For the past few years, Canadian-born Shawn Hennessy has put her extensive knowledge of her adopted home city's culinary scene to good use, guiding small groups of visitors around Seville's tapas bars on tours tailored to their own tastes. Staying with my friend Vicki in nearby Utrera for a few days, we presented a double challenge: two pescetarian former residents of the city. Would Shawn be able to cater to our dietary requirements and satisfy our stomachs in previously uncharted tapas territory?
In a word, yes. Meeting by the cathedral for a lunchtime tour, Shawn reeled off a list of four bars we'd never visited, some we'd never even heard of. So far, so shameful on our part. First on the list was Albarama, a recent arrival on the Seville scene serving creative modern morsels, as well as twists on traditional tapas. Settling in with a glass of wine, friendly Shawn talked us through the menu, helping us to select three tapas: those on the tour can select anything they like, but those unfamiliar with Spanish cooking or just keen to sample each restaurant's specialities can learn a lot from her guidance. Our choices of boletus croquettes with a leek sauce, ensaladilla de gambas (a potato, mayonnaise and prawn salad) and the 'envoltini' (squid ribbons with asparagus, served with tartar sauce) were beautifully presented, but style didn't triumph over substance: they tasted as good as they looked. Vegetarian croquetas can be a dull, greasy affair, but the high-quality ingredients and addition of the leek sauce made these a tasty dish even for meat-eaters, while the ensaladilla even won round serial prawn-dodger Vicki.
|Croquetas and envoltini|
Stomachs suitably warmed up, we moved on to the much more traditional Enrique Becerra, a restaurant and tapas bar so old school it even features pillars looted from the Roman ruins at Italica in the days when pilfering from ancient monuments wasn't frowned upon. As we waited for our tapas to arrive, we chatted easily about food, life in Spain and Seville: Shawn normally talks to visitors about the city, but as we were already familiar with the city, talk naturally wandered wider. Presented to us by a smartly-clad yet super friendly waiter, our saquito de bacalo ('cod-filled parcel of joy' is how any good dictionary should translate it) and portion of goat's cheese served with caramelised onions and fresh bread raised the bar even higher. The saquito's pastry was perfectly crisp; the cod flaky and light. The goat's cheese was creamy and lip-smackingly moreish - and I don't even usually like goat's cheese. We were definitely in no doubt of the quality of ingredients used here.
|Saquito de bacalao|
By stop number three, participants are usually tiring, their stomachs showing signs of struggle. Not so the two hardy northerners: we were just getting started on Seville's culinary delights. In the heart of the barrio de Santa Cruz, La Sal is a smart restaurant and tapas bar run by Charo, who hails from coastal Zahara de los Atunes in Cadiz, where her family own another restaurant. Both eateries specialise in tuna almadraba, freshly caught and flash-frozen for maximum freshness and taste. We tucked into tuna tataky (a rare cut of tuna soaked in a soy and ginger sauce) and tuna steak roasted with rosemary and served with a red pepper conft, with seaweed tortillitas rounding off the sea-based theme. All of this was washed down by a refreshing glass of Botani wine, produced in Malaga and one of Shawn's favourites for good reason - she certainly has a finely-tuned palate.
|Tortillitas and tataky|
With an extra stop thrown in out of generosity for a fellow blogger, Shawn saved the best until last. By the time the three of us rolled into Vineria San Telmo at 4pm, our stomachs were reserving just a sliver of space. But once Vicki and I saw the menu, our capacity to eat increased: squid ink spaghetti served with scallops, bulgur wheat with mushrooms and truffle oil and panko prawns with a courgette stack were all as delicious as they sounded, and worth the waistband strain. I couldn't even play favourites; every dish was full of flavour and immaculately presented. The gorgeous tapas, boho-chic interior and friendly international staff made Vineria San Telmo a winner in our books - so much so that we somehow managed to make room for a dessert of three-chocolate flan.
|Panko prawns, squid ink spaghetti & bulgur wheat with mushrooms|
Our afternoon spent in Seville in Shawn's company was quite simply one of the best I've had in a long time. The tour was unhurried, fun and full of expert advice. If you're a food lover looking to get the most out of a trip to the city, a Sevilla Tapas tour is the perfect place to start. Just make sure to wear something with an elasticated waistband: it wouldn't do to restrict your eating abilities with so many tapa treats to be had.
To find out more about Sevilla Tapas tours, visit Shawn's website, which also features comprehensive listings of tapas bars all over Seville.