A weekend tapas odyssey in Seville – part one: Friday evening

I don’t know how many tapas bars there are in Seville and I don’t know how many I’ve been to over the years either. But I do know that every time I go there are lots of new places to try – while also fitting in a few old favourites along the way. From traditional tiled taverns to sleek so-called gastrobars, you could go to Seville and do little else but eat tapas and drink sherry, wine and cold beers to be honest. Hang on, that’s not a bad idea…

Someone who does actually spend most of her waking hours in the tapas bars of Seville is Shawn Hennessey, who has lived in the city for more than 20 years and now runs Sevilla Tapas Tours and We Love TapasI arranged to meet Shawn early on Friday evening at the Vinería San Telmo (Paseo Santa Catalina de Ribera 4) by the Murillo Gardens on the edge of Santa Cruz, the most typical of Seville’s neighbourhoods. This area attracts a lot of tourists, so it is particularly helpful to be with someone who can sort the wheat from the chaff – or the freshly-prepared delicacies from the frozen rubbish in this case.

Before we start, I’m not saying the tapas bars mentioned here are the ‘top ten’ (or however many we end up going to) or the ‘best’ or any other ridiculous spurious claim. It is of course not an exhaustive list either; it would take years to write about all the wonderful tapas bars in Seville – although you would have a lot of fun and eat some fabulous food in the process. They are just a few of the bars and restaurants I visited on this most recent trip, which all have a lot to recommend them in one way or another.

The Vinería San Telmo is run by the charming Juan Manuel Tarquini, who has created a laidback bar with outdoor tables with a really interesting menu that peps up traditional recipes with influences from around the world. The wine list is excellent with plenty of choice by the glass. We ordered glasses of Botani, the great white wine made from Muscat grapes produced by Bodegas Jorge Ordoñez in Malaga province. We weren’t starting on the tapas just yet, but there are so many good dishes to choose from here, including squid ink spaghetti with scallops, filo pastry filled with braised bulltail and prawns fried in panko breadcrumbs on grilled courgette. Unlike a lot of tapas bars – not just in Seville, all over Spain – they actually do great salads and there is plenty of choice for vegetarians. The desserts are fabulous too, which certainly isn’t the norm. The Vinería opens every day, which is also unusual as a lot of places close at least one day a week – usually Mondays.

We walked through the lanes of Santa Cruz to the third bar to be opened by Juan Gómez and his Californian wife Jeanine Merrill, La Azotea Santa Cruz (Mateos Gago 8). This street, leading down to the cathedral, is lined with touristy places, so it helps to know which one to pick. “This used to be Bar Campanario,” said Shawn, who lived on this street for many years. I remember going there when I was a student in Seville, a long time ago now,  but I would never have recognised it if Shawn hadn’t told me. Now it is all slick and modern, with tables inside and on the pavement.

It was my first visit to this branch, although I had been to two of their other restaurants on Jesús del Gran Poder and Zaragoza, where I had eaten some terrific tapas. Like at the Vinería San Telmo, they take top-quality local produce and give it a bit of zing – traditional and contemporary at the same time. Lots of bars in Seville and around Spain are doing this now – with varying degrees of success – but La Azotea was an early adopter of the trend and has to be one of the best. They have also now opened Voraz in the Príncipes park across the river, where you can eat or just have a cocktail on the terrace.

Here at La Azotea Santa Cruz they open for breakfast too with smoothies and pancakes as well as eggs and pastries on the menu. “My only concern,” said Shawn, “is that they might become a victim of their own success. All their bars are packed as soon as they open.”

We had to have a favourite dish: coquinas (donax clams) cooked in olive oil and sherry with fried baby artichokes. I would love to have ordered the prawn, leek and cheese parcels or maybe the roast beef burger… but we had to pace ourselves. Of course, there is nothing stopping you just sitting down in one place and eating everything there, but tapas are really all about standing up and moving around from bar to bar.

It was time for something more traditional and where better than Bodeguita Romero (Harinas 10) a few minutes’ walk away? Shawn was welcomed as if she was one of the Romero family, who have been running it for more than 75 years now. Well, she does go there rather a lot and so do I whenever I am in Seville. You can sit down and there are high tables and stools outside too, but elbow your way to the steel bar to watch the waiters pulling cañas of beer one after the other and passing endless plates of tapas from the kitchen to the customers. It is almost obligatory to have the montadito de pringá, a round roll stuffed with a mixture of shredded pork and chorizo and  morcilla sausages. It’s one of the top things to do in Seville if you ask me. The marinated potatoes are just wonderful too.

We eventually shuffled off to have a look at two places nearby that I hadn’t been to before. Sahumo (Zaragoza 18) was opened at the end of 2014 by chef Darío Domínguez, who came to Seville from Tenerife – so don’t be surprised to see Canarian specialities such as papas arrugadas and mojo dips turn up on the table. This is more of a restaurant than a bar, but people still tend to order things to share, as is the norm in Seville. After the noise and frenetic vibe in some tapas bars, you might be grateful for the calm atmosphere with soothingly pale décor with open brickwork. Sahumo derives from the verb sahumar, which means ‘to perfume with smoke’, and here this refers to the aroma of herbs and the woodburning oven and grill – they use holm oak to lend a distinctive flavour to the meat.

We had some croquetas and Sahumo’s elegant take on ensaladilla, the Russian salad that is one of the most popular and traditional tapas in the city, with a glass of Knais white wine from Rueda. Then a bit of tasty, tender presa ibérica pork (a fan-shaped marbled shoulder cut) and slices of fabulous Galician entrecôte steak with a glass – or was it two? – of superb Baigorri Rioja.

Our final stop of the evening was at Petit Comité (Dos de Mayo 30) by the Maestranza opera house. Run by brothers Emilio and Álvaro Gimeno, it also looks more like a restaurant and has a smart, trendy vibe. On that warm spring evening, however, we chose to join the crowd outside, where there was a handy shelf for our wine and the little wire basket of boquerones anchovies fried in Tio Pepe sherry. Beautiful. This is another one on my list for next time as I fancy trying the octopus with parmentier potatoes and the tuna tataki. The menu may be short but everything on it looks interesting.

When I said ‘final stop’, I meant apart from going for a last drink obviously. We ended up at Le XIX (Tomás de Ibarra 9), a stylish bar in an Art Nouveau building, just around the corner.

You can read part two of my tapas odyssey here.

How to make this Seville weekend happen

Have a look at Sevilla Tapas Tours for details of the different things on offer as well as tapas, which include flamenco, learning about sherry and visiting markets. There is more information on all the places mentioned here and a lot of handy advice on the whole tapas thing in Seville. We Love Tapas offers shorter tours in Seville and Malaga.

Getting there  British Airways flies to Seville from London Gatwick – fares are often very reasonable if you can be flexible on dates.

Where to stay   The Fontecruz hotel has 40 pretty rooms around an elegant courtyard and has a very welcome outdoor pool. It is in a handy location with the cathedral and Santa Cruz on the doorstep.

Find out more   See Visita Sevilla and the official Spain tourism portal for more information. There is also a Visit Sevilla app with a useful gastronomy section with a list of tapas bars.

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