Grey’s Fine Foods is a new importer of Spanish food to the UK, hoping to take on well-established players like Brindisa.
It’s run by Yorkshire-based, Spanish-born Javier De La Hormaza, and it already stocks 200 products from 18 regions in Spain. The catalogue lists everything from milk-fed lamb and jamon iberico to anchovies, turron, caviar and olive oil. Grey’s (the name comes from ‘graze’) also prides itself on its selection of Spanish wines and brandies.
“Spain’s export markets have always been focused on South America and, recently, Germany, with the UK left to one side. But no more! We want to build those bridges and offer a range of fine foods and wines that have been almost impossible to source in Britain in the past,” Javier says.
Grey’s kindly sent me a box of products to try, including this delicious, melt-in your mouth jamon iberico and award-winning Fuenroble olive oil.
But I was most intrigued by their paella-in-a-can offering from Querida Carmen, for people in a hurry.
“A gourmet paella ready in 20 minutes with no chopping or messing the kitchen,” Grey’s promises.
Inside the can, which promises all-natural ingredients, low in salt, it’s a little soupy. I followed the instructions and brought the concoction to the boil, before adding the rice.
You leave the stew on a soft boil for 20 minutes, then take it off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.
I’ll be honest, I gave it a little longer, as the broth wasn’t fully absorbed. I then spooned it out into my paella pan.
The result was a little liquidy – more like a risotto than a paella (and not doing it in a pan means you don’t get the black crispy bits). It was undeniably tasty, with good chunks of sausage and squid, and we made short work of it.
However, it didn’t quite get the taste of paella right for me. Also, at £12.50, it’s not cheap. On the other hand, it was incredibly simple to make.
The paella was a fun experiment – and the jamon was murderously good. I’ll bear Grey’s in mind next time I need to source some Spanish goods – though I wonder if they’ll go the Brindisa route, and open a shop. And a restaurant…
Find out more on Grey’s Fine Foods website.
Here’s a fun-sounding event for the weekend: all-conquering Spanish wine brand Campo Viejo is bringing the Streets of Spain festival to the Southbank Centre this bank holiday.
The four-day foodie festival will bring over stallholders from Barcelona’s La Boqueria market. There’ll also be cooking masterclasses from Spanish chefs, a pop-up tapas restaurant and performance art.
The festival runs 10.30am-10.30pm Friday through to Monday. Streets of Spain is the latest in a series of food markets Southbank Centre has been running – chances are it will become a regular fixture…
I recently picked up a copy of Jason Webster’s Or The Bull Kills You, the first in his series of Max Cámara detective novels set in Valencia.
Webster, born in San Francisco and raised in the UK, has written a series of well-received non-fiction books on Spain, covering everything from flamenco to bullfighting, and it’s the latter topic that provides the backbone of this, his first novel.
Max Cámara is a shabby, forty-something ‘tec with a disintegrating personal life and a booze habit – not exactly breaking new ground in crime fiction, but a likeable enough protagonist (I imagine Javier Bardem playing him in the film version). His career is put on the line when a famous bullfighter is brutally murdered in Valencia’s Plaza de Toros and Cámara has just days to catch his killer.
It’s a pacy read, although some of the plotting is a bit odd – in an early scene, for example, Cámara is set upon by three attackers in the street and, having overpowered one of them, shows no apparent interest in arresting him.
The book’s biggest draw – for me, at least – is its backdrop: Valencia during Las Fallas is well-evoked and Webster puts his knowledge of bullfighting to vivid good use. You get the feeling that modern-day Spain, with its literally combustible fiestas, corrupt politicians and social unrest is fertile ground for Webster’s new detective series. Expect Cámara to do for Spain what Wallander did for Sweden and Zen for Italy.
The second book in the series, A Death in Valencia, is out now, with more on the way: “I don’t know how many I’ll do in the end. It can keep going as long as there’s life in the characters,” Webster told me in an interview in 2011. I shall certainly check out the next one.
Read more of my interview with Jason Webster here.
The Courthauld Gallery is going back to the very start of Pablo Picasso’s career with Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901.
The show draws on paintings from collections in Barcelona, Paris, New York and Moscow to illustrate that formative year. In 1901, Picasso moved to Paris aged just 20, kick-started his professional career, and even adopted his famous signature.
The work on display heralds the start of Picasso’s Blue Period (1901-1904), when most of his work was painted in – well, you guessed it – blue shades. It’s also, for my money, one of his most impressive spells (before all the ‘wonky faces’).
Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 runs from 14 February to 26 May. It is included in the £6 admission price to the gallery, which is small and one of London’s most perfectly formed.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, an oasis of calm in the hurly burly of south London, is turning its main space into a recreation of a Seville church.
The transformation takes place from now until 19 May, as the gallery celebrates the work of Spanish master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682).
Exhibition curator, Dr Xavier Bray, told Dulwich OnView: “We are actually rebuilding our famous enfilade which stretches through the whole gallery and we are installing some mock niches in order to show Murillo’s magnificent large lunettes as they were hanging in his lifetime high under the dome of Santa Maria la Blanca in Seville.”
The show has been organised in conjunction with the Prado in Madrid and will highlight some of the paintings in the gallery’s own Murillo collection, which have been cleaned up and restored for the occasion.
The Walbrook Discovery Programme, led by Museum of London Archaeology, is turning up all sorts of Roman finds from the mud of the old River Walbrook.
It’s taking place on the site of the Temple of Mithras, which dates from 240AD and is currently in storage at the museum, awaiting a permanent home in Bloomberg LP’s new corporate headquarters.
It’s a gem of a place, way up in Washington Heights on West 155th street and Broadway, an area that is largely Dominican these days. Part of a grand 19th-century complex now shared with a local college, the first clue to its existence is the statue of El Cid in the courtyard (not by a Spaniard, but by American artist Anna Hyatt Huntington).
Its name is somewhat misleading to modern ears: the Hispanic Society is dedicated to Iberian art, although it does have some pieces from Latin America in its collection.
The Society was founded in 1904 by Hispanophile collector Archer Milton Huntington and boasts some 800 paintings, 6,000 watercolours and drawings, 15,000 prints and 176,000 photographs – plus a collection of, um, door knockers. Its reference library is available to the public and contains 600,000 books, manuscripts and letters from the 10th century to the present day – a Spanish scholar’s dream.
Some highlights from the collection:
- Goya’s Portrait of the Duchess of Alba (1797)
- A trio of Velazquez paintings (including the menina-style Portrait of a Little Girl)
- Works from all the usual suspects: Zurburan, Murillo, El Greco, de Ribera
- Roman mosaics excavated in Spain
- A remarkably modern-looking sculpture of the young Saint Acisclus from the 17th-century
- Tons of ceramics from Manises, Spain (a place for which I have a soft spot, as I used to teach there)
- An entire room dedicated to Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s 14 giant canvases, the Provinces of Spain (1911-1919)
These last are a real highlight – a truly stunning display of scenes from early 20th-century Spanish life in a soft, impressionist style. Sorolla’s ‘visions of Spain’ depict cultural scenes from the country’s provinces: ‘bread day’ in Castille, newlyweds with oranges in Valencia, penitents and bullfighters in Seville.
The scenes are pastoral, rustic, joyful, impossibly exotic and probably quite idealised – but they deliver a knock-out blow all the same. The paintings were commissioned by Archer Milton Huntington for the Hispanic Society itself and the room containing them recently had a makeover courtesy of Bancaja (who says bankers are good for nothing?).
If you’re a fan of Spanish art and eccentric museums, the Hispanic Society is for you – worth the trek to the upper reaches of Manhattan. It’s also free, publishes books and stages regular events. Give generously.