Burgundy on the Costa Brava

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   At 8.30 pm, as the sun finally set, the outline of Villa Más, one of Europe’s most unusual restaurants, finally began to take shape. It is located in the centre of the bay of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, an hour’s drive up the coast from Barcelona. The building itself is a tall, high-ceilinged affair, built around 1910, in a town whose numerous elegant villas still resonate with the natural beauty of the Costa Brava. Its transformation into a restaurant has…






24 hours in Bilbao

Bilbao, capital of Basque country in north-western Spain, is a city I am particularly fond of. I was sent here for the first time in 1977 to sort out the office of the metal-trading company I was then working for and it was here that I first fell in love with tapas, known here as pintxos, the ritual of walking between one good bar and another, devouring bowls of the tiny elvers, so charged with electricity that they have to be eaten with a wooden spoon, that were even then…






San Sebastian (part 2)

San Sebastian (part 2) – 2005 On our second visit to San Sebastian this year, this time to celebrate a significant family birthday, a couple of specific reasons became obvious for this historic city’s plethora of exciting places to eat and drink, only a handful of which are described below. The first hit me as we emerged from the underground car park below the Hotel Niza right on the sea front. There was an immediate tang at the back of my throat as the salty wind blew in across the…






Truffle hunting in Spain

Truffle hunting in Spain – 2001 The trade in black truffles which begins in early December in the most inaccessible, rugged but stunningly beautiful parts of rural France, Spain and Italy and lasts until early March, has a lot in common with the world’s narcotics trade. Both are highly secretive. Both are highly profitable cash crops. A great deal of both businesses is carried on in nondescript, discreet corner locations by individuals suspiciously sporting large, gold Rolexes and with powerful Mercedes parked nearby. And some of the faces and characters…






Eating out in Madrid; not yet as exciting as the rest of Spain

Eating out in Madrid; not yet as exciting as the rest of Spain – 2003 For those fortunate enough to keep a watching eye on the ever changing progression of chefs worldwide there is considerable consensus that the three most culinarily exciting countries at the moment are Australia, Spain and the USA (although I wholeheartedly campaign for British chefs and not, I can assure you, on nationalistic grounds). And whilst the inclusion of Spain obviously brings a surge of pride to most Spaniards it does not have the same effect…






A more successful trip to Madrid

A more successful trip to Madrid – 2004 Madrid remains impressively distinctive. The taxi drivers have strong opinions on the restaurants they take people to. Restaurants which are empty at 1.30pm are packed at 3.30, and cigar smokers are encouraged at every turn. But radical change is afoot. The city’s traditional taverns are closing even faster than the almost weekly opening of a new Asian-influenced restaurant. In the middle of this flux, it seemed an opportune moment to visit restaurantes de producto ,raw material restaurants which have been the staple…






Marbella and Ronda

Marbella and Ronda – 2004 At 8.00am as I walked towards the central market in Marbella, southern Spain, the first of the numerous fish wholesalers’ vans, which would later in the day be delivering to the town’s many hotels and restaurants, were just beginning to arrive with their catches. The next hour, before the retailers’ shutters were rolled up, proved a wonderful time to explore the old part of Marbella right next to the market. In contrast to the rest of this rapidly expanding town of determinedly modern shopping centres…






Martin Berasategui

Martin Berasategui 2005 As soon as the smoked tuna consommé was poured from a glass phial on to a bowl of diced sea urchins and watercress gelatine, the pure sea aromas that rose from our table immediately took me back to my one trip to Japan five years ago. Yet this was ten thousand miles away in Martin Berasategui’s hugely impressive restaurant in Lasarte, a busy but otherwise unprepossessing suburb of San Sebastian, northern Spain. Nor had Japan directly inspired this talented chef as when we spoke later he confessed…






An idyllic outpost in North-Eastern Spain

An idyllic outpost in North-Eastern Spain – 2001 Over a bottle of Catalan Vichy water in the early evening sunshine Josep Maria Boix revealed the obvious, but to me hitherto unappreciated, connection between breakfast in an hotel and a cup of coffee at the end of dinner in a restaurant. ‘The majority of my guests check out after breakfast, so what we serve at 10am is invariably the lasting impression of their stay with us regardless of what they ate and drank at 10pm the night before. It has to…






San Sebastian (part 1)

San Sebastian (part 1) – 2005 I had witnessed Juan Mari Arzak, Spain’s most respected chef, from a distance twice before I had the pleasure of eating in his restaurant in San Sebastian. On the first occasion he had held an audience of several hundred young Spanish chefs spellbound while conducting a culinary demonstration at Madrid Fusion, the annual culinary exhibition. On the second, I had sat round a lunch table in Paris with him and half a dozen other top chefs as they swapped professional secrets. My initial impression…