Friday, 18 October 2013

Review - La Cantina, Calle León y Castillo, La Vila de Teguise, Lanzarote

For the last four year, our main holiday has been on the beautiful Canarian island of Lanzarote, where we have enjoyed the home comforts of a villa holiday. Most of our days are spent lazing by the swimming pool before I get busy preparing dinner at the barbecue. Of course, whilst on holiday, we still want to try out some of the restaurants on the island so we always put aside a few evening that we can get out and about.
Having settled into our villa in Playa Blanca on the Thursday, our first planned meal was set to coincide with a live music performance at a restaurant owned by friends of ours, Benn & Zoe.
The sun was just beginning to set as we made our way to the old capital, Teguise, where La Cantina is located. The drive took 45minutes from Playa Blanca, and by the time we had worked our way across the wine region, La Geria, it was dark by the time we reached our destination. The sunset views over La Geria made the long drive worthwhile.
Manto - Malvasia Volcanica Seco
I had previously made a reservation and upon arrival we were shown quickly to our table in the secret garden. In recent years the wine from Lanzarote has been receiving rave reviews from those in the know. The fact that grapes can grow in the volcanic ground is a mystery, so to be able to produce award winning wines is truly a great achievement. We ordered a bottle of my favourite island wine Manto - a crisp, dry Malvasia, then sat back to climatize as we cast our eyes over the menu.
The menu at La Cantina is a mix of tapas dishes and plated dishes, and whilst the range of choice is not huge, there is a running theme through the food on offer - Flavour, Flavour, Flavour.
We decided to order a couple of the tapas dishes to share as a starter. The bruschetta con tomate was wonderful. Two giant squares of lightly toasted bread, topped with the sweetest marinaded fresh tomatoes and some grated cheese for good measure. This is a dish that is served the world over, however I honestly can't remember tomatoes tasting so good!
To accompany our bruschetta, we had a platter of Lazarote cheeses with warm bread. We both love the local cheeses, and the selection we had was a great balance of soft and mild to hard and strong flavoured cheese. There are lots of cheeses produced on the island using goats, sheep and cows milk, or combinations of. Most of the islands cheese is consumed either by the hundreds of restaurants or the locals, however there are specially packed cheeses that you can bring home with you.
Both tapas were good sized portionsand great value at €4.95 each, and with hindsight I think the bruschetta would have been ample starter before our mains.
After a short break when we were able to grab quick chat with Benn as he wandered the floor making sure that the evening diners were being looked after. Zoe had the evening off but was expected to be in later in the evening.
For her main, Nicola had ordered Ropa Vieja, which translates as "Old Clothes". Ropa Vieja is a dish that is common across the Caribbean but that originated in The Canary Islands. The islands were often the last stop for Spanish ships before they set sail to the Americas, continued migration between the Canary Islands and the carries meant that the dish crossed the ocean sand became a staple on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ropa Vieja was originally a stew like dish made using leftovers, usually chicken, beef or pork in a tomato sauce. In the Canary Islands, chick peas and potatoes are usually in the mix.
Nicola isn't normally a big stew fan she easily worked her way through the Ropa Vieja with a big grin on her face. With loads of chicken, chorizo, lardons, pork, celery, carrot, tomatoes, potato, chickpeas, theis slow cooked bowl of flavour was a winner with Nicola and since we returned from our holidays, she has urged me to get the recipe from Benn & Zoe so that I can recreate this dish at home.
The exact history of how the dish got its name is unknown but one of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes (ropa vieja) and imbued them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned the clothes into a wonderful beef stew. Who knows. All I know is that I'll be making my own version soon!
Uruguayan Prime Beef
As for myself, I don't normally order a steak when I'm out but the sound of the Uruguayan prime steak with various sides, sounded lovely.
The chargrilled steak that arrived was cooked medium rare, maybe a little rarer that I would normally go for, but even so it was delicious. The huge steak was juicy and tender with nice caramelisation and a great smoky flavour from being cooked on the grill. The steak, topped with a slice of sun-dried tomato & basil butter, was accompanied by chunky sautéed potatoes, mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, a fresh dressed salad, and a little jug of mustard.
The various textures and tastes on the plate were almost perfectly balanced, although I wouldn't have missed the mashed potato. Nothing against the mash, it's just not something that I would normally have with my steak.
The steak was only €18.95 which was great value for such a well cooked piece of beef. You would struggle to get a similar size and quality steak in the UK for under £25.
Talulah Ruby & Jake Brown
Two big starter tapas followed by a hearty stew and a slab of prime beef meant that we were both too full to try some of Zoe's famous home made brownies, so instead we sat back with a coffee and enjoyed the rest of our wine.
Shortly after our table was cleared, Zoe made her appearance alongside the main event. Zoe & Benn's daughter Talulah Ruby was performing her farewell gig with her singing partner Jake Brown. Talulah Ruby, a Lanzarote born singer/songwriter has been performing around the island since she was 14. The gig at La Cantina was a farewell performance before she left the the island to start a music music course at the prestigious Brighton institute of Modern Music. If what I heard was anything to go by, don't be surprised to see the name Talulah Ruby in the coming years.
With fantastic food at great value, followed by live music from an up and coming star, our evening at La Cantina was worthy of the long drive from Playa Blanca. If you get the chance, get yourself through to Teguise and pay a visit to La Cantina. Whether it be lunch or dinner, you won't be disappointed.
La Cantina serve food daily as well as hosting wine tasting evenings and exhibitions. More recently, Cantina Pantry has opened next door. This wonderful delicatessen is testament to the passion that Benn and Zoe have to local produce and quality food. The shelves are stacked high with a mouthwatering selection of wines, olive oils, meats, cheeses, sauces and spices. In addition, you also have the opportunity to buy some of the ingredients that are used on the La Cantina menu.
Keep up to date with La Cantina on Facebook.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Lanzarote Round Up - Bodega @ La Cascada, Puerto Del Carmen

Where does the time go? I can't believe that our two weeks in Lanzarote has come and gone. Both myself and Nicola had a great time eating and drinking our way around the island, whilst catching up with friends who live and work in Lanzarote. This year we were staying in the resort of Playa Blanca, something new to us, which meant that we were able to try out new places to eat and we enjoyed a few great meals and I hope to get the reviews posted up as quickly as possible.
Of course, the downside of staying in Playa Blanca was missing out on some of our previous haunts in Puerto Del Carmen. I've written before about Bodega @ La Cascada in Puerto del Carmen, and as one of our favourite places, we made an effort to get through to Puerto Del Carmen and pay them a visit. In fact, we actually managed to get to Bodega twice - once for lunch & once for dinner.
After one of Nicola's many shopping excursions, we popped into Bogeda for some tapas that would hopefully see us through until dinner. The restaurant was practically empty when we arrived but it was still early, and after being greeted like old friends we made ourselves comfortable at our usual table. With chilled vino & ice cold cerveza helping to cool us down, we worked our way through a few tapas that were as tasty as we remembered.
An amuse bouche of deep fried morcilla (Spanish black pudding)rolled in chopped hazelnuts, helped awaken the taste buds. I love black pudding generally , and the slightly sweet yet spicy morcilla dulce which is native to the Canary Islands is wonderful.
Our lunchtime tapas continued with Queso de Lanzarote. There are many cheeses produced on the island using goats, sheep & cows milk, or a combination thereof. The cheese we had today was medium soft with mild and creamy flavour - perfect for a lunchtime snack.
We had ordered a slice of tortilla de patatas, a Spanish staple and one of my favourite things to eat when on holiday. The big slice of tortilla at Bodega is about two inches in height with a great balance of eggs, potato and onion, well seasoned and cooked to perfection.

Our last lunchtime tapa was the croquetas de pollo, wonderful deep fried chicken croquettes. Every tapas bar across Spain boast that there croquetas are the best but on all my years of sampling, the crispy well seasoned croquetas de pollo at Bodega are still my favourite.
Tapas are deceivingly filling and these three plates were enough to keep us going until dinner later that night. Fed and watered, we settled the bill and started the long journey back to Playa Blanca, knowing that this wouldn't be the last time we would be at Bodega.
I had read on the brilliant Lanzarote Information website that there was to be a "Festival De la Tapa" in Puerto Del Carmen on the second Saturday of our holiday so we decided that we wanted to get through if we could. There is a reliable bus service on the island and a semi-regular service running from Playa Blanca to Puerto Del Carmen so that was our transport sorted for the outbound journey. Unfortunately, the Saturday service back to Playa Blanca doesn't run after 11pm so getting home could be a bind but we really wanted to get to the festival and decided that we would take a taxi home.
The "Festival De La Tapa" is an organised event that hives restaurants, tapas bars, and the islands many bodegas the chance to get their products in front of a hungry and thirsty group of tourists and locals. I'm planning on writing about the festival in a separate post but the simple mechanics of the event went like this;
  1. Buy a strip of tickets - (tickets priced at €1 each)
  2. Wander around the many exhibitor
  3. Buy tapas, pintxos, or wine for €1 a piece
  4. Wander some more
  5. Repeat as necessary
We had a great time trying tapas from restaurants we already knew, as well as a few that we didn't. As on of the leading restaurants on the island, it didn't surprise me to see that Bogeda @La Cascada had a stall set up. Nicola sampled the bocadito de cabra (that's the one on the left). Cabra means goat, which in this case had been slowly roasted and served on a miniature ciabatta style bun. We had never eaten goat before but if you think pulled pork but with a stronger flavour, you wouldn't be far wrong.
As the sun began to set in Puerto Del Carmen, we departed the Festival and made our way to Skyy Chillout bar for a cheeky wee cocktail before making our way back to Bodega for a spot of dinner.
Bodega offers both a varied tapas menu and an a la carte menu, but as we had already been snacking at the festival there was no way that we could have managed a full plated meal, so a few tapas would see us right tonight.
The first of those tapas was carpaccio de buey which is possibly my favourite thing on the menu. Delicious thinly sliced fillet of beef, drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar before shavings of Parmegiano Reggiano are scattered over the top, & accompanied by slices of Melba toast.
The next tapa is maybe Nicola's favourite, gambas al ajillo - sizzling garlic prawns. Over a dozen fresh prawns cooked in oil with plenty of sliced garlic with a coupe of dried birds-eye chillies for good measure. Always packed with plenty of prawns and enough garlic to keep Dracula away.
We rounded of our selection of tapas with the croquetas de pollo again because they're that good!
The thing I love about eating tapas is that I never feel stuffed once we're finished, there's always room to squeeze a few more drinks. With that said, Nicola finished off dinner with a Baileys coffee whilst I had an after dinner corajillo. Traditionally, a corajillo is a shot of espresso with a shot of brandy, although I replaced the brandy with Amaretto for a sweet hit.
For those that don't know, the road from Puerto Del Carmen to Playa Blanca goes though a picturesque little village called called Femes, that has a fantastic viewpoint (or Mirador) that overlooks the resort of Playa Blanca from a good height. The road out of Femes is a very steep and winding road that is perilous to drive in daylight and I had a feeling that the taxi driver on our ride home would likely drive this road at breakneck speed with nothing to guide him except the moonlight and a strong faith in The Lord above. With this in mind, we made our way to the bar for one last drink before saying adios to our waiter (and amigo) of many years Alfonso and making our way into the darkness.
In all the years that we have been visiting Lanzarote, and eating at Bodega @ La Cascada, we have never been disappointed with the food or service, and this year was no different.
We have already booked up our holiday for next year and will be back staying in Puerto Del Carmen again which means that we will be much closer to our friends at Bodega, but more importantly we will be able to walk home after dinner.
Keep up to date with Bodega @ La Cascada on Facebook.

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