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Sunday September 29, 2013

British expats visiting the UK needn't feel homesick for Spain

Every time I return to London it seems to feel a little more Spanish or is it just that like an invisible magnet I draw all things español towards me? As I coursed through Victoria station yesterday all I seemed to hear were Spanish voices and on the bus an elderly couple – from Galicia, it transpired – gravitated towards me with map outstretched, seeking advice on best tourist sites to visit. When I told them that I lived in Majorca, the woman gave me a hug and announced that her grandmother came from a village not far from my mountain town.

In Fortnum & Mason’s food department on Piccadilly a friendly and helpful Spaniard served me while in Waterstones a group of Spanish students browsing the shelves of crime fiction showed me a bundle of Agatha Christie titles that they were buying for friends back home. In St John’s Wood I popped by Gail’s Bakery because I know that I can be assured a warm welcome, lively Spanish chatter and laughter at the till and a seriously decent, strong cup of coffee. In most delicatessens and supermarkets Iberian gourmet delights can be found fairly effortlessly as well as good quality chorizo and jamon Serrano. More than a decade ago when I lived in London my Spanish neighbour used to lament the fact that she couldn’t find paella rice anywhere and yet now it can be bought in stores such as Sainsbury’s for little more than £1.

Of course for seriously good Spanish groceries, there’s no better place than Borough Market where Brindisa operates an excellent culinary emporium selling high quality hams such as Ibérico – pata negra – jamon Serrano, as well as pimentón, calasparra rice, almonds, olive oil, salted cod and mouthwatering boquerones, fresh anchovy fillets. The company’s famed grilled chorizo served in a roll with piquillo peppers is a treat for the taste buds while strolling around the market. Of course for dining out London is now home to a host of fantastic Spanish restaurants and tapas bars to suit all budgets. The chef José Pizarro, originally from Extremadura but a fan of Andalusian cuisine, used to operate from Brindisa’s restaurant in Borough until success led him to write two cookery books and to open his own joints Pizarro and José, a stone’s throw from one another in Bermondsey.

Old favourites in town include Barrafina, Fino, and Cambio de Tercio but an increasing number of Spanish themed restaurants are popping up all over London and further afield. The popular mid-market chain La Tasca now has restaurants across the whole of the UK and offers fiesta, paella and sangria nights and Latin dance classes. Friends in Scotland, the north of England and Birmingham tell me that Spanish food is fast becoming all the rage and that the recent influx of Spaniards to the UK has heightened interest in the country and its culture.

I’m rather hoping that the Spanish trend will continue with Britons possibly contemplating local fiestas, inaugurating siestas and drumming up a little Mediterranean cheer on the streets and on public transport. Of course the key ingredient missing in the whole mix is the sun and there’s not a great deal one can do about that. All the same for those with a passion for Spain, the UK is proving to be a surprisingly happy hunting ground.

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