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6 December 2019

A Long Weekend in Seville: Bex's Guide

For the past two years, my mum and I have taken a short European city break together — Budapest last year and Prague the year before. This year, we flew south instead of east to Seville, Spain's fourth-largest city and the capital of Andalucía. Although I've been to Spain a number of times, my visits to date have been centred around Barcelona and Bilbao, so it was great to finally go to the south of the country. We spent three full days in Seville, arriving on Friday evening and flying home late on Monday night. Although we were there in late November, the weather was very nice too: it was around 15 degrees and sunny for most of our trip, even if the drizzle did emerge on our last day.



THINGS TO DO
Plaza de España. As we were blessed with glorious sunshine on our first morning in Seville, we decided to go to the Plaza de España, a stunning plaza built for the Ibero-American exposition of 1929, first thing. The colourful mix of architectural styles looked particularly lovely in the morning light. It was already fairly busy, although became even busier than by the time we left. We had both assumed that the plaza would be worth a quick wander and a few photos, but there's lots to explore and we spent an hour crossing the bridges, climbing the stairs and checking out the colourful murals that celebrate each of Spain's provinces.



Seville Cathedral. Seville seems to like its superlatives and its cathedral remains the third-largest church, and the largest gothic church, in the world. It is indeed huge and to call it 'very ornate' is a massive understatement. Ah, Catholic gilt... We booked our tickets online in advance and indeed, there was a long line outside on Saturday afternoon. My favourite part was climbing up the Giralda, the bell tower, via a steeply winding ramp that allowed donkeys to carry imams up to conduct the call to prayer. From the top, there are great panoramic views of the city and close-up views of the massive bells in the open bell tower.



Real Alcazár. We booked our tickets in advance for the immense royal palace too, and again were grateful when we saw the long queue outside. Built for the 14th century King Peter of Castile, the palace exemplifies the Mudéjar architectural style, with many Islamic influences. There are many rooms and even more courtyards and gardens to explore, and without a logical route to follow, I was worried we were going to end up missing some locations. Perhaps we did, but what we saw, from the stunning tiling and golden domes, to leafy labyrinths and shaded gardens, was more than enough for one visit.




Las Setas de Sevilla. The Metropol Parasol, better known as the Setas (mushrooms) on account of their shape, won a competition to decide what should occupy Plaza de la Encarnación. For €3, you can ride the lift to the top of the 22-metre wooden structure, which offers a good view of the city and a rather unusual perspective as you follow the track across the top of the 'mushrooms'. Don't forget to visit the food market on the ground floor, where Corta y Cata serves some of the best jamón ibérico in the city. We bought several vacuum-sealed packages to take home.




Santa Cruz. We were staying in the former Jewish district of Seville and loved exploring its winding lanes, interspersed with leafy plazas.



Triana. We enjoyed a pleasant stroll in the Triana neighbourhood of Seville, on the west side of the River Guadalquivir. Calle Betis, which runs along the river, and the two or three streets parallel to it are particularly lovely, with attractive architecture and numerous churches, like the Capilla de los Marineros. We visited the small but interesting Centro Cerámica Triana, and did a little ceramics shopping afterwards. The Mercado de Triana, and neighbouring (and underlying) Castillo de San Jorge, with its distinctive dome, are also worth a visit.




La Macarena. On our last day in Seville, we spent several hours loosely following a walking tour in the Macarena district, a short walk north of the city centre. There are dozens of churches, palaces and historic buildings to visit. We particularly liked visiting the small hidden gem that is the Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba, the larger, grander 14th century Palacio de las Dueñas, and the Mercado de Triana. After ambling along the remains of the old city walls, we completed our tour of La Macarena and headed back to the centre.



FOOD & DRINK
My speciality coffee guide to Seville is already live. Here are some of the other eats and drinks we enjoyed during our trip (spoiler alert: jamón ibérico features heavily).

Spain Food Sherpas tapas tour. With so many tapas bars in Seville, it should be hard to go wrong, but my mum and I deferred to the experts on our first trip to the city. We booked a tapas tour with Spain Food Sherpas on our first full day in the city, which was €69 per person, including all food and drink, for a 3.5-hour tour. We ended up being the only participants on our tour with the knowledgeable Cristina, and had an enjoyable evening, visiting tapas spots from the traditional (El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670) to the more modern (Septimo, for hummus and guac, followed by melt-in-the-mouth pork cheek), via Bodeguita Romero for perfect tiny sandwiches called montaditos, and Bodega La Aurora for my favourite dish of the night: chorizo in infierno (see below). Cristina gave us lots of tips for places to eat and drink during the rest of our stay, and I'd highly recommend the tour.




Confitería La Campana. We visited this patisserie, which has been operating since 1885, for breakfast one morning. We perched at the brass counter and, although my Spanish isn't bad, I wasn't sure of the vocabulary of many of the sweet treats on offer and just pointed to the twisted, ring-shaped pastry I saw someone else order. I'm still not sure what it was called, but it was crumbly and sweet with a fruity glaze. The torrijas (French toast) looked great too.


Café Bar Las Teresas. We went to several traditional tapas bars during our visit but my favourite was Las Teresas, where the service was friendly, the décor was cosy, the wine was cheap and the jamón ibérico was plentiful. Although you can get a small tapa portion of ham for €2.50–3.00, we splashed out for the medio for about €9; even though we were going out for dinner afterwards, I could still have eaten more.


Mamarracha. As we arrived relatively late on Friday evening, I hadn't booked anywhere, figuring that we probably wouldn't starve. However, arriving at Mamarracha at around 9 pm and we were lucky to secure the last table. The food at this modern tapas joint was really good. We shared the smoked corn risotto, salmon tataki and a dish called paparracha, a sort of Spanish take on poutine with cheese, fried potatoes, ham and green onions. Three 'starters' and a pudding between the two of us was plenty of food. We were also amused that the 'mini G&T' on the menu came with a free pour of about three shots of gin! My only regret is that we didn't order the 'airbag ham' — I thought it was a bad translation, but it was jamón ibérico arranged over a puffed up piece flat bread, which was duly smashed on being served.


conTenedor. When looking for a late lunch in the Macarena district, I did a quick search of my Lonely Planet and found conTenedor, which was just about to open for lunch (NB: lunch is served from 1:30 to 4 pm). With colourful and quirky décor and excellent cooking, this was a great place for a leisurely lunch. Just for a change, we shared a plate of jamón ibérico to start, which was among the best of the trip. Then we shared two main courses between us: beautifully cooked turbot and a delicious pork loin with sweet potato and roasted veg. I didn't really have room for pudding, but we managed to share a cheesecake with roasted apples and pistachio ice cream. For more of a gastronomic experience, the same owners also run T.


El Pinton. This modern eatery was recommended to us by several people but was fully booked when we arrived on Friday night. Instead, we booked for Sunday night, when it wasn't quite so hectic. The room we were sitting in was beautiful, with gorgeous yellow tiling. Food-wise, we shared a burrata salad and the best croquetas of the trip (with tuna), followed by the chef's rice with squid and a delicious piece of roast salmon.




PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Accommodation: We stayed at Hotel Amadeus, a small, characterful hotel located on a tiny alley in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, which had been recommended by several friends. Unsurprisingly, the hotel has a musical theme with various instruments on display throughout the property and rooms bearing the names of composers (my mum was happy to be staying in Vivaldi). The staff were very friendly, the location was great — under ten minutes' walk from pretty much everywhere we wanted to go — and the room was comfortable and quiet. Better still, the sunny, dual-level rooftop terrace had both a hot tub and great views of the cathedral and the city. We booked several months in advance, paying about £115 per night.


Arriving: Seville's airport is about 7 miles northwest of the city. Buses into the city run regularly, but as we were keen to get to our hotel and out for dinner, we took a taxi, which took about 15 minutes and cost about €25.

Getting around: Seville's city centre is small and you can easily walk to all of the main sights. There are also buses, trams and a one-line metro if you need to travel further afield.

Money: Spain uses the Euro and although credit cards are widely accepted, some of the places we visited were cash-only, so it's worth getting some Euros out in order not to be caught short. It's possible to eat and drink

very well for very little money in Seville: a bounty of tapas plates — more than enough for two people — can be had for €10.

4 December 2019

A Speciality Coffee Tour of Seville


At the end of November, I spent a long weekend in sunny Seville with my mum, my first time in the capital of Andalucía. We had three full days in the city, which gave me enough time to visit a few of the speciality coffee shops on my list — without inflicting too much coffee on my mum, who doesn't like coffee (or even the smell of it). I will be blogging separately about all of the other things we got up to during our visit; stay tuned!

Parcería Café
After two days of glorious sunshine, the drizzle set in on our final day in the city, which meant it was a good day for popping in and out of coffee shops, as well as churches and other historic buildings on our self-guided walking tour of the Macarena district in the north of the city centre. Located opposite the Mercado de Feria, a bustling indoor food market, Parcería made a great stop between visits to the market and to Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba, just around the corner.


They serve locally roasted coffee from Alquimista Coffee Lab, as well as breakfast, cakes and other light bites. We arrived mid-morning on a Monday to find the cafe almost full, but my mum secured us a table while I deliberated among the five single-origin coffees available as hand-brewed filter coffee (Aeropress, Chemex, Clever and V60).


I opted for a washed Peruvian Neuva Florida coffee, brewed through the V60, while my mum had what she declared to be the best tea of the trip. Both came beautifully presented in unique ceramic cups, and the coffee plants on the tables were a nice touch too. My coffee tasted great with chocolate and brown sugar flavours balanced with a sweet acidity. Were my tiny carry-on bag not already full, I would have bought some beans, from the wide selection available, to take home



Parcería Café is located at Calle Calderón de la Barca 9. Website. Instagram.

Torch Coffee Roasters
After a stroll through the Plaza de España on our first morning, I was in need of more caffeination, and happily, Torch Coffee Roasters, was only a short walk away. Owned by Guatemalan sisters Sara and Victoria Parish, Torch has been serving up speciality coffee to Sevillanos since 2015, with a focus on quality, sustainability and community. The café-roastery is located near the Puente San Telmo, Torre del Oro and Real Alcázar, and so very convenient for those who prefer their sight-seeing with a side of speciality coffee (or vice-versa).


Arriving late morning on a sunny Saturday, we struggled to find a table in the busy, lively cafe. Luckily, while we waited to order, a table opened up next to the small annexe containing the roaster. As for the coffee, as well as the usual espresso-based drinks brewed on the beautiful blue La Marzocco, there are hand-brewed filter coffees (V60, French press, Chemex and Aeropress), iced coffees and freshly squeezed juices on the menu. On the counter, they have cards explaining the different types of coffee and process — handy, given that a fair few other customers appeared not to have fallen down the speciality rabbit hole (yet).


There were two single-origin coffees available on filter, and I went for the washed Ethiopian Sidamo, which had lovely orange and peach notes that came through very nicely as the coffee cooled. I also bought a bag of Guatemalan Finca El Paraíso beans, which I've been enjoying at home, the Aeropress bringing out the chocolatey, nutty notes very well.


Torch Coffee Roasters is located at Avenida Paseo de las Delicias 3. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Virgin Coffee
Love them or hate them, you can't ignore the Setas de la Encarnación, the huge, mushroom-shaped wooden structure that spored in Plaza de la Encarnación in 2011. There are plenty of cafes and other eateries nearby, but for the best speciality coffee option in the area, look no further than the diminutive but delightful Virgin Coffee.


The coffee shop punches well above its tiny weight, with both espresso-based drinks and hand-brewed filter coffee on offer, as well as bags of retail beans for sale in a distinctive yellow colour. There were two single-origin coffees available on espresso, and I went for the Colombian San Miguel as a cortado. Although lacking in latte art, the coffee was well-balanced and smooth, and tasted great. There are a couple of seats inside but this is primarily a take-away joint. Do also note that only single-use cups are available, so it's worth bringing along your favourite reusable cup if you have one.


Virgin Coffee is located at Calle Regina 1. Website. Instagram.

Jester
In need of a quick breakfast close to our hotel on the first morning, my mum and I stumbled upon Jester, near the northern end of the Jardines de Murillo. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of the coffee but my cortado was very nicely brewed. The pastries were good too, although there was so much pistachio custard in mine that it was quite challenging to eat (I'm not really complaining).


Jester is located at Calle Barcelona 3. Facebook. Instagram.

15 November 2019

At Borough Market's Flor, Flawless Cooking and Speciality Coffee

Somehow, I still haven't made it to Lyle's, the modern British restaurant in Shoreditch, whose high-quality speciality coffee offering has won as many plaudits as the food. Luckily for me, a sister restaurant, Flor, opened up closer to home, in Borough Market, a few months ago. I've now visited twice, experiencing both a light breakfast at the downstairs bar and a lunch in the tiny but beautifully designed upstairs dining room.


In a stuffier establishment, I might have felt out of place showing up for breakfast in my running kit one August morning, but at Flor, the welcome was warm — while the marble counter  that occupies most of the diminutive downstairs was pleasingly cool. There isn't a coffee menu — and there's no filter coffee — but the usual espresso-based drinks are available. They rotate coffee roasters, and on this first visit, the espresso was a honey-processed El Salvador variety roasted by Berlin-based Bonanza Coffee Roasters. I ordered a piccolo, which was immaculately brewed, sweet and well-balanced.


There were a few light bites on the breakfast menu, but I was always going to have the fig and fig-leaf custard pastry, which was, by turns, crisp, gooey, sweet and tart. It was almost too pretty to eat, but needless to say, it did not last long!


I returned last week, taking the opportunity to visit on a rare day off in London. I booked a table in the upstairs dining room, which seats about 20 people. Although there were a few free tables when I climbed up the cast-iron spiral staircase at the back of the restaurant, before long, they were all full.



Once again, I started with a coffee, ordering another piccolo. There was a Ugandan coffee from Assembly in the hopper this time and again, it was very well made. After spending a week in New York where piccolos and cortados tend to be on the longer side, it was good to enjoy a more appropriately petite version.


As for the lunch menu, it included 15 dishes of varying sizes and prices. I knew that I wanted to try the scarlet prawns with yuzu kosho (£18), and that I wanted to save room for a pudding. There were lots of tempting dishes on the menu, including an oxtail muffin (which looked great), but in the end, I went for the purple sprouting broccoli tempura with bergamot (£9). I'm not sure the two dishes went very well together necessarily, but they were both delicious. The prawns were so flavourful with the yuzu kosho adding a potent citrus and chilli kick. The broccoli tempura, meanwhile, was perfectly crisp and very moreish.



For dessert, I ordered the delica pumpkin ice cream, which came with a well filled with macadamia milk and a macadamia cookie (£8) — a clever twist on the classic milk and cookies. It was not a cheap meal (£43 including service), but each item was well-executed and a delight to consume. The service was very good too, even though it was busy.


Flor. 1 Bedale Street, London, SE1 9AL (Tube: London Bridge). Website. Instagram.

For 100+ more of my favourite coffee shops in London, please check out my speciality coffee guide.

11 November 2019

An Autumnal Week in New York City

If you've been following my Instagram, you'll know that I spent a week in New York last month. I was there to work in my company's Financial District office but did get three weekend days and a public holiday free to explore in the city, and was blessed with crisp but sunny weather for most of the week. I'm lucky enough to visited New York about once or twice a year for the past quarter-century, which takes off the pressure and means coffee shops, restaurants and things to do can sometimes remain on my to-do list for a couple of years. I've already written about my most recent speciality coffee experiences here, but here's how I spent the rest of my trip.



THINGS TO DO
I took an early flight from Heathrow on the Sunday, and made it to my Financial District hotel just after 2 pm local time. I headed straight out into the sunshine, and walked up Broadway to SoHo for a spot of shopping, before cutting over to Washington Square Park. As usual, there was a lively atmosphere, music, art and poetry. I try to visit the High Line at least once each trip and although it was very busy late on Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed the art and the views as always.



Speaking of views, the following day, I took the opportunity to visit the shiny, honeycomb-like structure known as The Vessel, which is located in the Hudson Yards development, way over on the west side of Manhattan, around 30th Street. It's free to climb to the top of the structure, but you need to book a ticket online — possible only from one of the screens at its base. As it was a sunny holiday Monday afternoon when I arrived, my entry slot wasn't for another 90 minutes, although the opening of the 7 subway line meant I was able to zip up to Central Park to kill some of the time. When I returned, I spent about an hour climbing up and down the many steps of the 16-storey structure, photographing it from all angles.



As I was staying in the Financial District, I spent some time visiting some of its sights from the old — the graves of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton in Trinity Church — to the new — the ultra-modern Oculus centre — and even caught a lovely sunset over the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park. My office view remains as stunning as always!



Over the week, I spent a fair amount of time crossing the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. My standard running route goes over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and then back over the Brooklyn Bridge. I managed this twice, plus another shorter run to the middle of Brooklyn Bridge and back. Early mornings are the best time to do this, as the bridge is much quieter; later in the week, when I walked across on a sunny Saturday afternoon the bridge was completely packed. I also stopped by Washington Street in DUMBO, which offers a great view of the Manhattan Bridge between the buildings, and enjoyed an autumnal stroll through Brooklyn Heights, where I always enjoy playing a game of dream house hunting.



On Saturday, I walked over the Williamsburg Bridge from my new Nolita hotel to Williamsburg, where I brunched, shopped, visited Smorgasburg and then took the NYC Ferry down to DUMBO and the Time Out Market New York, whose rooftop offers great views of Lower Manhattan and the bridges . The following day, I took the subway to Prospect Heights to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was in full harvest festival mode.





FOOD & DRINK
As usual, I ate out a lot while in New York and this trip, I made particular efforts to visit some of the eateries and bars that had been on my list for some time.

Breakfast and brunch: I had weekend brunch at two reputed Brooklyn brunch spots while I was there: Sunday in Brooklyn (Williamsburg) and MeMe's Diner (Prospect Heights). I managed to score a seat the bar at the former by arriving soon after opening, and had the cheddar scramble with bacon and home fries, which was filling and tasty. At MeMe's, I put my name down and was able to return an hour later to take my seat at the bar, where I enjoyed a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, with a spicy twist. The food and service were great at both places. For a lighter breakfast, I always like bagels from Black Seed (Nolita), the B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese) being my particular favourite.




Dessert: While in Berlin in May, I ate at an excellent dessert bar, Coda. When I heard that a high-end dessert bar had just opened in New York's West Village, I was keen to visit. And as I had to head to JFK at around 5:30 pm on my last day, a dessert tasting menu was the perfect way to say goodbye to the city. At Marble Dessert Bar, you can pick a 'main' dessert from the short, creative menu, and you also get an amuse-bouche, a palate cleanser and petits fours. My main, which included pineapple, basil, lemon, mint and olive oil, was superb but the whole experience, sitting at the marble counter with exquisite service was greatly enjoyable. For rather less formal sweet treats, I stopped by Dough (Flatiron) for doughnuts and Dōmi @ Smorgasburg (Williamsburg) for a profiterole with Asian flavours.



Lunch and dinner: Last time I was in New York, I finally went to Emily (West Village) for a burger, which immediately joined the ranks of my all-time favourite burgers. Although Emily is most famous for its pizza, I had the burger again, and a portion of garlic-cheese bites (incredibly garlicky, incredibly moreish strips of pizza dough). Yes, I was very full for a long time. Yes, the vampires did stay away. I had another evening of carb overload in the West Village at Via Carota, where I beat the line by arriving early and alone. The 'nduja arancini, cacio e pepe and negronis were all spot on. During my trip, I also enjoyed some excellent Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas and a spicy margarita) at Rosie's (East Village), barbecue at Randall's Barbecue (Lower East Side) and fried chicken at Pat LaFrieda at Time Out Market (DUMBO). As a small atonement to these excesses, I ate at The Butcher's Daughter, a vegetarian restaurant in the Lower East Side, one night, and had a quinoa, broccoli and peanut salad, which a gorgeous dressing.




Cocktails: During my trip to Malaysia and Singapore, I reacquainted myself with the World's 50 Best Bars list. This encouraged me to fill a few gaps in my New York cocktail bar map. I started with Attaboy (#7), a Lower East Side speakeasy where there's no menu and the talented bartenders ask a few questions before surprising you with a drink. My Two Step — tequila, Cocchi, lime and muddled strawberries — was not something I'd have ordered myself but was superbly mixed. Meeting a good friend for drinks at the sleek NoMad Bar (#4) in the Flatiron district, was a rather different experience, although the cocktails were just as impeccable. The Nod to Nothing was fruity and tart but with enough creative pairings to create some very unique flavours.



The Dead Rabbit (FiDi; #22) is only two minutes' walk from my office, so of course my colleague and I headed there one evening when the wind and rain were out in full force. We sat in the Irish-pub-style downstairs bar, rather than the smarter upstairs lounge, which meant I got to enjoy a burger with my cocktail. The other bar I visited, Last Light, is located on the rooftop of Sister City, the Nolita hotel to which I moved for the end of my trip. With panoramic views up to the Empire State Building and down to Brooklyn Bridge, this is a great place to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand. I did exactly that and loved watching the lights come on. My cocktail was very good too.




SHOPPING
Despite the continued slump of the pound against the dollar, I did quite a bit of shopping on this trip, taking advantage of some of the holidays sales to shop at some of my favourite US chains like J. Crew and LOFT. I also bought some black boots from Thursday Boots, which fit perfectly and have required no breaking-in period, which is really unusual for me. There is a store in SoHo and a showroom in the Flatiron (where I had to go because they were out of my size in SoHo). I've bought a few skincare and makeup products from Glossier, but as I prefer to try before buying, I decided to visit their SoHo bricks-and-mortar store (hint: go late in the evening to avoid a queue to get in). There's a curious new department store in NoHo called Showfields, which offers a home to various online-only brands, like S'well. They also have an 'experience' (culminating in a special slide of some kind) that you can book on to. The lift was quite fun too.



HOTELS
I've visited New York in mid-October two years in a row and have found hotel rates to be especially expensive, even for this city. For most of my trip, my company paid for my room at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Financial District, which is only a few minutes' walk from the office. The rooms are small but quiet and comfortable, and if you can get a high floor, as I did, there are good skyline views of Lower Manhattan.

For the last three nights, I moved to Sister City, a new 'little sister' in the Ace Hotel family, located on the Bowery, near Prince Street, on the borders of Nolita and the Lower East Side. The location was ideal for me, and although my room was small, it was well thought out, with minimalist décor, and a very comfortable bed. There's also a utility cupboard on each floor that contained a kettle, which made me very happy. The Last Light bar, as I mentioned above, is worth a visit even if you're not staying in the hotel.