We just got back from Seville, and, if I’m honest, I was mostly there for the food. James was very keen to go because of all the history, and architecture, and culture. I am interested in those things too. But not quite as interested as I am in tapas. Hey, we are who we are.

I did my research on the food in Seville before we left, because I cannot go to any new place without obsessively researching the food on offer to make sure I am not missing any of the good stuff. So I knew where the best markets were supposed to be. I had an idea of what the local specials were. I had a couple of restaurant reservations and a good list of places that didn’t take reservations that I wanted to try. Does anyone else travel like this, by the way? I mean, obviously I’d booked somewhere to stay and plane and train tickets too, but basically my holiday preparation consisted of learning as much as I could about the local food scene.

And the results? Well, to be honest, mixed. I’d heard so much about the great cuisine in Seville that I was actually a little surprised at how hit-and-miss our experiences were. The good stuff is definitely there, but you have to work to find it. Buckle up, because this is going to be a long and rambly post. Also probably of no interest to anyone unless you’re going to Seville in the near future, but never mind.


The first thing to get used to is that everything runs on a completely different schedule to in Britain. This may sound obvious to most of you, but I hadn’t been to Spain since I was a child and it took me by surprise. I am a naturally ‘early to bed, early to rise’ person, and unfortunately this is completely the wrong kind of person to be in southern Spain. Nothing seems to open before 10am, and most stuff doesn’t really get going until 11am. If you’re wandering round at 9am or before hoping to visit a food market or get some breakfast, then you’re going to struggle. However, if you’re a night-owl, you will be in heaven.

Secondly, most things close for siesta in the afternoons, usually from around 2-5pm. We had a few instances of going somewhere in the morning, only to find it wasn’t open yet, so coming back in the afternoon, and finding we’d accidentally hit the siesta period and missed the brief window of the place being open. You really need to plan carefully. I tried checking the times that everything was open online, but the information given was rarely accurate.

Thirdly, people in Seville tend to eat lunch around 3pm, and dinner around 9.30pm. Now, I have normally had breakfast by 7am, so if I have to wait until 3pm to eat lunch I am probably going to slaughter all the people around me. We found that most places opened for lunch around 1.30pm or 2pm and we could go then, but we’d usually be the only people there until 3pm, when things started to get going properly. Ditto dinner: most places don’t even open until 8.30pm or later, and everything is pretty quiet until 9.30pm. If, like me, you’re used to lunch at 12.30pm or 1pm, and dinner at 7pm, you really have to readjust.

The other issue we hit was that a lot of places either didn’t take bookings, or only took bookings over the phone. Unfortunately – and the fault is all mine – I do not speak a word of Spanish. Really, nothing. I did French at school and can bumble by passably in that but I know no Spanish. And, as we were told repeatedly, southern Spain is not like, say, Scandinavia, where most people speak incredible English so your lack of linguistic prowess is less stark. Generally, in Seville, people really did not speak English – and, indeed, why should they? This did mean, though, that I found it almost impossible to make restaurant reservations over the phone.



I’ll start with the bad, to get it out of the way.

One particularly memorable evening saw us first in a long queue outside a particularly well-recommended restaurant before its 8.30pm opening, only to get in and have them insist they were fully booked and turn the queue of people away. ‘No problem’, we thought, ‘let’s turn to our list of other restaurant recommendations in the area’. But the first one we tried was nowhere to be found. We walked round for fifteen minutes, puzzling over addresses and maps, but completely failed to locate the place where we wanted to eat. Seville is full of tiny, winding alleyways and hidden side-streets. ‘No problem’, we thought, ‘let’s move to the third place on the list’. This place, it turned out, was closed because it was a Monday, even though it was advertised as open online. We looked at the fourth place, only to find it was a half hour walk away, which we couldn’t quite manage, as by this time it was 9pm and we were starving (Seville hasn’t got a great public transport system and is very unfriendly to cars, so we walked everywhere throughout the holiday). So we decided to go to the local square, as it was lined with restaurants, and eat at the place that looked the most promising. Big mistake. The food we got was awful, bordering on inedible. Tapas done very, very badly. Not interesting in any way: just not at all nice.

The next night we had a table booked at a restaurant that had been highly recommended online. We started to have our doubts when we got in and saw it looked like it hadn’t been re-decorated since the late 80s. They provided us with some stale bread to gnaw at while we looked down the menu, which didn’t contain a single vegetarian dish. Neither of us are vegetarians, but it didn’t seem to bode well for the attitude of the restaurant that it didn’t cater to them.

It took 50 minutes for our bland starters to arrive. Everything was incredibly dated. My main course, advertised as the fish of the day, was a piece of hake and some plain boiled potatoes, untroubled by sauce or any vegetables. Everything was very unremarkable except for the fact that my fish was sneakily sprinkled with some sort of chilli seeds, which I didn’t immediately identify as such and so unwittingly bit into. I’m pretty good with spicy food, but this was literally the spiciest thing I have ever eaten in my life. The burning immediately spread through my entire mouth and was really quite painful. It was just such an odd thing to randomly sprinkle on top of plain white fish. James’s duck breast came, weirdly, with a border of sliced raw tomatoes and cucumber, and a very sweet sauce. The whole meal was also sickeningly expensive – the most we spent on any meal in Seville despite the fact we didn’t drink (there was no drinks list and we didn’t have the will to try to surmount the language barrier to ask if there were options). A complete rip-off and massively disappointing.

Happily, there were some food highs as well as lows. Mamarracha was the first excellent restaurant we went to, and it was a relieving balm by that point because we’d already had some bad food. The grilled squid and the Iberico pork particularly stood out, and with the bill they brought us some little shots of the most exquisite sherry. I’m not particularly a sherry fan, but it was dark and cold and satin smooth, full of toffee and plum flavours. I wish I knew what it was because I would buy a lot of it.


On a day trip to Cordoba, we snagged a table at Regadera. Meltingly tender carpaccio, ceviche butterfish on braised lettuce and teriyaki, spit-roast lamb with cous cous and pate and a yoghurt dressing, and a peanut toffee banana brownie that I haven’t really stopped thinking about since I ate it. The home-baked bread was excellent – always a good litmus test, I find – and the service was incredibly friendly.




Finally, on the last day, we managed to get into Contenedor, the restaurant we’d been turned away from on the first night. More informal than Mamarracha or Regadera, offering burgers and pastela and casual sharing dishes, but still excellent quality. It sounds odd to be very enthusiastic about rice, but they served us some of the best I’ve ever tasted: black rice, slightly crispy, topped with fried squid and aioli. Also an almost poetic hazelnut chocolate torte, and an apple cheesecake that I’m going to try to recreate. And even better, absolutely astonishingly cheap.


Finally, honourable mention must be given to Freskura. Not a restaurant, but an ice cream place a two minute walk from where we were staying. Some of the most delicious gelato I’ve ever eaten, dozens of intriguing flavours, and incredibly generous portions. I always made James come here with me for consolation ice cream after a disappointing meal and it was very cheering.



When we arrived in Seville, our host helpfully pointed out all the food markets on a map for us. It’s like he knew me. On our first morning, we headed off to the one he’d told us was the oldest and the best: Triana.

Firstly, of course, it wasn’t really ready when we got there at 10am – see earlier paragraph about everything opening late in Seville. The building itself was open and you could wander in, but most stalls still had their shutters down. So we went for a wander around the neighbourhood and came back an hour later. At which point it was maybe two thirds open.

From what we saw when we were in Seville, the food markets there are very traditional. We visited three, and they all seemed to have four types of stalls: meat and fish; fruit and vegetables; cheese; bread. These would be repeated three or four times throughout the market, and while I am sure they all had their own individual characters, the differences weren’t discernible to a passing tourist. I realise I have been very spoiled by the excellent food markets in the UK. While the produce we purchased from the stalls was of good quality, I was a little disappointed by the lack of variety. I was hoping for more unique stalls – maybe oils, spices, sauces, teas and coffees, chocolates, patisserie, or interesting alcohol on top of all the basics. There also didn’t seem to be much of street food culture – people were there to buy produce rather than eat. This is probably all to the good, because actual locals shop in these markets and they haven’t just been redesigned for tourists. Still, as a tourist, I wouldn’t have minded if they’d gone the other way a bit.



We stayed in an Airbnb rather than a hotel, so we made a couple of little supermarket trips to stock up on a few things to eat at our flat when we weren’t eating out. We never found any big supermarkets while we were there – it was mostly little local shops, although I am sure bigger places could have been found on the outskirts of the city. It’s always interesting (to me anyway) to wander around supermarkets in different countries and see what you can and can’t buy there. For example, in Seville the supermarkets all had a dizzying array of meats, particularly ham. However, we couldn’t find – literally, we couldn’t, we really looked – fresh milk sold anywhere. All that was on offer was UHT cartons. I don’t really care about this, but James drinks coffee and eats cereal so found it more problematic.

Also, generally things were a lot sweeter. I was surprised, because I wouldn’t think of Spain as a country that added sugar to things at random. But we couldn’t find any plain unsweetened yoghurt – even the stuff labelled plain Greek yoghurt was almost inedible as it was so sweetened. However, we were ‘reading’ labels purely through Google translate, so it’s entirely possible we could have been missing the good stuff. Juices and smoothies were much sweeter than our English palates were accustomed to. Good chocolate was also very hard to come by. I tried a couple of varieties when I was there and none were nice. There were piles of turron (Spanish nougat) everywhere though. This stuff is tasty, but again, pretty much pure sugar.


Bakeries and patisseries didn’t seem very common in Seville, and we only saw a couple during our time there. La Campana was excellent, and clearly beloved, because it was packed with winding queues when we visited. They sold a vast variety of little Spanish almond biscuits, and some intriguing pastries. I didn’t get to try one of those though because I was too busy eating an entire tray of the biscuits. I regret nothing.



This post probably sounds more negative than I intended it to. Of course, I am only talking about the food in Seville, and we also saw and did some wonderful things that were not food-related and so have no place on this blog. Also, we were only in Seville for four days, so barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. But, for what it’s worth (which I am aware is very little), these are my observations.


One final thing to add, and one of my favourite things about Seville, is that the orange trees are everywhere. Really, everywhere. Lines of them down every completely normal city street. I suppose for them an orange tree is the equivalent of our apple trees. But you don’t find apple trees flanking every standard city pavement. The oranges weren’t ripe enough for picking when we visited, but in a couple of months the sight will be even more extraordinary. It’s such a simple thing, but while we were in Spain I didn’t even come close to getting over the novelty of walking under orange trees wherever we went. It’s really something quite special.


Review: The Porterhouse, Oxford

When my husband and I dropped into The Porterhouse for a Saturday lunch, I wasn’t intending to review the place. But we decided pretty immediately that the pub was worthy of a full write-up. Oxford has been in need of a great steak spot, and I’m pretty sure this is it. The Porterhouse has been put together with thought and attention to detail, and deserves to thrive.

We visited on a Saturday lunchtime, when the pub was quiet. It’s only been open for a few months, and they’re obviously still building up their customer base. As they’re tucked away down a residential side-street, you’d be unlikely to notice The Porterhouse unless you went looking for it on purpose. Once you make it there, though, you’ll be happy with what you find. The building has been renovated, and decorated with a careful eye: the dark blue walls, buttery leather banquettes, and  alternating warm wood and gleaming chrome tables all work together to give a warm and welcoming impression.


There’s a dining room area, which is slightly more formal, and the main pub room, which has a beautiful bar and is dog-friendly. We settled into a cosy leather booth in the dining room and got stuck in to the menu.

The pub has an extensive drinks selection. There’s beer, obviously, but also a carefully curated wine list, a selection of decent whiskeys, and (to my delight) some really excellent cocktails. I don’t drink beer, so it’s always a disappointment to me when a pub doesn’t really offer anything beyond beer and mediocre wine. Since cocktails were on offer, James had a Bloody Mary (he was feeling delicate), and I had a Campari Spritz and, later, and Old Fashioned.  The drinks were all well-balanced and made with quality ingredients, and were enjoyed rather too quickly by us both.



Obviously, with a name like The Porterhouse, you can expect steak to feature fairly heavily on the menu here, and they don’t disappoint. A comprehensive steak menu board features the changing cuts on offer depending on what’s best from their supplier at Smithfield Market. All are served with chips and salad with options of varying sauces and additional sides. That said, if you were dining in a mixed group where not everyone was a steak eater, you’d still be grand as they offer some fish and vegetarian options, as well as some non-steak meat dishes such as poussin or a mixed grill. We were also told that, with a little notice, they’ll do vegan food. Top marks from me: I eat everything, but I do have plenty of vegan friends and it’s good to know you could feed a varied crowd here too.

That being said, we were not there for vegan food. We were there for steak.


James had a medium ribeye with the requisite chips and salad, and a pepper sauce. I went for a rare fillet, with a bearnaise sauce. The meat at The Porterhouse is dry aged for 42 days, then cooked in a charcoal-fuelled Bertha oven that can reach 350C, and wow, does it pay off. The steaks delivered to our table smelled incredible and looked very tempting: plump and juicy with a gorgeous outer char. Both of our steaks were cooked very well.

I am picky about steak, because it’s so easy to do wrong and so delicious when it’s done right, and I was totally happy here. The meat had a real depth of flavour and a meltingly tender texture. The salads were simple yet considered – fresh, and lightly dressed – and the sauces were bang on. The chips, while definitely good, were not the best I’ve ever had – but this is a minor quibble on what was a fantastic plate of food. Everything was seasoned to perfection and it really made the simple flavours shine.


James (lightweight) couldn’t manage pudding, but I have never turned down a dessert menu and I wasn’t about to start just because I’d eaten a steak the size of my face. The list was short but sweet (see what I did there?) and I would have happily devoured any of the options. My usual M.O. is to go for whatever the chocolate option is (in this case, a fig and bourbon brownie), but there were other tempting things on offer.

Lovely Chris, who was serving us, noticed my quandary, and very kindly brought me a little portion of the brownie to try while I made my decision, so that I was free to pick another option, having sampled ‘the chocolate thing’. I know brownies, and believe me, this was an excellent brownie. Rich, dark, fudgy, and full of flavour and texture from the bourbon and fig. I’ll definitely order it again when I go back. The dessert I actually got, in the end, was the rhubarb and ginger crumble, which was served with a perfect custard and was also exemplary.


The Verdict – The Porterhouse

I am fairly particular about restaurant food these days – especially simple dishes where there is no room to hide – and I thought that the food at The Porterhouse was top-notch. The service also deserves a mention: Chris was friendly, knowledgeable, generous, and attentive without crowding us. They also have rooms on the upper floors, which we got a sneaky peak into, and they’re lovely – tasteful, comfortable, and immaculate. It’s exactly the sort of place I’d recommend to anyone coming to Oxford to stay. In essence, The Porterhouse provides classic British grill fare, but it does it very, very well. If you’ve not tried it yet, get a move on.


Review: Abingdon Food Festival

The Abingdon Food Festival has a great deal to recommend it. This was its fourth year, and yet I’d never been before: James and I made the journey down to Abingdon to see what we could see, and came away very full and happy, occasionally turning to each other and saying things like ‘That was really very good, wasn’t it?’

The festival’s location couldn’t be better. They make use of a beautiful riverside meadow, which is not only convenient – providing plenty of space and lots of parking – but picturesque, with boats moored all along the side of the festival site and green space all around. The setting contributes to the laid back, friendly atmosphere of the event. There were dogs and children everywhere, and plenty of seating provided and space to wander without feeling crowded. The volunteers on the gate and giving out information all seemed lovely, and I was very happy that the low £3 suggested entry price went to charity, having recently attended a food festival that cost more than £20 per person to enter  – and that’s before you’ve even bought any food…


My general approached to these events is to come early to avoid queues and to make sure I am very hungry, thereby enabling myself to eat enough to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Being obsessive, I like to do a lap of the whole site and see what’s on offer before committing to buying anything, wary of missing out on something for fear of not seeing it before I’ve already stuffed my face.

At the Abingdon Food Festival, James derailed this sensible system by dragging me over to Dick’s Smokehouse immediately and demanding the pulled pork in a charcoal brioche bun with apple and fennel relish. It transpired that we were the stall’s first customers at their first ever event so, feeling very honoured, we tucked into our, er, breakfast. It was a delicious twist on the classic pork and apple combination, the meat flavourful and succulent, the charcoal brioche adding a bit of interest and texture, and the fennel present but not overpowering. The stallholders were lovely and their branding is bold and on-point, as proven by the fact that James immediately made a beeline for them – I’ll definitely keep an eye out for them in the future.


My next pick was Polentista, who I’d never seen before and whose menu sounded delicious – I am, at heart, a carb lover. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to approach them and hear that they weren’t ready to serve food yet, despite it being 11am and the festival having opened at 10am. I don’t know if they’d had problems in the morning, but I was sad not to be able to try their gnocchi and polenta chips – next time! Instead we ended up with a satisfying pile of nachos from Hillbilly’s, which hit the spot. Maybe not the most original dish, but hey, they were well-made and delicious. James then grabbed a marshmallow lolly from the very friendly woman at Cottage Sweets, and consumed it in about forty-five seconds before proceeding to chew the stick, which I will take as a positive review.


Being somewhat of a brownie connoisseur (read: greedy brownie obsessive), I was keen to try the crème brûlée brownie from Ridiculously Rich. It’s pretty rare for me to come across a twist on brownies I haven’t seen before, so thanks Abingdon Food Festival. The brownie was a little thinner than I’d usually go for, but the topping was creamy and well-made, and the brownie itself was decadently chocolatey and more-ish. I am willing to concede that most people have a lower brownie tolerance than I do and would have found anything thicker too rich. The peanut butter fudge cake was a delight because, well, peanut butter fudge cake.


There was a great selection of alcohol at the festival, and I was happy to see stalls selling an impressive variety of good wines, as well as the beer and cider vendors that you’d expect to see at these events. Sadly, one of us had to drive home, so I didn’t get to sample the wines, but James very much enjoyed an unusually dry and flavoursome pint of Hitchcox Cider (I may have had a sneaky sip, just to test it) that was sold to us by the owner, a lovely guy. They also had a impressive range of drinks on offer, including loads of varieties of cider ranging from dry to sweet, as well as cider cocktails. Finally, before heading home, we grabbed a classic beef and Stilton pie from Brockleby’s, which was very much enjoyed for dinner later that evening.

Would we return?

Obviously we couldn’t sample everything we wanted to at the festival, and I was also sorely tempted by Caribbean and South African stalls in particular, but we very much enjoyed all we ate and had a great time chatting to the friendly vendors. With live music and cookery demonstrations as well as an impressive collection of all sorts of food from around the world, Abingdon Food Festival was the perfect place to while away a few hours, and we will certainly return next year.