How much nicer it is to close up and go on holiday than to work. Presumably, if it were to be a permanent state of affairs, there would be poverty and even, perhaps, boredom to cope with and the pleasure would be diminished. As it was, we three staff were starting to look and feel like pit ponies, sore of foot and grumpy of disposition. So it was time.
There were obstacles, of course. British Airways has sold off its catering operations at Heathrow and appears no longer to need my dynamic and expert advice. This means I now have to pay for my own tickets, which is sad, and reduces my trips to the Himalayas – first class, of course – quite considerably.
However, we were undaunted by this adversity and closed for a week for some R&R. Claire went to France and dragged her gentleman companion round restaurants and food markets, which was good for her and educational for him. Anja and I went to Spain to eat tapas in Seville and to eat seafood in Galicia. We had only ever been to Spain once, and that was 25 years ago, to a resort that farmed British, German and Dutch tourists through an unthreatening fortnight by the sea.
This time we wanted to see a bit more and eat a bit better. It didn’t disappoint. The first surprise was just how late people eat there. Tapas bars open at around 1.30pm for lunch and booze, then, in the evening, restaurants start serving at about 9pm with the main rush about an hour later. Seafood is the business, and – one pig’s trotter dish aside – we kept to fish and shellfish throughout. There seem to be major benefits to Spain’s piscine preferences. High turnover means fresh produce rather than stale. Also there is a discerning market of people who not only know good fish from bad but are willing to pay up for it.
Simple dishes stay in mind most: deep-fried fresh anchovies, a salad of floury potatoes in lemon oil, little shellfish empandillas with white Albariño wine. The towns were okay, too – all that Moorish architecture in Catalonia and a cathedral in Santiago de Compostela to which the mere act of pilgrimage gives absolution for a lifetime’s sins – or so it’s claimed. I may have to visit again for that reason alone.
Back to reality now, of course. The week of our return saw a visit from The Times restaurant reviewer, Jonathan Meades. It was difficult to tell which parts of the meal he liked and which not, but I have a feeling that I shall be in no doubt when the review appears. Good luck, I can hear you say.
Next diary from Shaun Hill will be on 30 July