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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bad times in Spain

The down side of Spain is the huge British influence. OK so Alicante and Benidorm are famed for their all day English Breakfasts and Watney’s Red Barrel but the Brit influence is far more insidious than that.

Great local markets exist supplying fresh and local ingredients. To cook daily with only the freshest is a dream, but that is not the aim of most ex-pats.

Brilliant local breads are available from small bakeries in every part but in Alicante province Iceland seems to be the supermercado of choice for the British population.

OK I can see that some essential icons are not available – Marmite seems to be a perpetual request from my Spanish based relatives but to walk into a shop and be confronted by freezers full of Mothers Pride and Aunt Bessie’s frozen products is just plain depressing.

If Spain is the aim embrace it, don’t just convert it to a sunnier Southend.

In the small town where my brother-in-law has settled there exists a corner shop – wittily called “The Corner Shop” which supplies all your British needs from papers to Instant Whip. Just around the corner is Cornish Pride purveyors of pasties to the retired.

On the recommendation of a 14 year old I tried their legendary Chicken Tikka turnovers and was immediately transported back home. It was that unique taste of Chip Shop Curry Sauce that provided the flavour though I have to say that the pastry was very good.

There again just a short walk away a baker was producing breads and pastries to die for.

Why go to another country and import your food from home?

And eating out was similar.

We had a superb meal locally, great taps to start, a wide choice of first courses, a range of regional dishes and desserts that were really good _ even the dreaded Flan – a Spanish staple- was fresh and tasty. Coffee and a liqueur finished the meal which, with wine thrown in cost a mere €22 per head.

There again we visited one of the worst restaurants I have ever eaten in.

It’s really good said the BIL, and the menu downloaded from the web bore this out. A wide range of dishes all of which looked delicious and a Welsh Chef using local produce to the full on an interesting a la carte menu. We piled into the car and set of for the 40 minute drive.

On arrival all looked well, a courtyard with tables or indoor eating. A chilly evening meant that indoors was best.

A 10 minute wait in an empty restaurant did not bode well and when the server eventually asked “Menu or Carvery?” my heart sank. Menu please was the request. It arrived bearing little resemblance to the one on the website.

“Oh, Chef has left” seemed to explain the changes, “but my wife has been cooking this for about a year so she’s well practiced.”

So to the meal. I ordered a starter of Crab Tuna and Prawn in a thousand Island dressing. What arrived was a travesty. Though the local fish market had all there fishy ingredients in abundance what I got was tinned Tuna, prawns that probably came from Iceland’s bargain range and worst of all Crab Sticks that had never borne any relationship to our cancerian friends, and an appalling cheap seafood sauce with Kiwi Fruit, Orange Segment and Strawberry garnish Utterly inedible though the detritus did not even rate a question from the server.

The main course was equally disappointing, a steak done to the consistency of a well- used army boot, greasy chips and a limp salad. Our party was not impressed and neither were a couple who ate there regularly under the previous chef.

To top things a table of 14 Brits were celebrating a birthday with the Carvery and the volume of their celebration was increased by the introduction of two wandering musicians who seemed under the impression that they were a Mariachi band whilst pumping out Brit Hits such as Guantamamera and Una Paloma Blanca.

The regular couple told the proprietor that they would have dessert in the bar as it was more peaceful and told me that they had been coming long enough to tell him exactly what they thought of the food and the experience.

It turned out that a local Carvery had opened and the owners were rushing to counter its success by introducing their own, cutting down on the menu and the quality of the ingredients used. The race to the bottom was more likely to be a race into bankruptcy than the salvation of the business.

Dessert was quite good though totally un-memorable.

The BIL was mortified by the experience and vowed never to return. I don’t think that he will have to, judging by our experience and the fact that, apart from the birthday crowd and our party of 5, there were 2 diners suggests that the restaurant will not be operating by now – hence my not naming it.

Good food gone bad, local dishes replaced by euro-pap and an attempt to bring the Harvester to Valencia – needless to say the owners were Brits.

One good introduction from these islands was found unexpectedly in the small mountain town of Mura. Turning a corner in the perpetual search for Café Solo I came upon a branch of Supervalu!!!

This should be good I told the BIL, in Ireland they champion local produce and high quality. And they did. Local meats and cheeses, fresh bread, great local vegetables and fish so fresh that it made even the fish market look stale and tired. Add to this a brilliant array of wines again many very local and you had a pleasure to behold.

Compare Supervalu to Iceland and there is no contest. Supervalu did what it does in Ireland, concentrate on good, seasonal and local produce, Iceland does what it does in the UK knock out frozen generic brands.

Sadly the majority of Brits who move to Spain only want the weather and do not want to embrace the culture or the foods, and want to live in the seventies as well.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - and so true in every respect (don't know about SuperValu - seen them in Ireland not in Spain). How successful all these carvery/all day breakfast places are can be plotted by returning to the same resort 2/3 times and tracing the changes (i.e. demise) of these places. The retirement dreams of amateur caterars turned to dust. As for the Brits who prefer them to the great Spanish food...