Sevilla’s Gastrobar Glut
About eight years ago when Sevilla tapas bars like Vineria San Telmo and Eslava started giving us their innovative takes on traditional tapas it was a refreshing change being able to find something a bit different and, in the case of the Vineria, a decent selection of wines by the glass at reasonable prices. At the time paying slightly more for a special dish felt well worth it and it was always a treat going back to see what else new they’d come up with.
Fast forward to 2012 and everywhere you look these days in Sevilla there are hip new “gastrobars”, trendy mini-burger joints and gourmet food & wine shops opening up almost weekly, all trying to out-coolio each other in an attempt to be noticed. Unfortunately the majority of these new places are not only more style than substance, but they are often either just copycat versions of each other, or pale imitations of better, more established gourmet-style tapas bars. Yet they act (and charge!) as if they are the next Ferran Adrià, just for whipping up a bit of foamed something-or-other. Snore.
Which brings me to my next question. How and when did the 5€ tapa become acceptable and, dare I say, almost the norm? It’s not that I’m against change – quite the contrary – but this hopping on the gourmet tapas bandwagon to make a quick buck is eroding the whole concept of tapas and how they came to be in the first place. If things keep going this way I’m afraid we’ll end up with a false new version of tapas that both locals and visitors will tire of very quickly. It will especially disillusion visitors who have so far not had any experience of Spain and Spanish food. Of course even the most expensive gastrobar here will still be cheaper than almost anywhere in London, but that’s not really saying much. And anyhow, who wants to come to Sevilla and eat tapas that have been created to taste like, well, a poor relation of international haute cuisine, in bars with lamps made out of coathangers and where your cutlery is brought to you in Hello Kitty pencil cases? And worse yet, with staff who often don’t know a damn thing about the food or wine and have presumably been hired for their cool or cute factor.
Happily there are still plenty of fabulous “de siempre” places that continue to do very well by doing what they do best, which is serving up top notch traditional tapas in charming surroundings with staff who know absolutely everything about the food and wine – and who also know how to smile! And I especially appreciate newly-opened places that offer new and delicious takes on Spanish cuisine without adding Gastrobar Prices, do not charge for bread (wtf? factor it in guys) and don’t have the heinous 1-2€ per person “cover charge” (for what??).
If you want to sample the best of gourmet tapas and don’t mind paying gourmet prices then try La Azotea or Albarama. I especially love the personal attention you get at La Azotea and the price/value ratio is right on par. In both of these places every penny spent is well worth it.
If you want to try a new up-and-comer then you will love La Brunilda. Amazing value for excellent tapas. Lovely twists on the traditional in a gorgeous setting and with very personal and friendly service.
Or you can re-visit those “granddaddies” of the whole new tapas scene here in Sevilla – Vineria San Telmo and Eslava. Both have quite different styles, and both work so well. You will eat and drink to your heart’s content without breaking the budget and will taste some very unexpected delights.
For me personally the most important thing about a great tapas experience is that I feel welcome, that the staff are well-informed and pleasant, and that the food is fabulous. But the most important thing of all is that the place has a heart. I return again and again to the places that I know are well-loved by their owners, where you can feel their personality and their affection, where you know that they honestly care about what they do and about their customers. That’s not something you can fake.